There's a documentary on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm tonight - What is it to be French - del the first round of the presidential election is only 11 days away and the debate about national identity is raging. So, the pre-empt tonight's documentary, here is a personal definition of the French.

France is a nation of regional tribes, united by a single language and subscribing to a set of values - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as defined in the constitution

Regional tribes

In the 25 years or so that I have lived here, people will tell you that they are Breton, Basque, Catalan Chti or Vendeen, before they say that they are French. regional identity seems t be stronger than national identity. The regional link is evident when you look at peoples' cars. Many owners will have a regional bumper sticker; whereas in Britain they may have an English, Welsh or Scottish flag. I've never seen cars in Britain with regional bumper stickers. Who, when they drive north would want to admit that they come from London.

As for values - yes, we are supposed to live by the Republican trinity as laid down by those first revolutionaries, but there are still vast tracts of France that might be considered as "anti revolutionary" for example along the Western sea board in the strongly catholic areas of Brittany or the Vendée. These were the areas where the first revolutionaries and even Napoleon, sent armies to put down local anti revolutionary revolts. Even during the third Republic, central government in Paris were busy sending Republican apparatchiks to instill Liberty, equality and Fraternity into the natives.

As for the national stereotype - the onion seller on the bicycle with the stripy sweater and the Beret. The Beret is originally from the Basque country and the pyrénees. The stripey shirt is that of the Breton fisherman. I suppose that the onions are the only truly national item.

There is the modern stereotype of the typical Frenchman - highly chauvinist and ever complaining.

I would say, for the purposes of the BBC documentary that there is no such thing as a typical Frenchman - there are too many tribes to have such a thing as a true national stereotype.

Just a personal opinion.