Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

French Whine Redux

From International Herald Tribune

French author Antoine Audouard complains in his piece "America's ridiculous hatred of the French" that despite the their longstanding disdain and hostility to the US, our contempt for all things French is déclassé

While Antoine can take the usual jokes about body odor and his country surrendering to visiting drum and bugle corps in stride, some things really cut to the quick:

...the hysteria of French-bashing has given way to a more insidious form of bias. For example, it was humbling for us French to watch Democratic operatives desperately trying to hide John Kerry's French relatives - who had come to be with him at the Democratic convention - from the news media. And it was rather funny to hear the advice given by some television pundits to Kerry minutes before the first debate: "Don't speak French." (He didn't, and by the way, it made no difference.) And whether in rustic tabloid lingo or in the more refined language of broadsheets, the typical out-of-touch East Coast liberal is more often than not "French-speaking" or "Bordeaux-drinking."

He seems to be as out of touch with American sensibilities as Kerry was when it comes to understanding the causes of this animus.

Why the French exception? Several reasons spring to mind. France's opposition to the war in Iraq is the first, of course. This has infuriated the political establishment - Republicans and Democrats alike. And during times of war, patriotic sentiment can quickly become xenophobic. Having cast themselves in the role of Cassandra (who was endowed with the gift of prophecy but not with the talent of making herself heard), the French should not be surprised by the American Agamemnon's resentment.

To go back in history a bit, France is one of the few major European countries to have never undergone any widespread immigration to America. So there is no French minority to pander to, no French lobby to placate.

Also, the French delude themselves in valorizing their historical relationship to America: Lafayette vs. Eisenhower, the Statue of Liberty vs. the Marshall Plan - there is something wrong, even shocking, about comparing France's help during America's War of Independence with the role of America in the two world wars.

After these random-seeming rationalizations, he gets to the core of his complaint which is that it is one thing to disagree, but another to "indulge in contempt, or even hatred, for a society, its history, its culture, and its people." Nowhere does he address decades of American perplexity at the contempt, ungrateful hostility and backstabbing the US endured after aiding France in two World Wars and Vietnam. In trying to parse out his logic, I can only suggest that the disconnect is that the French seem to traffic in symbols, while the majority of Americans base their judgment on deeds.

So it may be helpful to those of Antoine Audouard's mindset to catalog some of those recent deeds that have formed our national opinion of France.

Frenchmen like Antoine Audouard who seem to have some interest in maintaining civil relations with the US need to focus more on what their leaders are saying and doing and less on their Gallic pride.

papijoe 7:19 AM