My name is Matthew and I am a Francophile.
It’s a bizarre condition.
It can creep up on you in all sorts of ways, just when you’re least expecting it, but when it does, it is there to stay. You can’t shake it off, no matter how hard you try. It permeates your very being and informs every cultural decision you then take.
Its takes you in its grasp and clasps you to its rosy bosom, never to let you go. You’re in for life.
Francophilia is not an illness recognised by traditional schools of medicine, however. Neither is it a psychological affliction discussed in the hushed offices and on the leather chairs of psychiatrists. Nor is it an unexpected but strangely profound love for polymath and modern Renaissance man James Franco, or even for the murderous Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
Non, non it is not.
Instead it is a love, respect and unbounded passion for all things French.
Carriers of this condition lean towards the intellectual and the artistic, and normally these artistes step up sooner or later to pay homage to their passion.
Woody Allen, a student and voracious consumer of French culture for decades, mixed his knowledge and passion in a rich mélange in the form of his time-travelling comedy Midnight in Paris, which managed to compress his impressive awareness of various important periods in Parisian history into a slick 90 minute film.
John Malkovich is another lover of French culture and even moved to Paris for a period. Bemused passers-by would often see him sitting in a beret (no joke) sipping café-au-lait in various roadside people-watching spots looking at turns both philosophical and ridiculous.
Charlotte Rampling and Kristin Scott Thomas are oh-so-English-born actresses who have forged hugely successful bilingual careers on both sides of the Channel and clearly love their adopted country deeply. Scott Thomas was even awarded Légion d’honneur by the French government in 2005. Now that is impressive.
On the younger side of the actorly spectrum, Natalie Portman is a self-professed Francophile and keeps a Parisian property, as is Ethan Hawke who, after starring in the Paris-set cult romance classic film Before Sunset with French grande dame Julie Delpy, was then a frequent visitor to the world-famous Rive Gauche bookshop Shakespeare and Company (which also, coincidentally, features in Woody Allen’s above-mentioned Midnight in Paris).
There’s comedian and soon-to-be London mayoral candidate Eddie Izzard who tours often in French-speaking countries and delivers his whole routine in French.
And then there’s, er, Iggy Pop, who has secretly (well, from us anyway) put out whole albums in French. Iggy Pop!
But how does the more common Francophile like me manifest their love? These cultural connoisseurs will often be seen catching the latest François Ozon picture at the cinema, or picking up some cream-swollen and choux-pastry based delights from an artisan baker, or hopping on the car ferry to France in order to top up their cellars with vintage Bordeaux and fresh Sancerre.
Visit their homes and on their bookshelves you will easily spy a taste for Albert Camus, for Baudelaire, for Flaubert. The more serious and intellectual heavyweight Francophile will almost certainly have a Proust or two lurking somewhere. There will also be a framed poster somewhere in the house of Le Chat Noir, of that you can be sure.
Search the drinks cabinet and you will come across a bottle or two of Pastis. In the garage you will discover an entire, and probably retro-looking, set of pétanque balls (that’s ‘boules’, confusingly, to the non-Francophile). Naturally, these are all tucked away behind the chugging but charming Citroën 2CV which only comes out in summertime.
Francophiles can purse their lips and narrow their cheeks and speak through their throats with the very best. Nonchalance par excellence is par for the course. Cigarettes are sucked hard and poetry is often contemplated but rarely written.
A general indifference to everyday problems is cultivated, shoulders are shrugged with alarming alacrity, mealtimes take on an almost transcendental importance.
Above all, and the thought that underpins all of the above action and attitude, is the opinion that the French way is the best way.
And look, mes amis, are they not right?
Are they not right?