Not all Americans are francophobes. Especially not those who read this site regularly.
Nevertheless we have all heard about prominent figures calling for a boycott of French produce on the other side of the Atlantic, about cancelled French exchanges and the renaming of Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. During the US presidential electoral campaign some Republicans used the fact that John Kerry speaks French as a way of implying that he was somehow ‘un-american’.
You certainly don’t have to delve very deeply to find examples of American hatred of all things French on the interweb. The over-simplistic reasoning that the US drove the Nazis out of France, therefore the French are ungrateful for not returning the favour and supporting the US intervention in Iraq crops up over and over again. The anti-French tirades I have read are so dreadful they are almost (but not quite) funny and in my opinion the authors generally come off looking worse than the French.
Take this article for example, which I came across quite by accident when googling Chirac yesterday. Ron Marr, ‘journalist’, wrote an article called ‘Why I Hate The French’ for American Daily in February of last year, dripping with vitriol. Below is an extract:
‘The French invented a critically acclaimed style of cuisine which utilizes copious amounts of goose blood and involves hideous concepts such as boiling trout in spoiled cream. In truth, you’ll find better fare in the dumpster behind a Red Lobster. The French eat horse. They eat glands. They eat bugs. I know this because they rarely brush their teeth. Their women whine and complain and braid their armpit hair. Their men are beret-wearing twig-boys with bad complexions. All French people consider themselves intellectually superior, and I suppose they are if the comparison is to an incontinent house cat.”
I’m (almost) speechless. It is to be hoped that too many people didn’t take this display of puerile ignorance to be gospel truth. I don’t wish to dwell on this further by responding to the individual ‘points’ raised, other than to say that I thought the cultural stereotype (true or otherwise) about hairy armpits referred to German ladies?
I hate France is a website unashamedly devoted to francophobia, including a selection of ‘jokes’ about the French, mostly following a rather unimaginative pattern similar to this one:
Q: What is the first thing you are taught when joining the French army?
A: To say “I surrender” in German
A helpful list of French products is provided for boycotting purposes. Francophobes can even get their own @I-Hate-France.com email address. Similarly another boycott site sells bumper stickers (as pictured above) and T-shirts.
American francophobia attempts some analysis of the phenomenon, explaining that the French have long been the butt of American jokes (like the English with their anti-Irish jokes, and the French with their anti-Belgian jokes). It would appear that the Iraq/Chirac situation simply stirred up existing deep-seated prejudices.
The writers of the Simpsons, for example, have been working little anti-French jokes into their scripts from day one, as these examples from episodes aired in 1994-5 testify:
“Secrets of a Successful Marriage”: desperate for reconciliation, Homer pleads to his wife:
“Marge, look at me: we’ve been separated for a day, and I’m as dirty as a Frenchman.”
Acting as a substitute French teacher, in “Round Springfield”, Groundskeeper Willie tells his pupils: “Bonjour-r-r, you cheese-eating surrender monkeys!”
I just can’t help worrying that for many Americans, some of whom will never set foot outside their own country, this version of the facts is the only version they will hear. And that makes my skin crawl.
To my lovely American readers – please do not take offence. I would however love to hear your views on this subject!