I’ve heard more than one reference disparaging France in my lifetime, but nothing against, say, Portugal. It just seems like disliking and talking smack about France and French people is accepted and even encouraged in some parts of American culture. Why is this, and can it be stopped? It seems a silly prejudice.
It is a silly prejudice.
Factor #1 is proximity (cultural & geographical): Americans are aware of France and French, whereas I think the general awareness of Portugal is lower.
Factor #2 is that a lot of high-culture art, music, literature, and dance either came into the English-speaking world from France or via France, so there is an association between France and activities that are now considered élite or élitist. A lot of the prejudice against the French is simply class prejudice: we portray them as cowardly, effete people who’ll take our labor / military help but who still look down their noses at us. Think Monty Burns in a beret.
Factor #3 is (modern) history. France has never been forgiven for the collaborationist government during WWII, even though the reality is very complex. Never mind their role in the US Revolutionary War; that’s old history. I’ve never understood this one, really; we don’t seem to hold WWII against the Italians at all, or to note our own absence for the first two years.
Factor #4 is global insecurity. France is a leader in the move to unite Europe economically, and possibly politically as things move forward. While France and its influence are increasing on the world stage, the U.S. and American influence might be going down.
Factor #5 is culture. France, along with most of Europe, is a lot more socially progressive than the United States, so there’s some tension. So are Belgium and Norway, but they don’t have the other factors.
I’m sure there’s a ton of things I haven’t thought of.
Disclosure: I am a Louisiana raised boy but my wife speaks fluent French and my daughter, age 6, is in total French immersion in 1st grade and will likely stay there until she completes high school. I have had some of the best times of my life in France and I don’t speak more than ten words of the language. Even Parisians have been nice to me during the many days I have walked around all by myself.
I am pretty sure that we have done this one before but I have no idea how to search for those threads from long ago. France gets laughed at for a few things.
They have pretended to be a global military player long after they should and tended to turn tail and run at the first sign of real trouble.
They believed they were the 3rd superpower during parts of the U.S. - Soviet Union Cold War which is just laughable.
They can be semi-socialist and arrogant on what can and cannot be dictated based on whims (French language protection for example).
They don’t seem to like work all that much except when it comes to organizing strikes.
In short, the French attitude is all about wimpery in the American mind. No, I won’t provide a cite for any of these. It is all about perception anyway. The creeping socialism is what really sets many Americans off. You can’t just dictate a 35 hour workweek and extreme benefits for everyone and expect everything just to work. If it were that easy, every country would have already done it.
Or…France threatens to veto anything which threatens its huge farming subsidies from the EU, and therefore can seem to be a great political power when it’s really just an accident of history.
Now’s as good a time as any to drag out the old adage that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference.
Careful, someone might accuse us of that after Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. . . !
I suppose I should have said “France *was *a leader…”; I meant they were one of the original common market countries.
Factor #6: it was a right-wing meme, based on righteous opposition against the Iraq war, but bolstered by the spurious reasoning shagnasty highlights, that flourished in the American mind.
I doubt that many of the people eating Freedom Fries* knew an iota about the country or culture, with the possible but unlikely exception of a few days in Paris.
*Which indicates to me that “French” = “Freedom”. Which I suspect was not the intention of the nonsense.
I think we get it from the British. Like it or not, much of our cultural outlook derives from English roots. France and England have been making fun of each other when they weren’t actually fighting for hundreds of years. Lafeyette notwithstanding, once the revolution was over, America still followed many British traditions, such as making fun of the French.
It’s resentment for the Norman invasion.
I actually admire the French. 75% electricity generated by nuclear power. Yeah, they seem to be liberal in some ways but when the greens get in the way they just sink their ship. I like the short and sweet method.
Making fun of, yes. Fighting alongside, however, is a different matter. The American posturing of recent years isn’t something which can be reconciled with the spirit of the Entente cordiale.
I think some of it is just good-natured ribbing too, the kind you do to a good friend. Certainly there are some people that believe the stereotypes and hate France, but mostly it’s “France? Hey, I got a joke about them…” We do it with the British cuisine and culture too, just not as much.
We make comments because the French stink, their food sucks, and they are politically associated with Arabs. French “culture” is a contradiction in terms. The world would be a better place if Tallyrand had failed.
-silenus, who is at least 50% French ancestry, and whose father learned French in the home, and whose uncles didn’t learn English until they went to school in America.
In addition to the Iraq war nonsense, I think some old timers dislike France leaving NATO in the early 60s.
I think it’s the withdrawl from NATO in the 1960s and the expulsion of US bases there that did it. Also their refusal to accept the Coca-Colanisation of France and the French way of life (though its happened anyway for the younger generation)
I don’t see anything good-natured about it at all, unlike American casts at the British.
The Arab association thing is probably a good point. If they have Boy Scouts in France, the first merit badge is probably how to light cars on fire and many of their citizens are masters at the art. However, I will never, ever criticize their food. Maybe it is the Louisiana boy in me but frog legs are a delicacy that the French rose to orgasmic levels. My daughter was only three the last time we went to the French countryside. She was in a horrible travel mood but she would eat all of the frog legs and escargot that we could put in front of her. In fact, that was the only thing she would eat at the time. I still have to find periwinkles (the closest approximation) whenever she won’t eat at home.
French women are damned hot too. Dear Mother of Jesus, I don’t really care if they bathe or not, it would still be worthwhile.
Anybody who’s taken a history course knows the US owes it’s start to France.
And we got a pretty good deal on the Louisiana Purchase so it’s been a good experience on this side of the pond.
With that said, there is a certain element of French pride that comes off as somewhat snobbish with institutions such as the Minister of Culture. It’s hard not to snicker a little when attempts are made to ban words like “email”. Viva la courriel.
Americans think they’re the best in the world when it comes to pretty much everything. They get tetchy whenever someone disagrees. France disagrees manifestly and has centuries of culture, science, and technology to make their own case for superiority. This strikes anxiety into the insecure heart of the middle-class American, who must then make a joke like “cheese-eating surrender monkey” to restore their sense of national dignity.
There is some truth to that but France has its own problems as well and some of the perceptions are legitimate. France made many of the same mistakes as the U.S. in “warehousing” their minority groups in high-rise buildings well out of the city proper yet the U.S. has started to remedy those mistakes yet France still lives with them. Warehousing minority groups has been shown to cause all kinds of problems in the short and long term yet France is well behind the U.S. in fixing this. The only real fix is to assimilate everyone which the U.S. is outstanding at and France is not as good.