John Lewis
John Lewis MD has landed himself in hot water over French comments. Reuters

The Managing Director of John Lewis has given a scathing review on the French economy, describing it as "sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat".

Speaking at an event in London, the Times reports Andy Street as saying he has "never been to a country more ill at ease... nothing works and nobody cares about it".

Earlier in the week, the director travelled to France to pick up an award on behalf of John Lewis. He told his audience the gong was "made of plastic and is frankly revolting," adding: "If I needed any further evidence of a country in decline, here it is. Every time [I see it] I shall think: 'God help France."

In recent months, whispers that France is the new sick man of Europe have been gaining traction. Unemployment reached a record high of 11% in July, with pressure mounting on the flailing socialists in government, led by the beleaguered Francois Hollande.

The government had based its fiscal targets on 2015 growth of 1.7%, but it's now looking certain to miss these goals. Manufacturing output is poor, but analysts warn over structural issues within the labour market and productivity too.

Street advised anybody with investments in France to "get them out quickly". He compared the Gare du Nord, one of Paris' main railway stations, as "the squalor pit of Europe", implying that it paled in comparison to London's St Pancras.

The news was delivered at an event celebrating a John Lewis competition for start-up companies. While the Times says his remarks were "tongue in cheek", there's little chance as them being received well in France.

It seems that Street's appearance at the event was behind schedule due to delays on the Eurostar.

John Lewis has no stores in France but is due to launch a French website this year, with purchases made in euros.

The Financial Times quotes Neil Saunders, retail analyst at research house Conlumino, as saying: "When you're the front man for a serious organisation like John Lewis, you have to be careful about offending people - not least a whole nation."

"The comments may have been intended in a humorous context, but John Lewis are expanding in France online, and it is a key target market for them. While its not likely to have a lingering negative effect, it's never wise to offend potential customers - people could vote with their feet or their mouse-clicks."