There has been a resurgence of French-bashing in America these past few years, and it's been a lot worse than Yankee-bashing in France.
I chalk it up not simply to politics, diplomacy, or even economics, but rather to some very deep afflictions in the American psyche. Major among them: Paris Envy, the Camembert Complex, and the Fashionista Phobia.
Paris Envy goes back to our early childhoods, when we saw films like American in Paris and Gigi. Leaving the movie theater with visions of the Champs-Elyses and the Eiffel Tower, how could we not feel puny and impotent, contemplating bland, banal Broadway and the Flatiron Building? Even the Hudson River could not compare with the romantic Seine. (I speak
as a native New Yorker; imagine the even greater torment felt by someone from Portland or Peoria!) Paris stirs the imagination, seduces the senses, and inevitably leaves one feeling very jejeune and jealous.
The Camembert Complex, as its name implies, is a bit more complex. It has to do with cheese, of course -- both quality and quantity. American cheeses are fairly limited: so-called Swiss, cheddar, cottage, and cream. They are all processed and pasteurized. (Pasteur, of course,
was French, but his staunchest disciples seem to be American.) French cheeses, on the other hand, are numerous: aged and moldy, runny and smelly, deliciously varied. Charles de Gaulle famously remarked, "Any country that produces 350 varieties of cheese cannot be governed". And he
was right -- while Americans aim to unify and simplify (and sanitize), the French take pride in diversity and multiplicity (and to hell with a little mold).
The Fashionista Phobia is mostly a female disorder. It strikes young women first, when they realize that their jogging suits and running shoes are no match for that little black dress and stiletto heels. The sense of inferiority increases with age, as a mature American woman fumbles with
her scarf, aware that her French sister knows how to tie her Herms carre at least 56 different ways. French perfume is another source of angst because most of the names are....well....French. Even cologne and eau de toilette are French words that lose a great deal in any attempt at translation.
There are other neuroses still unnamed and emerging: the current crusade against foie gras, for example. It's pretty clear that Americans are projecting thier secret sense of guilt over cruel poultry farming in the U.S. by running to the rescue of ducks and geese in France.
There is also periodic wine schizophrenia: dumping excellent bottles of Burgundy and Sauterne, even Champagne, during a crazed spell of francophobia, and then convincing oneself that the Shiraz from California or the plonk from Australia is just as good.
Last but far from least, there is a constant undercurrent of paranoia in regard to the French lifestyle. Americans are raised on the work ethic, and often pride themselves on being workaholics. The French, as we know, have reduced their work week to 35 hours, take five-week paid
vacations every year, and sneak off whenever they can to loll in a cafe. This, conclude most Americans, is taking the pleasure principle too far. Somehow, it seems to threaten, or at least contradict, our own Pursuit of Happiness. The French are having more fun!
I would like to offer some remedies, but I fear they will be hard, harsh, and expensive.
1.) Find a French therapist in your neighborhood.
2.) Make friends with a good French chef.
3.) Get a French penpal on the internet.
4.) Sign up for some French lessons at Berlitz.
5.) Sell your condo and move to Paris.