Sacré bleu! People of Rouen don’t have a clue about their twin city Norwich

Beautiful Rouen in France, where nobody seems to have heard of Norwich Photo: Getty Images

Beautiful Rouen in France, where nobody seems to have heard of Norwich Photo: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Steve Downes says the time has never been more right to make the most of Norwich's ties to its twin city, Rouen. But it might help if anyone there had heard of us...

I often write this column in Rouen Road – today I'm writing it in Rouen.

It's the Norman city that once boasted the world's tallest building, and where 60 pigs have been put on trial in medieval times for being involved in bestiality. They even had lawyers to represent them, but they rarely saved their bacon.

Perhaps more famously, Rouen is where Jeanne d'Arc was brought by the English in 1431 to be interrogated and then burnt at the stake. To ensure that nothing survived for locals to venerate, she was burned three times, then her ashes were bagged up and thrown into the River Seine.

I've got many more bizarre and intriguing facts up my sleeve, but they can stay there for now.

The biggest reason for us to know Rouen is because it is one of Norwich's twin cities.

You probably know that, but not much more.

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For, while twins are supposed to have an almost spooky likeness and intuitive understanding, Norwich and Rouen are really more like distant relatives who send a card each Christmas.

Twinning is a bit pointless, really – but it should be dynamic.

Many of the twinnings that I'm aware of have had the following benefits:

1 A new name on the 'Welcome to' signs

2 A school exchange or two

3 The odd display around the walls of geography rooms of pupils' work about the twin

4 Delegations of civic dignitaries for a free holiday (sorry, an exhausting week of representing their Norfolk town)

5 The exchange of pennants.

The original aim of twinnings was to promote understanding of another culture, and to deepen links between nations. Through them, we'd be enriched, learning history, geography, economics, a new language – and making new friends.

How much of this has been achieved? Between Norwich and Rouen, I'd say very little.

Every time I was asked where I'm from by a local, when I said 'Norwich', I got a blank look and a quizzical eyebrow raise.

'It's a city in England,' I added – only to get a blanker look.

Here goes.....'C'est un cité de jumelage de Rouen.'

At this twin city revelation, a small light came on, but no more.

During my four days here, I haven't seen a single mention of our fine city. The twinning is on the cusp of pointless.

And yet there is so much that could be celebrated.

Our cities have historic trading links, and share many examples of gothic architecture. Our cathedrals are made from the same Normandy limestone.

Norwich and Rouen are inland ports, were both once the second city of their nation, and have the same remarkable fusion of old and new architecture.

To celebrate, Norwich has Rouen Road: a street of little note, featuring a car park, a tower block, flats and Archant Towers.

Surely Norwich could do better than this?

How about an annual twinning festival, celebrating and demonstrating what is great about Rouen?

Could it be a maritime festival, with boats coming in from Rouen?

There could be permanent exhibitions in one or more of our museums.

The tourism agencies could put together bespoke visits to each other's cities, with shops, hotels and tourist attractions offering deals.

There is tremendous potential, particularly at a time when we are burning our bridges with Europe. Rapprochement would be magnifique.

Until then, change the sign to 'Welcome to Norwich, a fine city. Twinned with Rouen, for no apparent reason'.