Just Above Sunset
January 9, 2005 - Uppity French Folks

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Click here for separate image...

"It is one thing to disagree over political matters or to be severely critical of another country's policy. It is quite another to indulge in a general expression of contempt, or even hatred, for a society, its history, its culture and its people. Americans themselves are sometimes confronted with this kind of absurd hostility abroad. Of all nationalities, they should be the first to stay away from it."
But what’s the fun in that?

Just Above Sunset last weekend posted a photo of a curious billboard, and the next day the New York Times picked up on it.  Amusing.


But this guy has a point about Bill O’Reilly and the rest –


Behind Enemy Lines

Antoine Audouard, New York Times, January 3, 2005


And the Times tells us Antoine Audouard is the author of "Farewell, My Only One" – and the biographic footnotes will tell you this fellow has a curious fascination with Héloïse et Abélard – one strange bit of odd sexual history (you could look it up) – and he’s related to a minor surrealist.  But we won’t hold that against him.


He notices the strange "For Two Hours, It Won't Kill You to Love the French" billboard and comments that as a Parisian who recently moved to New York he has not personally encountered any American hostility toward him as a French citizen, but too he is amazed by “the proliferation of French-bashing in the media.”


There are a raft of anti-French websites and blogs – and he struggles with that – and all the jokes.  But is it all a true picture of what America thinks?


Of course, you could argue that the excesses of bloggers do not paint an accurate picture of American sentiment. You could argue, too, against reading too much into The New York Post's references to President Jacques Chirac of France as a "weasel."  It's true that the days of "freedom fries" are behind us and that any recent dent in French exports is more likely the result of a weak dollar than a boycott of French goods. (Back in the days leading up to the war in Iraq, a friend in California called to tell me about a local TV commercial for rotisserie-cooked chicken that began: "Don't be a chicken like the French. Eat it.")


But 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 press.  And it was rather funny to hear the advice given by some TV pundits to Mr. 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."


Yeah, yeah.  And much of that has been covered in these pages.  See for example April 25, 2004: Playing dumb - C'est affreux of course - but necessary for a bit of that.


And there are the late-night comedians and all the rest.


The result?


… It has become fashionable - even commonplace - in the American media to associate the French with things cowardly, despicable, unfaithful, ungrateful or foul-smelling. In addition to the (more conventional) complaint about Gallic arrogance.


Here in the country of political correctness, where the mainstream press treads on eggshells when talking about race, religion, nation or ethnicity, French-bashing, it would seem, has become politically correct.


It has become politically correct.  And fun for many.  But why?


Audouard list some reasons -


… 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.


Of course.  One hates the person who was right in the first place, particularly when you yourself screwed up publicly.  They told you.  You were too stubborn to listen (or too principled with clearer moral values).  And you probably hate anyone who refers casually to Cassandra and Agamemnon because you have only a dim recollection of those names.  School is for losers, as our president points out - "I speak with some authority here. "I've seen how things can work out pretty well for a C student." 


Bush's Transcript:


Freshman Year:
Political Science 13B: 71 (C-)
Sociology 55A: 70 (C-)
Economics 10A: 71 (C-)
Economics 10B: 72 (C-)
Class rank freshman year: bottom 21%

Other grades:
Introduction to the American Political System: 73 (C-)
Introduction to International Relations: 71 (C-)
Astronomy: 69 (D+)
Anthropology 25: 88 (B+) - his best grade ever at Yale

Overall GPA: 77 (C/C+)


Cassandra and Agamemnon indeed.


Audouard also points that 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.  True.  Saint Patrick’s Day is a big deal for Irish-Americans, bigger here than in Ireland.  Come July 14th – not much happens here.  The French did not flood America en masse way back when.  Minnesota Lutherans have more clout here.


So the French are an easy target.  And Americans do like to bully and patronize others, with a big smile.  It’s part of our charm, and why we’re so lovable.


So we are not shy with our contempt, or even hatred, for this other society, its history, its culture and its people.  They should know they’re inferior and laugh along with us.  It’s an Alpha-Male pack thing.  Others should roll over, expose their bellies and submit.  We’re top got.  We get everything.  That’s the way it is.


Too bad the French were right about this war thing.  The really messes things up.  And make us angier.


And then, of all things, Audouard gives us advice!


Americans themselves are sometimes confronted with this kind of absurd hostility abroad. Of all nationalities, they should be the first to stay away from it. After all, diversity and respect for other cultures are among the core values on which America was founded - and by which Americans thrive.


Yeah, but if people are hostile to us, we kill them.  That shuts them up.







Antoine Audouard bio here -


Antoine Audouard est né le 6 août 1956. Petit-fils du surréaliste André Thirion (ami d'Aragon et de Breton, auteur du classique Révolutionnaires sans révolution), fils du journaliste et écrivain Yvan Audouard, filleul d'Antoine Blondin, il est très vite plongé dans le milieu littéraire.


Après des études au lycée Pasteur de Neuilly, puis à Sciences Po, Antoine Audouard a publié chez Gallimard entre 1977 et 1981 trois romans d'éducation sentimentale. Parallèlement, il rencontre Bernard Fixot, avec qui il commence une carrière d'éditeur, d'abord à Edition N°1, puis chez Fixot et enfin chez Robert Laffont, où il sera pendant six ans directeur général. Il y travaille avec des auteurs aussi différents qu'Alphonse Boudard et Claude Michelet, Bret Easton Ellis et Christian Jacq, Alina Reyes et Jean-Dominique Bauby.


Il quitte les éditions Robert Laffont en 2000 pour revenir à l'écriture. Après Adieu, mon unique (aux éditions Gallimard), il se lance avec deux amis dans l'écriture d'Inca. Il poursuit également des activités d'édition, sur papier ou sur Internet (il est le créateur du Prix Internet du Livre), dans le cadre de la société créée par sa femme, l'éditrice Susanna Lea.



Oeuvres d'Antoine Audouard:
(1977) Marie en quelques mots
(1979) Le Voyage au Liban
(1981) Abeilles, vous avez changé de maître
(2000) Adieu mon unique

(2001) Une Maison au bord du monde Gallimard
Héloïse et Abélard:
Héloïse-Abélard , Correspondance


Or here (with photo) –


Antoine Audouard was born in 1956. He spent six years as publishing director of Laffont-Fixot, in France, leaving to devote himself to writing. Farewell, My Only One is his first novel translated into English.



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....