French and British Culture in The English Channel Islands

by David Chambers  Add comments
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Fishing boat - Braye Bay - Alderney

Where are the Channel Islands?

The Channel Islands comprise an archipelago of 194 sq km, located in the English Channel off the northwest coast of Normandy, France. The five main inhabited islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark, and each is a self-governing dependency of the British Crown. It should be noted that the islanders do not identify themselves as British. Officially, the archipelago is neither French nor British, nor does it belong to the European Union.

The archipelago

The archipelago was formerly a part of France and held on to French culture and tradition for hundreds of years. Many customs, political forums and laws have retained their Norman-French roots. Each island has distinctive features and traditions uniquely its own, finding expression in art and music. Folk songs and dances celebrating Norman culture are still performed at a yearly festival called Fete Nouormande in Jersey and Guernsey. Entertainers dressed in indigenous costumes recite poetry, tell stories and belt out traditional songs, with toasts of wine and cider.

The Police Station and Court House - Alderney- Then & Now

British Crown

After over a millennium under the British Crown, Jersey, Guernsey and Sark have adapted an English flavor. British pound is accepted in these islands, although they issue their own currency. Being in closest proximity to France, Alderney is the island most immersed in the French lifestyle. In terms of religious affiliation, islanders are Catholics, Anglicans or Methodists, with other Christian denominations thrown into the mix.

Norman French stock

The native islanders have historically been of Norman French stock. However, on the island of Alderney, the inhabitants are primarily of English descent. More recently, Britons have relocated to the islands, lured by the lower tax rates and laidback lifestyle. A number of European Union citizens have also made this place their home, with a sizable Portuguese community.

Castle Cornet on Guernsey - at low tide

Toads And Crows

A throwback to earlier times, one quirky tradition is the adaption of animal monikers to represent the islanders. The people of Jersey are nicknamed les crapauds (toads), since the amphibians are only found there. The residents of Sark have earned the pet name of les corbins (crows), since flocks of the birds are spotted on its coast. Alderney people are referred to as lapins (rabbits), due to its large population of warrens. The inhabitants of Guernsey are known as les nes (donkeys), which they attest to their strong character, but interpreted by their Jersey neighbours as stubbornness. It remains for tourists taking Guernsey flights to settle the dispute for themselves when they interact with the locals!

The Language

In the old days, the official language was French and Norman patois was the conversational dialect. Francophones prevailed over English speakers. When the English arrived in the 1800s, the islanders started becoming anglicised. Now the local inhabitants speak English while French is still spoken to a lesser degree. Norman patois has survived in Guernsey, Jersey and Sark. To this day, the French influence remains, particularly in names of places and streets. Road signs are displayed in both English and French.

Fog in the Graveyard - Alderney

Influences

The Channel Islands have evolved into a charming blend of French and English influences. The islanders may favour French cuisine and wines, but their mannerisms and habits have taken an English turn. Peculiarities are typical; for example, French croissants may be served with an English breakfast. Another distinctive aspect is the islanders’ close ties with Normandy, evident in the Norman dialects of the locals and their propensity to things European rather than the UK. The pro-European stance is not at all surprising, considering their history, location and the fact that they were anglicised only in the 19th century. This fascinating fusion of French and British cultures is one of the endearing traits that makes the Channel Islands a special tourist destination.

David Chambers wrote this piece on behalf of CheapFlights.co.uk - Compare over 4 million flight deals for free with the UK’s leading flight comparison site.

by David Chambers

David Chambers is a blogger and freelance journalist. His hobbies include travel, squash and reading.

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