A soldier takes a picture with a multi-role military helicopter AW149 by AugustaWestland at an international military fair in Kielce, southern Poland. Image Credit: Reuters

Warsaw: Poland’s deputy defence minister on Wednesday claimed that Poles taught the French how to use forks, as a diplomatic row raged over the handling of a failed multi-billion euro helicopter deal.

He spoke after Paris withdrew the Polish delegation’s invitation to the Euronaval industry fair in France this month, amid tension over the breakdown in talks aimed at Poland buying Airbus choppers.

“The French side officially invited us a long time ago and now they are showing us the door,” Deputy Minister Bartosz Kownacki said on the TVN24 private news channel.

“But these are the people we taught to eat with a fork a couple of centuries ago, which may explain their behaviour today.”

He was referring to the fact that the fork was introduced to France by French King Henry III, who had earlier been elected king of Poland.

Historians are however divided on the origin of that particular fork: some say the king discovered it during a stay in Venice after leaving Poland.

Others believe he really did become acquainted with the utensil in Poland, where the fork was brought over half a century earlier by Poland’s Italian-born Queen Bona Sforza.

Kownacki’s comments were heavily condemned by the liberal opposition as well as the spokeswoman of the governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Beata Mazurek, who described them as “unfortunate” and “not very diplomatic”.

“Minister Kownacki is perhaps the first politician to commit diplomatic suicide by fork,” the Polityka weekly commented on its website.

Last week, Poland halted talks with Airbus to buy 50 of its Caracal helicopters, drawing a furious response from chief executive Tom Enders who said his company had never been treated so badly by any government.

The spat has ratcheted up diplomatic tensions between Warsaw and Paris, which was backing Airbus in the process, leading French President Francois Hollande to postpone a visit to Warsaw.

There is disagreement over who actually ended the negotiations.

On Wednesday, several media outlets reported the cancellation of Poland’s invite to Euronaval, citing an official letter received at the Polish embassy in Paris.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed the cancellation to AFP in Paris.