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A Few Things Every American Should Know About The French

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I cannot believe that my article (Why the Americans Hate the
French
), written in serious good humor, aroused such a storm of
nastiness. A veritable Katrina of Kantankerous Kalumny. A tsunami of
acrimony!

First, let's overlook the typos. Many French words and accent marks
got lost or mangled, because our mono-linguistic computers have a hard
time dealing with foreign languages.

And let me express my appreciation to those enlightened souls who
understood what I was saying, who smiled, and agreed. And often added
some illuminating comments.

But.....what has happened to everyone's sense of humor? To
everyone's sense of perspective? I have lived in France for nearly 30
years: let me tell you some things that the French are not.

The French do not hate Americans -- like many people in the world
today, including many Americans, they dislike and distrust American
foreign policy and the Bush administration. After 9/11, there was a
tremendous outpouring of sympathy and friendship for the U.S.; all that
has been lost.

The French are not dumb. They developed the magnificent Concorde,
and are on their way to putting the world's largest, most silent, most
comfortable Airbus in the skies. With Britain, they built the EuroTunnel.
And they created the TGV -- the high-speed train that is gradually
linking every country in Western Europe.

The French are not shiftless. Like other 'socialistic' peoples of
Europe they have struck a deal: they pay higher taxes, but in return they
have reliable medical coverage, more job security, good unemployment
benefits, virtually free education, five-week paid vacations, family
allowances for children, and sometimes even housing allowances. There is
a social "safety net." There is less abject poverty, and there is far
less disparity between the very rich and the very poor, as in America.

The French are not cultural dinosaurs. They are struggling to
maintain their identity in a world that is dominated by American music,
film, and television. Years ago, then-French Minister of Culture Jack
Lang warned of "American cultural imperialism." (Yes, his name is Jack,
not Jacques; and no, America does not have a Secretary of Culture.) It
was not a deliberate crusade, he explained, but a result of rather
irresistable forces: a huge, powerhouse nation producing and exporting
vast quantities of attractive, youth-oriented entertainment at attractive
prices. (For example, it is cheaper to buy a ready-made American TV
series, or to sub-title an American film, than to make it from scratch.)
EuroDisney, just outside Paris, is a blatant example of this sorry trend.

The French are not reactionary conservatives. They still respect
their traditions, their families, and to some extent their church. But
they legalized abortion 25 years ago, they have day care centers for
infants of working mothers, and they now have a special statute that
recognizes and protects homosexual unions. They did not not impeach their
president (Francois Mitterrand) when he admitted to fathering an
illegitimate child. (The French politely call it a "natural" child.)

The French, at a dinner party, do not talk about their diets, their
investments, their grandchildren, or their surgery. They do talk about
their vacations, their favorite restaurants, or the newest literary
scandal. They are able to toss around ideas, play with them, enlarge
them, embrace them, puncture them, or shrug them off. (People who do this
for a living they call "intellectuals." And this is a recognized
profession!) But when their hard-won benefits are threatened, or when
workers are laid off, or whenever the government proposes something they
don't like, they will march in the streets by the hundreds of thousands.

"Solidarité" is one of their favorite words, along with liberté, égalité
and fraternité.

We forget that Americans live on a different scale than Europeans.
Our country is bigger than any of theirs. Our homes and cars are bigger.
You might even say that our aspirations are bigger. But bigger isn't
better. Bigger is just bigger.

"Bigger" allowed us to mobilize tremendous military strength and
defeat the Nazis. Doing so, we were not just saving the French and the
rest of Europe -- we were fighting for our own existence. America would
not have survived very long if Europe had fallen. It's time to give up
that arrogant argument; if anything, we entered the war too late.

The one thing worse than arrogance is ignorance. The one thing worse
than ignorance is vulgarity. And believe me, the French can be as
arrogant and ignorant as the Americans, but they are never vulgar.

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