French President Emmanuel Macron will receive the first state dinner to be given by President Donald Trump.
That handshake in Paris – the one that went on and on – formed a special bond, it seems.
But are we also seeing the rise of French soft power? French soft, fresh-from-the-oven power?
Something is happening right under our noses. President Macron has backed a campaign for the baguette to be on UNESCO’s list of world intangible cultural heritage. Yes, the French stick. The baton.
This presidential boost for the baguette came shortly before Macron was a big draw at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he effectively declared: France is back. And is bread part of his strategy?
The signs all point in the same direction, Inspector Clouseau. Macron is a realist. He knows France can’t dominate the world politically. Or economically. But culinarily? Instagrammatically? If it’s intangible cultural heritage, a baguette is much more than breakfast. #treasure #crustlust #culturenotcalories
Remember, France last year had a go at becoming the tech zone of the future, with Macron inviting techies to come to Paris. That got a few headlines but didn’t lead to the Loire Valley fearing it might be renamed Silicon. He moved on. He forgot cookies. He decided France might better rule the world with a rolling pin. He’d just seen Neopolitan pizza get recognised by UNESCO. Why not French dough? Duh.
The bid to have the baguette promoted to cultural heritage impresses on many levels. The French are always keen to preserve their traits. The Academie Francaise is the custodian of the French language; why not the Boulangerie Francaise as custodian of its carbs?
It’s nationalism-lite. To get elected, President Macron beat Marine Le Pen, who championed economic nationalism, which is the preference of domestically advantageous policies. This is Macron’s more palatable version. Buy baguettes. Not immigrants like soda bread and spelt sourdough, chapatis and baps.
Internationally, Macron is seeking a new way for his country to stay relevant, as the French wine market sees cuts in volume, and French fashion houses appear out of touch. If the baguette is a cultural treasure, it can be exported all over the world. It combats China, as that nation’s vaunted rise is nothing compared to a baguette’s in the oven. And forget the ambiguity of Make America Great Again. Macron is specific: Make French Bread Again. If any nation starts show attitude – it’s just bread, monsieur – there’s something else about the baguette. It is shaped liked a nuclear warhead.
European politicians have been caught out by Macron’s realisation that shaping the world’s tastes is how a country can remain influential. Did Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon think of proposing her nation’s favourite, the Mother’s Pride plain loaf, for the UNESCO list? No. Nor did Prime Minister Theresa May put up the crumpet. This might have changed the conversation. Bread-is-it! Not Brexit.
Last year, Hong Kong announced its first local representative list of intangible cultural heritage, which included the technique of Hong Kong milk tea making. Milk tea is loved by many but it’s no baguette – partly as it’s a hard sell globally given coffee’s popularity but mostly because still brown water looks like a polluted pond on Instagram.
Back to that state dinner. Macron will surely take baguettes to the White House. They’re long and thin – just how Trump likes his ties. And perfectly baked, they’ll turn out Trump Tower gold.
In fact, I only see one problem: if Trump suspects Macron is mocking him with this innovative campaign for French supremacy. Baguettes are no stable genius – but they’re a genius staple.