EDINBURGH was bracing itself for a French invasion beginning to day as thousands of rugby fans head to the capital for tomorrow’s crunch Six Nations clash against Scotland at Murrayfield.
The sell-out game – the 92nd meeting between the two teams – is one of the highlights of the sporting calendar given the strong links between the Auld Alliance.
Officials at Edinburgh Airport said it is “expecting numbers well into the thousands” over the weekend with the fixture expected to generate millions as fans of both shades of blue descend on bars and cafés around the city.
But the biennial French invasion is not just a boon for the economy – it is an exciting time for the city’s 2,000-strong French community.
Edinburgh’s French connection goes back centuries to when Mary Queen of Scots, brought an entourage to the city and established Little France.
The city is now home to dozens of French-owned restaurants and cafés. Vincent Fontaine, manager of Café de la Poste, arrived recently in Newington to “start a business and learn English”.
He said: “Edinburgh is very welcoming, which is good because there are a lot of French people here. I don’t speak much English yet, but there’s a small community here now. I love rugby and the game is exciting for us here.”
Antoine Raymond, manager at Café Tartine in Leith, said: “Historically, perhaps because it was such an important port, there’s always been a real connection between Edinburgh and France.
“I’ve not been in Edinburgh long, but I love it. It’s great walking around the city because you normally do hear a lot of French accents, whether it’s tourists or residents. This weekend I’ve seen so many people come through – it’s so exciting.”
Lucy Chevalier, covering manager at Cote Brasserie, thinks visiting French supporters are more likely to go to the pub than French restaurants.
She said: “I’m excited to see the influx and how many French people come through, but we don’t have many bookings from French people really.
“I think they prefer to check out Scottish traditional pubs because we don’t have those in France. Would Scottish people prefer to go to pubs or French restaurants in France? Maybe that’s a different question. I’m French so I’m quite critical – I think Scotland will probably win.”
Cyril Barthelme, owner of Patisserie Maxime, was in little doubt, saying: “Scotland have been having a wonderful team for the last couple of years and would feel that they could eat frogs for their Sunday roast.”
The French government has taken steps to reinvigorate relations by opening up a new cultural and diplomatic base on the Royal Mile. The first French consulate was opened in Edinburgh 200 years ago.
Daniel Boden, Communications Officer at the French Institute, said: “As with any international sporting event, winning is a point of pride for the French, but such events also encourage goodwill.”