John Lewis boss Andy Street's attack on "sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat" France, warning British entrepreneurs that the country was "finished" has provoked a fierce French backlash.
“I have never been to a country more ill at ease . . . nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it,” he said a an event marking the end of a John Lewis competition for start-up firms. "If you’ve got investments in French businesses, get them out quickly.”
Street's comments, reported in the Times, have clearly piqued the French, who took to Twitter to label him an "idiot" and tell him to "fuck off".
Guillaume Maujean, editor in chief of finance and markets at the French newspaper Les Echos, wrote: "This 'French-bashing' is getting grotesque."
Street's "tongue-in-cheek" comments have raised eyebrows as John Lewis plans to open a French-language version of its website, denominated in euros.
One Twitter user dryly remarked: "Insulting your future customers... interesting market strategy", while another suggested it was "slightly OTT".
One Twitter user wrote that it was "reassuring to see what the English think about us!", while another dubbed him "idiot of the day".
Street also joked that the award John Lewis had been given in Paris at this week's World Retail Congress was “made of plastic and... frankly revolting”.
“If I needed any further evidence of a country in decline, here it is. Every time I [see it], I shall think, God help France,” he added.
The French embassy also rejected the John Lewis boss' comments, with a spokesperson saying: "France is the fifth biggest economy in the world, the second in Europe, and is the country with the fifth largest stock of foreign direct investment in the world so obviously many foreign businesses do not seem to share Mr Street’s view. Also, saying that nothing works in France shows how wide of the mark those comments are.
“Everyone who has lived in France knows that it enjoys world-class public services. Public transport, for example, is excellent, and at a price that Mr Street is unlikely to find in many countries.
“People working in France enjoy one of the best healthcare systems in the world. And ultimately, workers’ average productivity is higher in France than in many other developed countries.”
Street is not the first business figure to slag off France, as the City A.M financial newspaper did similar earlier in the year when its editor branded their economy a "failed socialist experiment".
In response, the French embassy issued a rebuttal titled "10 accounts on which City A.M. has got it wrong on France", dismissing his "ideological mix of prejudice and error” and mocking the National Health Service as “ailing” and suffering from ”years of under-investment”.
However, Tory MPs hit back hard, with some even ridiculing Hollande for his rumoured affair with actress Julie Gayet. Tory MP Brooks Newmark - now somewhat ironically - told HuffPostUK: "Francois Hollande seems to manage his country's financial affairs as well as his personal affairs."
Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman launched a similar mocking swipe, saying: "The only growth in the French economy appears to be in morning croissants and actresses' careers."