Well, at least we no longer call them 'natives', a haughty noun of imperial disdain that was still in wide currency during my childhood, which was a decade or two post-imperial. Today, the British establishment's preferred word for foreigners in situ seems to be 'locals'. Hence, on the morning after the Notre Dame fire, the BBC's website was telling us that the inferno was 'deeply upsetting for the locals… [even though the] locals are not famous for their sunny disposition'.
The term wasn't just patronising, though it was certainly that. It was also irrelevant, to the extent of being disingenuous and even plain wrong. One of the most striking things to notice in France in the aftermath of the disaster was that it wasn't just Parisians who were in mourning for their great cathedral. It was people the length and breadth of the country, many of whom usually could not feel less 'local' towards Paris if they lived in New Zealand.
The sorrow went far further than France too. It is the sorcery of Paris that you only have to visit the place once to feel a share forever in its ownership. When Humphrey Bogart tells General Strasser in 'Casablanca' that 'it isn't my
beloved Paris, particularly', he knows that the line doesn't ring true. If you've been, it's yours. And no part of Paris, not even the Eiffel Tower, is so personal to all who love the city as Notre Dame, the great stone pivot in the centre of the Ile de la Cité, where Paris began and around which it still revolves.
But the measure of the shock felt far from the City of Light, out in la France profonde
, was the complete lack of dissent from the idea that this tragedy for Paris was also a tragedy for all of France. Like the dog in Conan Doyle's 'Silver Blaze', it was the silence from the usual sources of anti-metropolitan scorn that was conspicuous and significant. France is hardly ever like that.
There was no objection anywhere when Emmanual Macron, on the very night of the fire, promised that resources would be found to rebuild Notre Dame. It was, Macron said, a loss for the whole nation: 'I say to you very solemnly this evening: this cathedral will be rebuilt by us all together…we will rebuild Notre Dame because that is what the French expect'. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, insisted that the 13th-century masterpiece was 'part of our common heritage'.
Now, for sure, Paris is prone to the conceit (or so the rest of France will tell you) that it matters much more than anywhere else, in much the same way that London sees itself as the only bit of Britain where anything worthy of attention ever happens. Such is the way in a modern centralised state. Yet, this time, you waited in vain for the rest of France to tell the Parisians to come off it.
Within hours, money was pouring in from every commune in the land, and from across the world. Philippe Saurel, fiercely ambitious socialist mayor here in Montpellier in the deep south-west of the country, said the cathedral was a universal treasure, and assured Hidalgo of his city's solidarity. 'Tonight France is sad, very sad,' echoed his chief opponent on the city council, Michael Delafosse. 'It is a part of all the French which is devastated,' said local MP Patrick Vignal.
Even the proudly parochial local newspaper, Midi Libre, which devotes page after page every day to stories from the sort of villages where a limping sparrow counts as news, gave over its front page and a double inside spread to dramatic pictures and reports of the fire, beneath the headline 'Notre Dame of Paris ravaged by fire: France stunned'.
Nor was there a word of dissent to be heard in those first hours across France's expansive political spectrum. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-Right National Rally (formerly National Front) called the cathedral 'a marvel of our heritage and our culture,' while the Republicans’ leader, Laurent Wauquiez, said: 'It is a whole part of our history, of ourselves that burns tonight'. Olivier Faure, first secretary of the Socialist Party, said it was 'a jewel of our history' for the faithful and godless alike. Maverick left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said every thought was of the great structure 'that burns before our eyes'.
In the days since the fire, the political consensus has begun to fray. The noisy eagerness of big corporations to pledge donations to the rebuilding fund has been dismissed as opportunistic marketing by critics on the left, who argue that boardrooms could do much more for the national wellbeing if they spent less time looking for ways to squirm out of paying their taxes.
But the geographical consensus, as I write, still holds firm. So what? you might ask. Don't nations always come together in the face of adversity? No, not this one; at least not always.
There is a heavy irony in the fact that the engagement which Macron cancelled in order to hurry down to the Ile de la Cité was a television broadcast to the nation, setting out his response to the views of a million people, garnered since January in the 'grand débat' that he inaugurated to answer the gilets jaunes protests against his reforms. Six months of sometimes violent discontent have sent his ratings plummeting. He urgently needs to convince those who wrote, emailed or attended any of the 9,250 public hearings across the country, that he has heard them.
So it tells you something about the emotional impact of the fire – but also, let me suggest, something rather impressive about Macron's political instincts, that he felt confident enough of France's priorities to postpone in an instant a broadcast on which his career may depend.
Not only that, but he was still down by the Seine when he announced, without qualification, that money would be found to rebuild the great cathedral. Now, at one level that's easy, since in France places of worship are owned by the people not the churches: parish churches by parish councils, cathedrals by the government. So it was his call to make.
But consider this. The cathedral was still in flames as he spoke and no-one, least of all the president, had any idea how much of it would be left. More importantly, high on the gilets jaunes' long and ill-sorted list of gripes, at least down our way, has been the claim that Macron is altogether too steeped in Parisian elitism and snootiness, and therefore too ready to indulge the capital's favoured treatment over the rest of the country. If decisiveness is a quality to admire in politicians, then the blank cheque that Macron wrote Notre Dame by the light of the flames was a pretty bold act.
Clearly, his intuition told him that the country's emotional trauma would carry the day, rather like Tony Blair and the People's Princess. Was he as certain of the mood as he appeared? De Gaulle once grumbled about the impossibility of governing a country with 246 different kinds of cheese. In fact, there are more than 246 cheeses in France. But there is only one Notre Dame de Paris.