Paris and Scotland: An old tie that does not die

The bond between Scotland and France has been recognised since the Middle Ages and formed in the bloody battlefields of both countries fighting a common enemy: the English. Nowadays this relationship is forged in shared interests and political alignment.

by Chloe McDermott

Since Brexit and the renewed effort by the Scottish government to reinstate a relationship with Europe the ties to France have never been so important.

In fact, Scotland has even opened a Scottish development international office in Paris near the Ritz Hotel, in 2019 as well as in multiple other cities across Europe. Showing that the Scottish government also take this link seriously and desire to keep the link open.

Scottish Pubs like the “Auld Alliance” in the centre of Paris is another example of a place where Scots – whether they are expats or tourist, can meet with local Parisians. Usually, quite the atmosphere of friendly rivalry during a six nations rugby match when Scotland plays against France. They of course serve an economical purpose for example: buying and selling Scottish whisky on their premises helps one of Scotland’s largest revenue sources.
The barman of the Auld Alliance estimated that at least 60% of the 100 whiskies available in the pub were sourced themselves and the majority of which are from Scotland. In fact, looking at their menu I was impressed with how many are not big brands and were from all over Scotland.

When it comes to pub culture the barman believed this pub and others like it is where you can see these two cultures mix in an informal setting. Especially when the Rugby is on, He said: “So it’s primarily a rugby bar – I don’t follow sport – but I love working rugby nights because the atmosphere is unreal.”

Vodka & IRN BRU served with ice

When it comes to pub culture specifically, he has noticed the French clientele – which form a 60% majority of the clientele on rough estimate. seem unsure at first but then actually once they get used the more relaxed atmosphere and etiquette, they prefer British style pubs. He said: “The pub culture is a relatively new thing to French people. You still see it. They’ll stand there waiting to be seated when it’s a bar and you can sit wherever you want. It’s not a bistro. A bistro you’d wait to be seated but I think they enjoy this pub culture more than the French.”

The topic of food was brought up as the pub also sells Haggis and I was curious to see if the locals eat it too or just tourists and expats. Too my surprise though he said: “Once you convince people to try it because people are a bit scared of it. They see that there’s brains in it and they go ‘eugh’ but then we have Haggis on the menu, and they try it. No but there’s a group of French people that will order the Haggis every time because that’s just a thing they do.”

The history of French and Scottish friendship is persevered not through the education system but in associations like the Auld Alliance Association with 50 members based in Orleans, with members throughout France and some in Scotland.

Interior of the Auld Alliance was decorate with art , weaponry, flags, historic newspaper clippings that reference Scottish history and heritage

Speaking to the association president in Paris, Patrick Gilles 69, he says: “Our job is to keep alive the story of the history between France and Scotland because it is a very important part of the story of France and Scotland.”

For Mr. Gilles this is a very important topic to keep in mind for a lot of different reasons. Mainly to emphasis the point that both countries can and should still see each other as allies. An alliance is still important when it comes to trade and diplomacy. Which may become more of an issue in the future if Scotland becomes independent.

 Mr. Patrick Gilles, 69 President of the Auld Alliance Association

On the topic of the potential for a continued relationship post-independence he says: “If Scotland will become independent again., we can imagine we can organise something between a newly independent Scotland and France because we have of course a common history and an old tie. In terms of business we could do a lot.”

France is Scotland’s top international export destination country outside of the United States, with an estimated £3 billion of exports in 2018. Which is in part thanks to the strong historic links between both countries.

Mr. Gilles joked about this political move: “It is very interesting, Scotland four years ago started in 2018/19 set up in various capitals across Europe like Paris, Dublin, Barcelona, Madrid, and Berlin a kind of office. This office (in the centre of Paris) is kind of an embassy. Like a little embassy of Scotland.”

Despite this seeming like a bold move for a devolved nation to open these offices, the aim is just to encourage and support more overseas businesses to set up a location here, invest in Scottish businesses. Which reinstates the Scottish government’s commitment to both the Auld Alliance and Europe in general.

In the socialisation and cultural exchange over such a long period of time, there has been plenty of marriages and children born between the French and the Scottish. Thus, leading to plenty of Scots living in Paris and other areas in France too. The most up to date figures suggest up to 45,000 scots are now living in France.  Mr. Gilles says: “A lot of Scots now live in France and Paris of course. We have some members of our association who are Scots who are sometimes married to people who are French.”

Mr. Gilles is deeply passionate about this topic. He has now authored two history books relating to the topic, which he hopes to translate to English someday. The association provides lots of opportunities to learn and feel connected to one’s Scottish roots. Mr. Gilles says: “For that, we have historical events, commemoration also exhibitions. Personally, I teach lectures on this topic.”

In sites of battlefields where Scots helped the French, the Association puts up plaques. He says: “For instance, we organise the auld alliance historical festival or commemoration since we could unveil plaques to remember what happened locally. We invite friends from Scotland to show Scottish dancing, fighting demonstration, tug o’ war. So, what is the norm in the highland games.?”

The French and Scottish alliance has a long history and still has a legacy of keeping both its people well connected with each other. Whether it be through the efforts of the historical associations and research, governments working on formal trade ties and diplomacy or of course the old fashioned pub where people from both cultures can mingle together, fall in love or form friendships on a personal level too.