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Today’s hot news: Englishman apologizes for being rude about France

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He wouldn't have apologized.raspu Getty Images/Moment Open

What is the world coming to?

In a shock development Friday, a prominent Englishman Friday apologized for making the kind of comments that the English and French have routinely been making about each other every day at least since, I dunno, the Hundred Years War.

Andy Street, chief executive of the august retail chain John Lewis Plc, had regaled fellow-businessmen in an after-dinner speech in London Wednesday with some choice views on the state of the U.K.’s favorite neighbor, calling it “finished” and “sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat.”

“I have never been to a country more ill at ease … nothing works and, worse, nobody cares about it,” Street said of the country that gave us The Declaration of the Rights of Man, modern mathematics and a whole host of cheeses that can’t be sold in the U.S. because they’re too delicious.

With a rhetorical flourish, Street described as “the squalor pit of Europe” the Gare du Nord, the rail terminus from which relieved Limeys–laden down with purchases of clothes more stylish and food more tasty than they can generally find at home–take the Eurostar back to their sceptr’d isle. (You can find more in the same vein here, or you can dust off your old copy of A Tale of Two Cities, depending on how much time you have.)

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Street’s comments were part of the company’s marketing for its new French-language e-commerce portal, which–perhaps for the better–doesn’t yet have a launch date. Either way, by midday, Street was beating a retreat worthy of…no we’re not going to go there…anyway, he was very, very sorry.

“The remarks I made were supposed to be lighthearted views, and tongue in cheek,” Street said in a statement. “On reflection I clearly went too far. I regret the comments, and apologise unreservedly.”

Francophobes around England (i.e., all 48 million of ’em) were shocked by the apology. They resorted instantly to lamenting the decline of the Royal Navy since Nelson’s day and sensed that the whole thing was cooked up by the foreigner-loving Foreign Office to make sure that the U.K.’s new delegate to the European Commission doesn’t end up with the portfolio for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management.

A spokeswoman for John Lewis refused to apologize for Street’s apology when pressed.

Likewise, a spokesman for the French embassy declined to provide any assurances that the French would now stop being rude about cheddar and Vivienne Westwood, or at least stop pointing out that they won soccer’s World Cup a lot more recently than we did.