The furore over Brexit brings back several memories related to the tension across the Channel. British-French stand-off never quite left the news channels of yore. It is remarkable how time flies though. It seems like only yesterday when one came across a somewhat bizarre bit of news about France in an opinion column. What it revealed was that the (then new) French President – one with that improbable name of Sarkozy – was well on his way to capture the coveted spot vacated by Tony Blair (Tony who?) i.e. President George W. Bush’s poodle. The termination of President Bush’s tenure obviated that possibility betimes.
A look over the shoulder at the recent history of France-US ties may not be out of order. As the gentle reader would be aware, the Americans were well and truly cheesed off with the French around the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq, circa 2003. Having been fed over the years with the dictum that ‘what the US wants, US gets’, the American man in the street was finding it difficult to ingest the fact that the frog-eating French should not only be standing up to the superior American logic, but also actually demanding to know ‘the reason why’. Genuine differences on policy matters, it could be argued, do crop up between even otherwise friendly states.
What was difficult to understand, though, was the fact that the American public opinion should be brainwashed to such an extent as to start looking askance at all things French. This is what appeared to have happened in the rather rarefied atmosphere in which the American spin-doctors survive and prosper. It is in this context that the campaign in the United States to rename ‘French fries’ and ‘French toast’ as ‘Freedom fries’ and ‘Freedom toast’ can be viewed. This was merely the veneer. There was a much wider campaign to vilify the French nation among the American people just because the French had exhibited the gall to express an opinion that did not square in with the ‘American way of thinking’.
And now to add a wee bit for the information of those readers who may be intrigued by the title of this piece. It was apparently the British who gave their French ‘neighbours’ across the channel the appellation of ‘frogs’. Not being fully aware of the background to the affair, one would not hazard a guess as to the reason why the Brits did this. The fact remains though that the British have over the decades continued to refer to the French as ‘frogs’.
When and how this rather picturesque appellation materialized is a matter best left to researchers. What may be of interest to the layman is the trivia that at some point in history, either before or after this momentous event, the French had started to eat frogs.
One must hasten to confess that, in so asserting, one is not being strictly accurate. The French do not eat frogs; they savour merely a part of the frog, i.e. its legs. The entrée of fried frog legs has become something of a de rigueur at the tables of French gourmets. It is a moot point whether one should go into the intricacy of the question as to why they go for just the legs of the amphibian in question. What’s so wrong with the rest of the frog, a purist may well ask, at the risk of being branded a boor? But, then, that would amount to treading on thin ice. One would be well advised not to take issue with the French, particularly in matters epicurean. If they insist on sticking only to a certain part of the anatomy of the lowly frog, so be it!
What brought this weighty matter to one’s attention is the discovery of an old press clipping carrying the views of a wild life expert in Paris on the danger posed to the French environment by, of all things, the ‘bull frog’. A certain Christophe Coic, head of the association CISTUDE, was quoted as saying that “the unchecked proliferation of bullfrogs is threatening parts of France with an environmental catastrophe”.
M. Coic was quoted as having warned that, “if we do nothing, the bullfrogs will overrun France within a century”. The bullfrog in question, it appears, had been introduced into France in 1968 (by the adventurer Armand Loti) “because their legs were (and are) considered a delicacy in la haute cuisine”. Since then, matters appear to have gotten a bit out of hand. For one thing, these frogs are said to reproduce at ‘an insane pace’. M. Coic, though, thinks he knows the answer: MONEY- several million Francs at least. Go to all this expense to do what? Eradicate the male bullfrogs of course! Since one has heard or read nothing to the contrary, one presumes that the matter must be under control.
By the way, ‘frogs eat frogs’, as a statement, has a rather appealing ring to it. It may be seen as a graphic representation of the saga of humankind’s continuing cruelty to members of other species. In the name of ‘la haute cuisine’, or whatever they call it in other tongues, man has perpetrated untold barbarities against fellow creatures. Every now and then, there is a mild reaction. And if man is bent upon apportioning blame, why single out the hapless bullfrog and mark it down for eradication?
The Laws of Nature play an unfathomable role in the affairs of Man that is way beyond man’s ken. If only Man were to accept this undeniable truth, he would be well on his way to unravelling part of the mystery of life itself. But that, as they say, is another story!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.