Stereotyping the French as onion farmers

I am a fan of the collaborative team, Heide Goody and Iain Grant* who write unabashedly British comic novels with fantastic elements in them. In their latest offering, A Spell in the Country, one of the characters from Portugal is complaining about British attitudes.

Now, ordinarily I’d pass this off without a thought, but I’ve been going through episodes of 'Allo, 'Allo for a couple months now. One of many running gags they have are people disguising themselves as French peasant onion-sellers, with a string of them around the neck. Rene and Edith, a couple bumbling RAF escapees, Nazi officers, Gestapo agents, and both the DeGaullist and Communist resistance groups have disguised themselves as such, with complete success.

So I ask the folks who speak Brit: Is a French onion-farmer/-seller a common stereotype (worn to the point of being laughed at) or does two data points not suffice?

Speaking of jumpers, elsewhere in the book, an ex-husband is described as a “Pringle-jumper-and-moccasin-wearing man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Jumper I get, but Pringle?

*If you are new to them, I highly recommend their first effort, Clovenhoof, where Satan is fired from his job in Hell for incompetence and condemned to live in Birmingham.

I have no idea if it is a British stereotype in general but it may well be a Welsh one. I had a colleague who grew up in Wales and Welsh was his native tongue (he started learning English only in third grade). He told that every year Breton onion growers would sail over to Wales to sell their crops. This is in connection with the fact (which he confirmed) that Welsh and Breton are more or less mutually comprehensible.

And the stereotypical vegetable for the Welsh is the leek, right?

Nice symmetry.

The stereotype probably comes from these guys - As Hari Seldon has said. Pringle is a make of Jumper

Truth kernel: The famous Walla Walla Sweet is a variety of Corsican (hey, it’s still French) onion that grew well when a French guy planted them in the Walla Walla valley.

I was going to spin a yarn about persistent farming practices in this part of Europe depleting the soil of naturally-occurring sulfur, which would yield sweeter, better tasting onions and other fruit crops like grapes. Perhaps a short journey into the abortive history of Corsican onion wines in the 1600s. But I think most of France has fairly acidic soil, and sulfur is a contributor to soil acidity…it all fell apart and I got busy doing something else. Still, could be true. French onion soup is a thing, so…

It was a common stereotype, but I think you’d have to at least 40 to recognise it, and maybe 60 to have experienced it as a living stereotype. I’d say that by the 70s it was already recognised to be a silly caricature.

Pringle is a brand of knitwear of the sort one might see on a golf course, and therefore emblematic of middle-class middle England, notwithstanding the fact that name brands like it sometimes get accosted by the dreaded “chavs”.

“Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” is an accusation that is sometimes made of the right by the left.

So it’s saying that the ex-husband is boringly conservative, and what’s more an actual Conservative.

I’ve never taken that phrase to mean anything political. More a comment on misplaced priorities - kind of like “Penny wise, pound foolish” but expanded from just money.

Eta:and I just looked it up. Oscar Wilde used the phrase to describe a cynic.

'Allo 'Allo plays to /all/ stereotypes, and it’s onion stereotypes also draw on existing stereotypes of English agents and the French resistance.

That is, when you saw the Englishman wearing onions, you knew that it’s not just an Englishman disguised as a Frenchman – it’s an Englishman disguised as an English OS agent or escaping airman. Which is a very 'Allo 'Allo double/reverse joke.

Allo! Allo! comes from the same stable as Are You Being Served. i.e., the whole point of it is to play on familiar stereotypes, the more obviously unrealistic all the better to make the farcical events even more ludicrous (as it might be, stuffing sausages, forged money, detonators, batteries or exploding Christmas puddings down trousers, or ever more wayward shop display machines). That’s the basis of pantomime humour: the more “data points” the better. We don’t always do subtle and ironic.

Alan Partridge famously wears his ‘Peephole Pringle’ jumper with nipple cutouts in his lap-dancing dream fantasy with the Head of BBC Light Entertainment and the IRA.

Without racking my brains too hard I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the stripey jumper, strong of onions and bicycle stereotype well represented on Benny Hill and The Goodies.

Thank you. On this side of the pond, all that comes to my mind hearing the word “Pringle” is a brand of ersatz potato chip – erm, crisp. I figured such was not the case.

Thank you for the answers, all. I liked the implication of Breton peddlers in Wales, but it leaves another mystery, pink onions? Around here, sweet onions are mostly Vidalia or Walla Walla and they’re white or yellow, like common ones are.

Pink and red onions aren’t uncommon. I can’t recall the colour of the flesh of the onions my mother bought from an “onion Johnny” who occasionally called in the 1950s (much to my father’s amusement, he was a M. Bastard) - but their outer skin was a rich brown. They kept for months.

Growing up in east London I well remember we had a french onion seller, complete with stripy Breton shirt and strings of onions draped over his bicycle’s handlebars, come to our home up until the mid 1970s. My mother would always buy a string from him and swore they were superior to those you could buy from local shops. In hindsight we should have asked him to pose for a photo.

It just seems so racist to stereotype the cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys as onion farmers.

I remember my mum buying onions from a very stereotypical Onion Johnny in the late 70s/early 80s - we lived quite close to the port of Southampton.
We also had occasional visits from a rag and bone man ringing his bell - he had a flat bed truck, not a horse and cart - and I think he was mostly after scrap metal (but really did take rags too). Also, there was an old geezer who came around once a year with a weird bike that had two wheels at the front and a sort of mini-workshop in there - he would sharpen kitchen knives.

Yep had both of those, though our rag and bone man did have a horse drawn cart, at least in my early years. I was always fascinated how he fed it with a nosebag. We also had a man come around selling bread and cakes from a big wicker basket and a fishmonger in his van every week. There was also the Corona man selling bottles of fizzy drink from a truck, and collecting the empties for re-use, but mum wouldn’t allow us to buy any :frowning:

There’s a fish van comes round my village a couple of times a week. He’s got a few regular customers near me, so I get him sometimes if I’m home. Very good, very fresh fish it is too.

While young or ignorant, you stereotype them according to your limited knowledge and experience with them. Up to college, I thought of all Frenchmen as short, pudgy, with size 60 pants held by suspenders, wearing dark jackets and berets.

Pringle of Scotland - still alive an well… and pricey! The’ve gone trendy in recent years, but their classic image is rather staid golf knitwear.

I forgot the Corona man! We used to scavenge empty bottles from various places where we found them dumped, and claim the deposit on them.