Manners and Customs of the French According to Punch

Punch, or The London Charivari, was established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. It was a British weekly filled with humorous and satirical stories and illustrations. Punch not only poked fun at the English but also the French. Here is one article published in 1851 that is related to the manners and customs of the French and is provided almost verbatim:

They are so extremely polite that, if a revolution is going on — which is not at all improbable — it is always difficulty to get the troops to fire. A whole regiment will ground their muskets, and taking their shoes off to the insurgents, say with the great good-humour, “Apprès vous, messieurs.

Should any stranger, or lady, accidentally be in the streets whilst an émeute [riot] is going on, the firing will instantly cease, a guard of honour is appointed to escort the stranger to his abode, and it is only on the return of that guard of honour, that hostilities (if the civilities which are paid by one side to another are worthy of that name) are renewed.

A Punch Title Page and Customs of the French

A Punch title page. Author’s collection.

If two officers quarrel, it is customary for them to breakfast together beforehand, and if either is wounded, it is the opponent always who insists upon paying the expenses. But they have so great a delicacy in wounding each other, that the duel is sometimes protracted for hours at a time; so that when they are too exhausted to continue any longer, they will quietly stop and smoke a cigar together, and then go on fighting again as if nothing had occurred.

A French Huissier does not come down suddenly upon his victim as an English Sheriff’s Officer does, but writes to him the previous day, to give him notice he is going to arrest him, and he hopes he will so far oblige him as to keep out of the way.

When there is an execution in France, an audible shudder runs through the kingdom, from one end to another.

The man who breaks an oath is universally shunned as a monster, who if the temptation offered itself, wouldn’t scruple to break a child’s plaything

If Louis-Napoleon was to be tried for high treason tomorrow and convicted, I doubt if a single Frenchman could be found to execute the sentence upon him.

Louis-Napoleon, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Louis-Napoleon. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are no butchers, properly speaking, in France. The little innocent calves are killed by chloroform, the sheep fall lifeless in a minute before the galvanic battery, and the oxen die comparatively happy, being asphyxiated at the abattoirs [slaughterhouse], by the friendly agency of charcoal.

You never see a paper-knife in France, but it is made either of ivory or wood!

If a Frenchman at the theatre wants to cough or to sneeze, he always goes outside to do it.

You may be in a French Café for hours, and you never hear any intolerant noise, nor horrible asseverations, nor a single injurious epithet. Everything is as friendly, as quiet, as a family wedding.

If the Emperor of Russia with his army of Cossacks was to knock at five o’clock this evening at the gates of Paris, and demanded admission, I really believe, such is the Frenchman’s horror of war, that St. Arnaud would wait upon him, and present his sword, exclaim — “Entrez mon brave.

As for invading England, the notion is so comical to any one, who knows the French as I do, that it only deserves to be laughed at. Even supposing such a preposterous thing was to be seriously decreed by the present President—the Frenchmen, with their well-known gallantry, would, I am confident, insist upon a month’s notice at least being given to the Englishmen, with a request that they would be obliging enough to appoint the day upon which they would like to receive the French.

As for the DUKE OF WELLINGTON, I firmly believe he would be so idolized, if he were to visit France, that he would find a great difficulty in ever getting back to England again!

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


  • Punch, Volumes 21-24, 1851.

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