I always try to embrace the difficult and the easy writing assignments with the same gusto. If I have a hard job, I stare at that job and make sure that I don't blink first. Keeping this absurd mixed metaphor in mind, I went to France recently on an arduous research trip to find out everything I could about the French. Those of you who have been reading my columns for a while, know that this was not my first trip there. However, I vow to go back as many times as necessary to bring my readers the facts about France. I spent three weeks studying the French on the beaches of the Riviera, in the lavender and sunflower fields of Provence, and outside the cafes of Paris solely for the purpose of gathering information. The following is a survey which I conducted. Whether you're a casual reader or happen to be someone from the IRS, I'm sure you'll see that my business trip was worthwhile.
We've all heard that the French are cold and snobby and aren't nice to Americans. Supposedly, food is what they take most seriously in life, and they spend more time in museums than at work. I wanted to learn what were false stereotypes and what was the truth. Above all, I wanted to learn how they really feel about Americans these days. For my research, I tried to blend in with the French. In fact, on the beach, I went topless.
For the survey, I tried to get a cross section of people in terms of age, but it was hard to know if I was accomplishing this in a country in which there are more anti-wrinkle creams than ice cubes.
The Garver Survey, 2009
My first question was whether they felt that since Barack Obama became President, had relations between France and the United States gotten better or worse? About 96% replied that our relationship had gotten better. And only a small percentage of these people were trying to sell me something when they made this reply. The people I talked to seemed to love our President. In fact, 75% of those who filled out my survey feel that Obama is a better president than their own Sarkozy.
80% feel that someday France will have a woman President. Only 48% of those surveyed feel that someday France will elect a black President. My guess is that if this question had been asked in America a year ago, the results might have been similar - that more people felt that we would have a woman President before we elected a black one.
Those who filled out my questionnaire are not all that optimistic about the economy. Only 12% feel that it will recover by the end of 2010, and a gloomy 32% don't feel that it will recover in our lifetime. Seems to me if my wife and I make just one more trip to France, their economy should be just fine.
Since it was France, I couldn't resist asking a couple of questions about sex. Not surprisingly, those questioned felt that French women and men are sexier than Americans. However, I should point out that this was before I got my haircut.
Of all the things that France is known for, including their history, their architecture, their art, a surprising 20% said that the French thing they were most proud of was... the cheese. The cheese! Forget Notre Dame, Impressionism, and the French Revolution. Just pass the Brie.
In at least one way, the French aren't all that different from us. We've all heard about the New Yorker who's never been to the top of the Empire State building. Well, about a third of those surveyed have never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower. And in this country known for its culture and museums, 36% say they "almost never" go to a museum. They're probably too busy eating cheese.
I realized that it was an imposition for me to interrupt people's busy day and ask them to fill out a questionnaire. So my final question was whether they thought a journalist who stopped them to ask some questions was the most annoying man they had encountered all day or the most handsome and distinguished one. 91% replied that the guy with the clipboard who stopped them to get their opinions was the most distinguished man they had seen all day. Who says the French aren't nice to Americans?
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.