petite anglaise

November 19, 2004

francophobia in the USA

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 6:16 pm

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!

31 Comments

  1. Hi

    as a Frog thirty-something living in the USA,:smile:
    I have to say I have never encountered blatant francophobia from Americans…BUT, I live close to a big city (DC) on the east coast in a blue state, and not in the heart of the country.

    I am wondering though how much of this is overblown. Of course there is some anti-french sentiment out there, and it is widely publicized… However, I am not sure if it reflects much of the views of the general population. Most people don’t care about the French more than they hate them. Just my 2 cents….or should I say pennies?

    Comment by sandrine — November 19, 2004 @ 2:38 pm

  2. I’m quite relieved to hear that Sandrine. I suspected as much and it’s nice to have confirmation!

    Comment by petite — November 19, 2004 @ 3:36 pm

  3. I think it is like anything else in the US, the media latches onto a sensationalistic story and then riles up the populace. The Bush administration knew their rationale for going to war was bogus so they do what they do with anything, they invent some story to cover what they are doing. Most Americans who supposedly hate the French, have never in fact met anyone from France. Most Americans are so insular, they’ve rarely traveled outside the country. I am an American, and I know many French citizens, and find the majority to be extremely nice, polite, and intelligent; which is not something I’d say for the average American. I was and am still embarrassed by what my country has done, with actions that resemble a petulant little child. There are many Americans who feel like I do, please don’t hold it against all of us.

    Love your site.

    Chris

    Comment by Chris — November 19, 2004 @ 3:57 pm

  4. I think a lot of it also comes from the idea that the french hate the americans. I’m not sure which came first really (chicken and the egg sort of phenomenon), but in thinking that one side harbors strong feelings against the other, the vicious circle keeps fueling both.

    that said, I have never faced any discrimination in particular as an american on french soil, and the only time anyone was ever rude to me in any way was a woman working at CDG, where you would think people would be used to foreigners butchering the french language. David has never had any problems in our visits to the US either.

    I think my family might have been a bit nervous when they came over for the wedding, as to how people would act around them, but when we arrived at the gîte we had rented for them and the owner (who speaks very little english) had made them a “welcome in france” sign and gifted them with homemade butter and cider, all worries were washed away.

    Of course, there will probably always be some who strongly feel this way, as with most sorts of racism. While matters such as the boycott are different, jokes like those on the Simpsons are simply taken as that. After all, the french love to rib on their fellow-francophones as well… the canadians with their nasally speak, the slow speech patterns of the Swiss, etc.

    Comment by kim — November 19, 2004 @ 4:00 pm

  5. I would like to make a public apology on behalf of all Americans (weather they like it or not).

    I’m sorry we’re such jack-asses.

    Comment by MJ — November 19, 2004 @ 4:00 pm

  6. Well I thought it was Portugese women who were meant to have hairy armpits. What’s wrong with hairy armpits anyway?

    Comment by céline — November 19, 2004 @ 4:22 pm

  7. For an antidote, try http://www.sorryeverybody.com – especially the gallery – the site is not specifically aimed at diffusing francophobia, but it’s kind of relevant nevertheless.

    Comment by Zinnia Cyclamen — November 19, 2004 @ 4:27 pm

  8. calling all nerds!

    can someone explain why this post is bumping my right hand menu to the bottom of the page. I haven’t done anything to the menu, it is the post itself causing this problem, because when I take it off, the problem disappears!

    Help!

    Comment by petite — November 19, 2004 @ 4:55 pm

  9. Hi Petite Anglaise! I am also a frog in the USA and I have never been victim of “French racism” in more than two years here. I actually still get compliments on my cute French accent (for some reason, I never get enough of these compliments!), I love that!!

    I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia and, so far, I have met more French wannabes that French racists. I went through some of the article you gave a link to and found it disgusting, some people have nothing else to do with their lives, how sad for them…

    Comment by Estelle — November 19, 2004 @ 5:30 pm

  10. I’m not a nerd and anyone who says so is lying, but I had this problem once and my margins were overlapping causing the right hand bar to move to the bottom where there was more space to breathe.

    As for the American/France thing, it’s fair to say that the Americans have a larger proportion of insular, idiotic people per square mile than most countries, but fortunately there is a larger proportion of kind, honest and intelligent Americans drowing their bile out.

    People who subscribe to that kind of xenophobic rubbish are ignorami by implication.

    Comment by Watski — November 19, 2004 @ 5:35 pm

  11. As an American who is totally in love with France and (almost) all things French, I must say that I believe the American anti-French sentiment is no stronger than the general xenophobia of the population in the heart of the U.S.A. I have lived in the South, the Midwest, and on the Eastern Seaboard and I have found that most of the racism I encountered was in the Midwest. (As in: all of those states that voted for Bush twice)
    I’m going to guess that a lack of exposure to other cultures and a general lack of education is the font from whence all of the francophile sentiment springs.

    Comment by kara — November 19, 2004 @ 6:09 pm

  12. It does make me a little confused when I hear americans say, “I don’t feel any anti-american senitment here in France” – the French are not so rude that they would say or do something directly to ones face! As an Australian, I hear a lot of commentary about Americans here. For some reason, people think that I, being an “anglophone”, will have an opinion on it all – there are positive and negative views, like with everyone, whatever the nationality.
    There is a lot of humour in the French media and such directed at the Americans, but it’s mostly on a political level, not on a personal level. That said, they direct their humour at nearly every country they have an economic or political relationship with anyway.

    Comment by Katia — November 19, 2004 @ 7:41 pm

  13. Well, being both French and American from an American Dad who met my Mom and raised us in Paris, I’ve seen silliness on BOTH ends my entire life. I’ve grown to treat it as just that, silliness: people trying to cope with something different. Some show interest or curiosity. Many just crack jokes. Political issues arise, ignoramus comments and vitriol come out. On BOTH ends.

    “sale amerloque inculte gros bourrin”

    “cheese-eating surrender monkey”

    i did my best to laugh at the same silly jokes growing-up in France, and i’ve been doing the same since I moved to SoCal at the tender age of 19 almost 10 years ago.

    And when i see the vitriol come out in the media, when silliness lowers to sheer stupidity, i remind myself that the same thing goes on on BOTH sides of the Atlantic.

    Public opinion loves polarized views of politic and people. Media feeds on and reinforces this trend. Then blogs hop on the bandwagon. People want to believe that every single person who voted for Bush is a simpleton. On the flip (flop? HAH!) side, people want to believe Kerry voters are morally-challenged-america-hating-tree-hugging-flaming-gay-hippies. People want to believe French don’t bathe. People want to believe all Americans are meat-heads.

    It makes it all much easier. Why bother with mental discipline of learning more about people we don’t know, political viewpoints that are different from ours, when we can all bask in the comfort of polarized views of just about anything.

    That’s “public opinion” for you. And then there’s the rest of us.

    Where does that leave me? I love France. I love America. I believe both countries have much to learn from one-another. I typically consider myself a democrat, deeply respect and wanted to vote for Kerry, yet ended-up voting for Bush.

    Comment by chris holland — November 19, 2004 @ 8:23 pm

  14. I am also a midwesterner, who loves to look at other countries. Along with many of my friends. Most of my neighbors are from other cultures. One generalization is no better than another. Personally I haven’t heard any anti-French sentiment. Though I am surprised because the way Americans are treated in the French press leaves a lot to be desired. And the French author writing about 9/11 being a conspiracy by our own government and other anti-american books. And defacing a WW11 memorial with slurs against the US. I have a feeling both France and US media have blown out of proportion what a few fringe people think.

    Comment by Beth — November 19, 2004 @ 9:01 pm

  15. When I lived in the US, I lived somewhere where some restaurant owners made a big showing of pouring out their French wines into the river — and I was in the NE/Mid-Atlantic region, in an area with high education rates.

    And in Epcot, there’ve been a lot of problems with the French students who are brought over to work for a year — people go there and spit on them, or buy wine and throw it at them, or swear at them: most of them leave early. (All this was from a Canadian there, who kept getting roomed with French girls, who kept leaving.)

    Not that this is everyone, it’s mostly a small but vocal group.

    Comment by wolfangel — November 19, 2004 @ 9:42 pm

  16. i have to admit that your post made me laugh. it’s holland vs germany vs belgium vs france …. all for different reasons.

    it’s the same the world all over, although the american government tend to go a tad too far …. at least, i think so.

    Comment by zed — November 19, 2004 @ 9:50 pm

  17. you guys have NO idea what’s going on here, it’s waaaayyyy more scary than you think. if you don’t believe me, go read this post written by a franch man who lives in pennsylvania about a book that just came out written by a history teacher at harvard and a journalist…. you’ll have goose bumps after you’re done reading! http://insidetheusa.tripod.com/2004/11/our-oldest-enemy.html

    my car was scratched, my students insulted me in public, i hear the worst jokes, and i am afraid of saying that i’m french, now. fortunately i can say that i’m swiss…

    Comment by miss lulu — November 20, 2004 @ 3:57 am

  18. I guess you fixed the right hand menu thing, cos it looks fine now. Sometimes a url address in a link is too long and stretches across the page, images can also cause problems too.

    Can’t comment on American Francophobia, those people just make me ANGRY.

    Comment by Claypot — November 20, 2004 @ 11:57 am

  19. It seems ironic to me that the Americans are up the French because of a lack of military input in Iraq and the New Zealanders “have strong negative feelings” toward the French because of an over abundance of Military input in the Pacific … (Rainbow Warrior bombing and nuclear testing at Mururoa)

    I’m a NZer and a francophile and am in the let bygones camp – I mean, let’s face it, having a nation like NZ in the “you suck” camp isn’t really any kind of threat is it?

    Comment by deeleea — November 20, 2004 @ 2:15 pm

  20. The Simpsons expression “Cheese-eating…” has been popularized by Jonah Goldberg, a writer for the National Review. Kind of :roll: un mec sympa, vraiment *cough* *cough*

    It’s funny : I read his Wikipedia page. I didn’t know that he had made 2 documentaries on the Gargoyles and … Notre-Dame de Paris !

    Comment by tehu — November 20, 2004 @ 2:21 pm

  21. *smiles and waves*

    I’ve talked about this on my site before… I think we all agree that the majority of Americans who think this way are ingnorant, uneducated and have probably never left their state, nevermind the country.

    But remember it was the commissary in the Congress of the United States where Freedom Fries were born. The tragedy isn’t that there are hateful people, it’s that the government practically condones their behavior.

    Comment by ViVi — November 20, 2004 @ 2:42 pm

  22. Ignorance is everywhere, whether it’s on one side of the Atlantic or the other. Most Americans just haven’t had exposure to other cultures, so they don’t know different. In Europe you are almost forced to interact with other cultures. If more Americans travelled, their opinions would change, or at least they wouldn’t be so zenophobic. I’ve often thought we should encourage High Schoolers to do exchange programs more often.

    Vivi – as for freedom fries, there is a precedent from WWII. Hamburgers were briefly referred to as “Freedom burgers” because people were afraid of the Germanic connotations of Hamburg (a city in northern Germany). Doesn’t excuse either one, just saying Freedom Fries aren’t the first incidence of such a thing.

    Comment by Anna — November 20, 2004 @ 3:55 pm

  23. Hi,
    I’m the author of the blog “Inside the USA” and like miss Lulu said, I’m french and live in Pennsylvania.
    I want to say that I’ve never, nor my wife, experienced bad things like Miss Lulu here because of my nationality. All the americans we’ve met were nice to us, even the clerks. And they all were really pleased to listen to our so cute accent and to talk about the one time they were in Paris or Cote d’Azur…

    But all those silly jokes and now all those “intelligent” persons who write books and articles on this subject make me sick. I’m not sure we can find such writings from frenchs about american people… Even the french books american hate about how the american gouvernment could have been involved in the 9/11 plot were just about the Bush administration and not american people. It seems that when french make fun about Bush, it’s just about Bush. American seem not to make the difference between Chirac and french people.

    So I hope it’s just a bad and short period we all have to go through… And that all those writers just want to make easy money by bashing french… The main problem is the lack of exchanges between our countries. But when I read that 80% of americans don’t have a passport, I keep wondering myself how that can be… Don’t they want to see all those wonderful things around the world ?
    I’m just dying when I think I want have time to visit all the planet during my living. It’s like they just want to stay in their country and not to have to care for the rest of the world when it’s the rest of world that permit them to have this kind of luxiourous living. So the least you can do in this case is trying to know those other people. Maybe they’re just afraid of the truth, that their country is not the most wonderful in the world and that other people are perfectly fine and happy out there, without the need to rush in any possible war…

    Comment by Jerome — November 20, 2004 @ 8:22 pm

  24. Like so many things, there are sick people who latch on to and exploit what they perceive as the trend of the moment. I believe the France are much admired in the United States. Both nations are very proud and I don’t believe either likes to admit mistakes.

    Comment by Meaux — November 21, 2004 @ 1:26 pm

  25. Actually a lot of Americans have never even left their own states–sometimes not even their hometown. Americans have such a big country, when they travel they usually stay on their own land.

    As an aside, I read something recently about how many Americans went to Disney world or Disney Land on vacation, at least once in their life. It was something like more than 50%. Spending time in Disney land is quite expensive, but apparently they prefer to spend the money on the mouse than on going abroad. I think part of the reason is that it’s kind of frightening for them to go abroad. Another reason is their lack of time (2 weeks vacation per year!)

    Comment by sandrine — November 21, 2004 @ 7:50 pm

  26. Living in a big land is no excuse for not travelling to other countries … I’m Australian … I think the size of Australia and the US is pretty much on par … and when you add to that the joyous 20+ hour flight to get to the US .. or the wonderful 24+ hours to get to the UK .. you’d think the last thing an Australian would want to do is get on a plane but we do … in our millions … every year! Part of that could be to do with the fact that we have one of the most diverse multicultural racial mixes in the world – I think we’ve got practically every nationality here – and we want to get out there and explore where we all came from [I’m German, Irish, Yugoslav, and Isle of Man in the last 3 generations myself] – but part of it is just that we’re nosy and adventurous – we want to get out there and find out what’s going on!! Mind you, travelling around Australia, is like travelling to different countries – rural QLD is very different to Tasmania, which is very different to Sydney, which is very different to Broome (Western Australia – pearl capital), which is very different to Uluru (Ayers Rock – big lump of red stone in centre[ish] of country), which is very different to Kakadu (top of country), which is very different to Melbourne, which is very different to Adelaide (city of churchs, south australia) ….

    I guess what I”m saying is that I want more people to travel, I want more people [in general, not just Americans or French] to determine their feelings for people based on their feelings for an individual person – if you have a problem with the policies of a particular country aim your vitriol at the government not the people – who are just possibly as disgusted with their government as you are … and don’t just sit about and whinge … get out there and do something practical and constructive about it – protests are all very well but do they actually achieve anything concrete? Getting thrown into jail is very impressive … but does it achieve anything? Refusing to buy cheese is an interesting statement … but who really cares? [mind you, Australian cheeses made in French traditional style are amazing so I’m not planning on giving up my Jindi Triple Cream Brie any time soon] … try working on the relationships not building a wall.

    Great post petite, good on you for getting people talking and exposing some nasty ways of thinking :)

    Comment by Miss Lisa — November 22, 2004 @ 12:01 am

  27. I wish Americans would travel more! Unfortunately, a lot of the American tourists I ran into while in France weren’t very inspiring either… no one makes an effort to understand where the other is coming from, it seems.

    Comment by srah — November 22, 2004 @ 1:17 am

  28. I think the fact that Australians travel more than Americans is due to a bigger sense of isolation (besides the difference in population composition)–Australia is like a big island, so at some point you may want to “get out of here” at least for a while. I know what I am talking about, I was born in Reunion island :-) I was itching to get out but I know I will itch to get back there when I am older :grin:

    Americans, I think, may not feel so isolated because their population is bigger, they have Canada and Mexico as neighbors (even if they don’t go there to visit, they CAN do it…it’s not far…) and also of course they may have a different mindset than australians.

    Comment by sandrine — November 22, 2004 @ 2:02 am

  29. I know what you’re saying Sandrine … but I think most Australians don’t actually feel like they’re living on an island … Reunion Island is about 2500 sq km … Australia is over 7,500,000 sq km … slight difference in size …. Distance top to bottom, east to west is nearly 4,000km’s in both respects …. I honestly don’t think we feel isolated … I certainly don’t anyway, guess I can’t speak for the whole 21million of us.

    Comment by Miss Lisa — November 22, 2004 @ 3:36 am

  30. “Americans should travel more”.

    Well, they do. you want to know what happens to the French economy when less Americans travel to France? It hurts. I should know, my American Dad runs a souvenir/art store in Montmartre. I helped him out a few summers prior to my moving to the States. My nascent english fluency came-in very handy. American tourists are a significant portion of our customers.

    Do you want to know what is the single thing every American family aspires to do when they can afford it? “Go to Europe”. I’ve heard it from midwesterners, los angelinos, and new yorkers. I’ve heard it from every single one of my friends, most of which have already gone there. They’ve all loved Paris. I’ve seen them plan their trips 6 months, 1 year, 2 years in advance, learning everything they could about the People and the Culture while working on grasping the language to the best of their abilities.

    Traveling costs money. Not everybody can afford it. When you’re in Europe, you can be in a different country within a few hours of a train ride. Americans have to fly. Yet, many Americans find ways to afford it and do it. On the flip side, I can point you to “a lot of french people” who have never left “le fin-fond de leur Creuse” or “leur 19eme arrondissement natal” (excluding present company of course), yet they don’t even need a passport.

    In the end, statements such as “Americans should travel more”, “many/a lot of Americans have never left their home state” mean exactly nothing, because the same holds true for just about every country on the planet.

    Francophobia is unhealthy. Then again so is Americanophobia. Face it. Every country has its own share of uneducated “bouzeux” and “rednecks”. It is at times scary they’re allowed to vote. Yet resorting to vitriol and stereotypes to vent disagreements with one country’s foreign policy, does not help make the world a better place.

    Comment by chris holland — November 22, 2004 @ 9:36 pm

  31. well, that post did spark a bit of healthy debate!

    It amuses me that often your comments are longer than my own posts…

    Thank you people for taking the time to write such thoughtful answers.

    Comment by petite — November 23, 2004 @ 10:22 am


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