In what context would Britain's Queen Elizabeth rank just above Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist, but one spot below Dave, an ageing Dutch pop singer?
Give up ? The three landed midway in a list of France's 25 favourite Europeans. Number one was Ellen MacArthur, the British ocean sailor and 25th was Jose Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese president of the European Commission ("Who?", non-Europeans must be wondering).
This 2006 list is a good example of France's mania for opinion polls. The French do not go for American-style rankings, those unscientific, whimsical lists of such things as "the world's" (English-speaking) best jokes, worst sitcoms or things you must do before you reach 30. But they apply serious polling effort to sounding national opinion on just about everything.
One of the oldest fixtures of la sondomanie, as Gallic poll addiction is known, is a twice-yearly national survey of France's 50 favourite people.
Started in 1988 by the IFOP polling company for JDD, the main Sunday newspaper, this poll throws up a strange assortment of sports and showbiz stars, charity workers, politicians and television personalities.
The media report its six-monthly updates as serious news. The best-loved Frenchman in 1988 was Commander Jacques Cousteau, the late oceanographer. Then, for many years the title was held by L'Abbé Pierre, a saintly homeless campaigner who died last January in his 90s. The all-round number one for much of the past six years has been Zinedine Zidane, the retired football star of head-butting fame.
Zizou is top with men, the young and rightwing voters. Women prefer Mimie Mathy, a very small actress, while the over-60s go for Charles Aznavour, the 83-year-old singer-songwriter, and leftwingers prefer Noah.
Respondents are asked to rank which 10 personalities "count most" for them or which they like the most. The changing list tells you something about national values [click here for the current 50, out last month]. It is reassuring because, despite talk of a homogenized world, few outside French-speaking countries will have heard of more than about 20 of the 50. Zidane and Yannick Noah, the tennis-champion-turned-singer are famous abroad but how about number three, Nicolas Hulot? He's a long-haired presenter of television programmes on nature and the environment.
Those who complain about French racism should note that non-Europeans hold the first two spots and four more in the top 50 -- Jamel Debbouze, a comedian, Thierry Henry, the footballer, Corneille, a young pop singer born in Rwanda, and Rachida Dati, Justice Minister and star of Nicolas Sarkozy's government. Her parents came from Morocco and Algeria. But gender equality is absent, with only 11 woman out of the 50.
Given that the poll measures a consensus of admiration and affection, it is not surprising that politicians rank low. For all his hyperactivity, the newly-elected and popular Sarkozy does not manage better than 25th, behind such illustrious figures as Jean-Pierre Pernaut, a lunch-time news presenter, at 16th, and Sophie Marceau, the actress at 18th. The head of state is, however, top politician, ahead of Bernard Kouchner, his leftist Foreign Minister, at 34th, and Ségolène Royal, the Socialist who has crashed from 23rd to 44th since she lost the presidential campaign.
The poll also helps disabuse those who believe that the French have resisted celebrity culture and admire achievers in higher-brow or more serious fields such as the arts and sciences. In this league of sympathique guys and gals, you will find no major writers, no film directors, painters or even philosophers. And the absence of another profession is instructive. Among these mainly rich, successful and often powerful people, there is not one from the business world.
France's Top 10 (IFOP poll July 07]:
1 Zinedine Zidane (footballer)
2 Yannick Noah (singer, tennis player)
3 Nicolas Hulot (television host)
4) Mimie Mathie (television actress)
5 Michel Sardou (singer)
6 Sister Emmanuelle (charity worker)
7 Charles Aznavour (singer/composer)
8 Jamel Debbouze (actor/comedian)
9 Renaud (singer)
10 Franck Dubosc (comedian/actor)
France's favourite 10 Europeans (Ifop poll May 06)
1 Ellen MacArthur (British yachtswoman)
2 Luciano Pavarotti (Italian opera singer)
3 Monica Bellucci (Italian actress)
4 Benoît Poelvoorde (Belgian actor)
5 Michael Schumacher (German racing driver) =
5 Adriana Karembeu (Slovak model)
7 Lech Walesa (Polish statesman)
8 Pedro Almodovar (Spanish film director)
9 Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) =
9 Pope Benedict XVI (German)