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‘Surprised, touched’: our French neighbours’ kindness at Queen’s death

Connexion readers tell of emails received from French friends and ‘a more gentle approach’ by shop staff after the news broke 

Connexion readers share how their French friends and neighbours sent condolences on the news of the Queen’s death Pic: Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock

Since the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death was announced on September 8, it has dominated newspaper and television headlines around the world. 

France responded with a series of front pages dedicated to the Queen’s life and reign, and President Macron gave a speech addressing the people of the UK and Commonwealth. 

In it, he said: “To you, she was your Queen. To us, she was The Queen. She will be with all of us forever.”

Read more: Macron pays tribute to the Queen: ‘We all feel an emptiness’

Read more: ‘We loved her so much’: France reacts to news of the Queen’s death

British and Commonwealth citizens living in France have also spoken of their surprise at being contacted or approached by French people wishing to share their condolences. 

‘A river of deep kindness’ 

Jackie Roberts, a retired NHS public health practitioner and manager who has a holiday home in Vautorte (Mayenne), said that she had been “overwhelmed by the kindness and understanding and love from local French people in acknowledging the loss and humanity of Queen Elizabeth.”

She added that it is “a moment in time that I shall never forget, in one human being reaching out to another offering more than condolence across countries, languages and differences: a river of deep kindness.”

‘Surprised and touched’ 

Jennifer Hazelden, a retiree who, with her brother, owns an old forge in Indre, said: “We received a lovely email from our French neighbour, sending her condolences for the loss of ‘your Queen’.

“I noticed that when I was staying in France during the summer months, our neighbours seemed to take quite an interest in our Royal Family, ventured their opinions on Charles as the Queen’s successor and spoke of ‘Diana’s sons’ with affection.

“None of us thought that while we were watching the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations on television, we would soon be watching her funeral procession.

“I was both surprised and touched by my neighbour’s email; it was most unexpected and much appreciated.

“I am not a Royalist, but I felt very sad at hearing of Queen Elizabeth's death. I am one of those many people who have never known any other sovereign in my lifetime. 

“Watching the Jubilee celebrations whilst I was in France made me feel quite patriotic towards my home land and I could only wish her well.

“As much as I love France and the people I have met over there I realise I am at heart British.

“We went to the Bastille celebrations in Buzançais and you could feel how patriotic the French people are about their country, ‘The Republic’, so it means a lot to hear a French person express such regret about the loss of our Queen.”

Condolences from a neighbour

Eveline Mackie, a retired translator who lives in Lot, said: “We and the other two British households in our little hamlet received the following email message from our French neighbour Catherine: 

Sentiments émus pour vous et pour tout votre pays! Désormais, Good (sic) save the new King! Amitiés’.” 

This could be translated as: ‘My heartfelt condolences go out to you and all your country! From now on: God save the new King! In friendship.’

“I did not have the heart to tell her that I am a committed Republican, so I simply thanked her for her kind thoughts,” Ms Mackie said. 

A happy memory of the Queen

Alan Ingram, a retiree who lives in Aude, shared his memory of seeing the Queen as a child.

“I saw Her Majesty The Queen in person but once,” he said. “It was 1963, I think. I was 10 years old and lifted onto my father’s shoulders, saw her as she was driven down George Street, Hove, in her state car. 

“Briefly, I am sure that we made eye contact and she smiled a radiant smile, which has remained with me to this day. 

“I share in the global deep sense of loss and thank God for her long and happy reign. My deepest and most sincere condolences to her family. God save the King.” 

‘A most sensitive message’ 

Terence Bowker, a retiree living on a boat in France who is from South Africa and therefore a citizen of the Commonwealth, said that a “dear old French friend of mine near Paris [...] sent me the following message: ‘Our thoughts are with you at the loss of Queen Elizabeth’.” 

“It was a most sensitive message and one that I greatly appreciate.

“When I saw photos of the meeting between the Queen and the new prime minister of the UK, I had the uncomfortable feeling that the Queen looked very frail and that she might not long be with her subjects. 

“The feeling was acute because it reminded me of an unsettling dream that I had had in 1997 on the night Princess Diana died. 

“When the news came via an English friend of mine that Her Majesty had died, I was saddened but not surprised.

“I am 76 and was of a like age to Prince Charles when I lost my mother last year. She was 106. 

“At our advanced ages death is closer than one would wish but it is still an extremely sad experience to go through when a very aged parent departs this mortal coil. 

“I would not be at all surprised should His Majesty constantly think of his mother every day for years to come. It is hard becoming an orphan well into one's seventies.”

‘A more gentle approach’ 

Sarah*, an emerita professor in English Linguistics at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, Paris, said that she had not received condolences, but rather “a remarkable uptake in the switch to English in my region of Hérault whenever I opened my mouth to speak French this week.”

She also said that, having lived in France for almost 13 years, she suddenly observed a “noticeably more gentle approach from people in the commercial sector. 

“And on the front page of the Midi Libre, Saturday: ‘Vive le Roi!’.

“I appreciate this gentleness from the French people I come into contact with; I find it very civil and empathetic.”

Speaking of the Queen’s death, Sarah commented that she “found it incredible that someone who was on her feet, fulfilling her final duty only two days before could pass away so suddenly – that she literally worked until the day she died.” 

*Name changed on the request of the contributor 

‘Simple gesture of human kindness’

Another reader said that he and his wife heard the news of the Queen’s death when they stopped off overnight on their way to Spain. 

“We were in the restaurant when we heard the news on the television,” he said. “Both my wife and I were devastated and upon seeing my distress an elderly Frenchman (Jacques) immediately got up from his table and put his arm around me to console me. His wife too, in tears, spoke to my wife.

“This simple gesture of human kindness meant so much and proves that both French and English are alike in many (good) ways and shows how much our Queen was liked and respected worldwide. 

“In the morning they came to see us before our departure and spoke kindly and affectionately in spite of not speaking any English.

“Later that morning we called at a boulangerie near Pau and upon hearing our English accents the lady behind the counter immediately offered her condolences. Most touching and gratefully received.

“Indeed, this is why we love France and [the French people’s] courtesy.”

Related articles 

France-London transport fares spike ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral

Queen won hearts in France with first speech in French at 22

Two French mayors explain why they refuse to lower flag for Queen

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