WASHINGTON — Once I acquired the invitation from the French ambassador for a black-tie gala known as “Améthyste,” I puzzled what that title meant. Was it a promotional occasion for a French jewellery firm or perhaps a brand new fragrance?
I didn’t go to the Thursday fête, as a result of I’m finding out for a grasp’s at Columbia College and I needed to learn “Henry V” — and watch Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hiddleston and Timothée Chalamet armor as much as play the king on the Battle of Agincourt. Little did I do know that I may have finished my homework on the occasion, as a result of the Hundred Years’ Conflict continues to be raging within the French and British Embassies in D.C.
As soon as extra unto the breach, expensive associates!
Améthyste, it turned it, was a French troll of the British: It’s the title of a French nuclear submarine. A latest sub deal — the place the Australians canceled plans to purchase French diesel-powered submarines after secretly negotiating with the British and People to construct nuclear-powered ones — torpedoed relations amongst all 4 nations.
We few, we sad few …
Suffice it to say, British and Australian diplomats had been nowhere to be seen on the occasion, on the residence of Ambassador Philippe Étienne, the place Joe Manchin was, naturellement, busy holding court docket.
One of many co-hosts of the occasion, Steve Clemons, a journalist right here, advised me it was a sheer coincidence that the title of the purple gem chosen to make a press release about therapeutic and unity — that crimson and blue Washington ought to mix into extra of a purple hue — additionally turned out to evoke the dastardly sub snub.
Clemons mentioned Tom Bossert, a homeland safety adviser beneath Donald Trump, got here as much as tease, “Steve, I would be the just one who is aware of that Améthyste is called after a nuclear submarine.” (Depart it to the French to present a seductive title even to a sub.)
As soon as the company — who wandered by way of an Absinthe Room with flashing inexperienced lights, previous mimes and piles of cheese and charcuterie — realized the nautical which means of Amethyste from a put up by Tara Palmeri in Politico’s Playbook, they weren’t shopping for the coincidence excuse, both.
However nobody was stunned on the chill between the French and British Embassies. It takes little or no to get the 2 nations to start out trashing one another.
The British sniff that the French are boastful. And the French sniff that the British are … not French.
Shakespeare’s historical past performs are nonetheless very alive for the British; Boris Johnson has labored for years on a ebook about Shakespeare. In “Henry V,” the French are portrayed as catty, wimpy and, within the case of killing boys within the English camp, “cowardly rascals.”
Joan of Arc — who impressed the French to win again their nation from the English after Henry V conquered it after which married a French princess — continues to be burning within the French creativeness.
The mutual contempt is embedded of their language. Filer à l’anglaise means to slide away rudely with out saying something, within the English approach.
However issues are at a very low ebb now by way of relations throughout the channel. There was the submarine scandale and a nasty territorial fishing dispute with the French seizing a British trawler. And the Brexit divorce nonetheless galls, making it more durable for the 2 small nations that at all times projected energy approach past their dimension to point out puissance, a favourite Shakespearean phrase from the historical past performs.
They have a look at one another and see the ghosts of empire.
No nation was extra disrupted by Britain leaving Europe than France. A lot of the commerce between the U.Ok. and France runs throughout the English Channel. Donc, the French took it very personally.
The French need to present that the British exit from the European Union is a failure, scaring different nations who may contemplate leaving. The Brits need to present that it’s a success. There’s friction between Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron. Johnson thinks Macron is little bit of a twit, and Macron thinks Johnson could be amusing however is a giant, fats fibber.
This misalliance was not helped when Johnson was right here in September and mentioned the French had been making an excessive amount of of the sub spat, noting “Donnez-moi un break” and telling them to “prenez un grip.” He additionally trolled the French by eating on the Australian Embassy with the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison.
Nonetheless, the lingering tensions have their makes use of domestically. Macron is attempting to maneuver proper to fend off the French Trump, the TV commentator Éric Zemmour. And Johnson has an incentive to stir issues up, too, amid inflation and gas and meals shortages. As Henry IV suggested his son, the easiest way to distract from home issues is to divert “busy giddy minds with international quarrels.”
In the meantime, the British and French Embassies are deep in their very own competitors to woo high Biden officers. Some Brits rolled their eyes just lately after they heard that the French had given Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s mom, Judith Pisar, a prestigious honor, although, given her time as a cultural determine in France, she definitely had advantage. There was extra eye-rolling on the double-entendre of the Améthyste gala.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même selected.