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Kelly, D. (2016)
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Languages: English
Types: Article
Subjects: UOW10
The large contemporary French migrant population – estimated by the French Consulate at around 300,000–400,000 in the UK, the majority living in London and the South-East – remains ‘absent’ from studies on migration, and, in a study of migrant food history in Britain, is considered not to have left traces as a migrant community. Over the centuries, the presence of various French communities in London has varied significantly as far as numbers are concerned, but what does not change is their simultaneous ‘visibility’ and ‘invisibility’ in accounts of the history of the capital: even when relatively ‘visible’ at certain historical moments, they still often remain hidden in its histories. At times the French in London are described as a ‘sober, well-behaved […] and law-abiding community’; at other times they ‘appeared as a foreign body in the city’. This article reflects on the dynamics at play between a migrant culture associated with high cultural capital (so much so that is often emulated by those who are not French) and the host culture perception of and relationship to it, in order to consider what this may ‘mean’ for the French (and Francophone) migrant experience. French gastronomy and culinary knowledge is taken as an example of material culture and of cultural capital ‘on display’ specifically in the activity of dining out, especially in French restaurants, or in those influenced by French gastronomy. The social activity of dining out is replete with displays of knowledge (linguistic, culinary), of cultural literacy, of modes of behaviour, of public identity, and of rituals strictly codified in both migrant and host cultures. Dining out is also an emotional and politically-charged activity, fraught with feelings of suspicion (what is in the food? what does the chef get up to in the kitchen?) and of anxieties and tensions concerning status, class and gender distinctions. This article considers the ways in which the migrant French citizen of London may be considered as occupying an ambiguous position at different times in history, simultaneously possessing cultural capital and needing to negotiate complex cultural encounters in the connections between identity and the symbolic status of food in food production, food purveying and food consumption.
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    • 39 Madame Simone Prunier, the grand-daughter of its founder and whose recipe book provided the epigraph here, wrote an invaluable account of the origins and development of the Prunier restaurants in both Paris and London, La Maison. The History of Prunier's. Her awareness of the importance of the place of the restaurant in a history that extends beyond the gastronomic is evident (258; 273-74).
    • 40 Private Papers of Lesley Boyde, née Gerrard (IWM Documents 270). Originally from Douglas on the Isle of Man, and a member of the Free French Corps de Volontaires Françaises in Second-World-War London, she spent time in France before the war and much preferred life in the French women volunteers' barracks to the training in the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). In her letters to her family, she describes many of her rather good meals, served with wine, at Moncorvo House and later in Hackin House, home to the French women volunteers, both in Ennismore Gardens, Kensington. There is a great deal to extrapolate from this experience and observation, not least that it runs counter to the sometimes Francophobic discourse which seeps into British cultural, social and political life in a more or less extreme form both historically and today (even in gastronomic matters). This experience described by Boyde is partially to do with the relationship between the Free French and Londoners during the Second World War, which remained generally positive, but the detail of that history is not the focus here (see Debra Kelly [a] 333-4).
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