Good, bad or ugly, everyone has something to say about France and the French: chic, smart, sexy, rude, racist, bureaucratic, bitchy as hell, pavements studded with dog poo, baguettes that dry out by lunchtime and a penchant for torching cars is some of the chitchat on the street. Spice up the cauldron with the odd urban riot, political scandal and a 35-hour working week - not to mention a massive box-office hit like The Da Vinci Code taking over Paris or superstar Angelina Jolie allegedly plumping for a chateau in Normandy to raise her kids - and the international media is all ears too.
This is, after all, that fabled land of good food and wine, of royal chateaux and perfectly restored farmhouses, of landmarks known the world over and hidden landscapes few really know. Savour art and romance in the shining capital on the River Seine. See glorious pasts blaze forth at Versailles. Travel south for Roman civilisation and the sparkling blue Med; indulge your jet-set fantasies in balmy Nice and St-Tropez. Ski the Alps. Sense the subtle infusion of language, music and mythology in Brittany brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders. Smell ignominy on the beaches of Normandy and battlefields of Verdun and the Somme. And know that this is but the tip of that gargantuan iceberg the French call culture.
Yes, this is that timeless land whose people have a natural joie de vivre and savoir- faire - and have for centuries. But change is afoot. France and the French are fed up - and inspired. It's on the tip of everyone's tongues.