I have to admit that I had never thought of it as an insult, or even a display of superiority, but I suppose it could be construed as such. At least, a writer in yesterday's paper described it as an insult, a calculated insult, even though I suspect his tongue was very much in his cheek.
When ever I enter a restaurant in France, the waiters or waitresses immediately tag me as English. And they are right; there is something quite undefinable about every Englishman that identifies his nationality. I don't even have to open my mouth, the staff know I am English without hearing my execrable French spoken with a distinctive accent.
My grasp of the lingua franca is, admittedly, somewhat tenuous but I know just about enough to read (most of) the menu and to order my meal. All the same, many a time the waiter or waitress has replied in English to confirm my order. I have always taken that as a king gesture, even if at times it has given rise to a certain confusion. But is it really a subtle insult or display of superiority?
"Huh, you Eengleesh, you 'ave no idea 'ow to speak our beautiful language whereas I, a mere French waiter, 'ave a full command of your mixed up mumblings."
I have been surprised to be offered a menu in English in some distinctly out of the tourist way towns and villages. Another subtle dig?
On the other hand, the last English menu I saw in France had been produced by a non-English speaking restaurateur who had used a computer to translate from the French. That, together with his typing errors (at least, I assume that's what they were) led to some hilarious and, frankly, quite unintelligible descriptions. It didn't help that anyone ordering from the English menu had to point to what they wanted while the restaurateur read to dish in the equivalent place on the French menu.
And I recall reading somewhere, although this was many years ago so it may no longer apply, that the French consider French spoken with an English accent to be sexy, rather like the way English women loved the accent of Charles Aznavour. And it's not often that I am considered sexy!
But now I come to think of it, I was once at a supper in California with several dozen Americans. The woman sitting next to me exclaimed that she found my accent cute and she could listen to it all night. I didn't take her up on the offer, and not just because the Old Bat was with me.