A straight-talking US businessman has caused an international row by blasting the French work ethic.
Maurice Taylor, of tyre-maker Titan International, wrote a no-holds-barred letter to the French industrial renewal minister Arnaud Montebourg.
Mr Taylor, nicknamed The Grizz, was explaining why his firm would never buy part of an ailing Goodyear factory in Amiens.
"I have visited the factory a couple of times," the letter dated February 8 reads, according to a copy published in Les Echos newspaper. "The French workforce gets paid high wages but only work for three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!"
The industrial renewal ministry had approached Titan to start discussions on buying up part of the Goodyear factory. Mr Taylor's response in the letter was blunt, to say the least: "How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tyres. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government."
The ministry confirmed the letter as authentic, but attempts to obtain comment from Titan have been unsuccessful.
The letter, which refers to French employees as "so-called workers", has prompted a media backlash against Mr Taylor, and caused the French government to defend itself.
In a written reply, Mr Montebourg tells Mr Taylor: "Your words, as extremist as they are insulting, show a perfect ignorance of our country. Can I remind you that Titan, the company you head, is 20 times smaller than Michelin, the French technology leader with a global reach, and 35 times more profitable? That shows the extent that Titan could have learnt and gained enormously from a French base." French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem also weighed in, saying: "I would like to remind Mr Taylor that France remains the number one European destination for American investors. And it's likely there are very good reasons for that."
Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show France is riding high in the top 10 of the most productive European countries. However, analysts and politicians across Europe are becoming increasingly concerned that France, Europe's second largest economy after Germany, is rapidly losing its competitiveness. The exchange of letters has been played out on a broader landscape of rising unemployment and fears that French industry will fall further behind as its economy slumps.
Titan International plays on the hard reputation of its chief executive officer, who failed with an attempt to run for US president in 1996 for the Republicans. The company's website features a biography explaining that his nickname comes from his "tough negotiating style" in Washington as well as a logo and sound of a roaring grizzly bear wearing shades.