Brest is a long way away from where I live in the Aravis region of Haute Savoie, but it’s still part of France. Or is it? More on that later. I spent a long weekend in the region, catching up with a friend, going to a wedding and being a tourist.
Brest is situated in Brittany — a region proud of its produce, such as mussels, salty butter, savoury crepes and buttery biscuits. But it’s not all about the food. It seems that every car and truck in the area has a sticker of the curly-haired tall-hatted figure on the left, with “A l’aise Breizh” written in the middle. The phrase is a play on words from another French phrase, “A l’aise Blaise” (“It’s cool, Blaise”, where “Blaise” is a person’s name that happens to rhyme nicely). So, it means something like “It’s cool, Breton”. “Breizh” is the old Breton language for a local. The figure was created recently, in 1996, by a Breton in Paris who wanted to draw a figure on a t-shirt that reflected the spirit of his home region. And the people of Brittany certainly do seem chilled. Most of the people I met there were on for the chat and happy to give their opinions and make a few jokes.
My friend who lives in Brest explained that Brittany isn’t like other regions of France because the locals don’t really consider themselves French: they have their own flag, their own language and their own Celtic heritage. But here in Haute Savoie, there’s a push for independence, they have their own flag, their own language (although only some words are used these days) and their own non-French heritage. And in Corsica, there’s a push for independence, they have their own flag, their own language and their own non-French heritage. So now I’m starting to wonder if there are any regions of France where the locals consider themselves to be plain old French — not that being French is at all plain! It seems to me that resisting being French is actually a very French pastime. Well done, Brittany, Haute Savoie and Corsica: you’re all truly French.