Anti-French Backlash

Andrew Boucher at Volatility from Paris has a short post, entitled Christmas Shopping Lesson, on the large drop in Americans’ spending in Paris stores. He wrote:

Reuters had an interesting article on the Galeries Lafayette store in Paris today. Because of the weak dollar, boycott, or just lack of energy, the American consumer isn’t much of a force any more in Paris.

Chinese tourists have climbed from 20th position 10 years ago to the number one spot in terms of visitor numbers to the Galeries today – overtaking the Japanese, British, Russians and in fifth place, the Americans.

Big spenders are customers from the Middle East, Japan, Russia and the United States. But while Americans spend more than the Chinese, it’s the force of numbers that counts.

“An American spends twice as much as a Chinese customer, but … the Chinese are at least 10 times more numerous…,” the general manager at the flagship Boulevard Haussmann store said.

It’s followed by a similar post, entitled The New Hollywood Villain, in which he says:

“I don’t go to as many new films as I would like, but in those that I have seen, I’ve noticed a tendency which has become a trend. I’m speaking of the Frenchman as villain. ”

I’ve noticed it too. Last night I caught part of program on the History Channel on the French Revolution. The commercial they were running to promote the program, both before it aired and during the program itself, ends with this little jab:

“Now, for 2 hours, it won’t kill you to love the French.”

I had to laugh every time I heard that. Whoever wrote that certainly has their finger on the pulse of the American public. Say the words ‘France’ or ‘French’ to an American these days and the reaction you’ll get is one of outright disgust.

One fairly accurate measure of the enmity Americans feel towards the French can seen in the degree to which the French have become the butt of jokes. Tell a French joke and not only will everyone laugh, some caustic remarks will be added to boot; not to mention much head shaking and mock spitting.

(After writing this post, I checked the spelling of ‘enmity’ at Merriam-Webster Online and found this:

Etymology: Middle English enmite, from Middle French enemité, from Old French enemisté, from enemi enemy
: positive, active, and typically mutual hatred or ill will

I think that sums up feelings on both sides the Atlantic pretty well, don’t you? I also laughed when I saw that the word is from French.)

All this begs the question, Why? After all, the Russians opposed the war in Iraq, as did the Chinese and the Germans and many others. So why is all this animosity focussed on the French? I’d offer three reasons:

1. A sense of betrayal. Russians and Chinese have never been considered as allies. The French have been. There’s a sense among Americans that an agreement had been made prior to war, that we were led into a UNSC vote believing in that agreement, and were betrayed by a French led counter-stroke.

2. A sense among Americans that the French owe us something for WWII.

3. A widening discussion and understanding of the degree of anti-Americanism in France. Many people were shocked by what they read. Much of it appears little different than Soviet-style propaganda.

An interesting, related question is this: Why haven’t the Germans experienced the same backlash? Their media is certainly as anti-American. Schroeder is no different in his actions than Chirac. Is it because so many Americans are of German descent? Or possibly because so many Americans have been stationed in Germany in the last fifty years and feel connected to Germans on a level they don’t feel towards the French? Or maybe the Germans aren’t seen as a traditional American ally. I don’t know.

18 thoughts on “Anti-French Backlash”

  1. Germans weren’t involved in the formation of US, like they were.

    They still owe US on The Marshall Plan, the Germans paid their debt.

  2. We don’t drink as much wine from them, either.

    Their new buds are the Chicoms. They shouldn’t whine, they’re getting what they want.

  3. I found the “for two hours” tagline amusing as well. It worked so well on me that I went to the trouble and pulled out my VCR to tape the late showing so I can watch it tonight.

    I would point out to Sandy, however, that the Germans were indeed involved in the formation of the US. They were on the British side (at least thousands of their Hessian mercenaries were). Add two World Wars to that, and the Germans should be high on our Scheiße list. However, the cold war seemed to heal those wounds, and the Germans, despite all the anti-Americanism, were not terribly effective in any attempts to slow our actions.

    I agree that the sense of betrayal is one of the big reasons for this latest round of French-bashing among Americans. The French government did not act as an ally trying to dissuade us from a course of action, but as a rival power seeking to thwart our every move. Our former enemies in Beijing and Moscow were never as loud or as vociferous in their opposition to Iraq.

  4. Yes – the losing side. Weren’t the Hessians the targets of Washington’s River Crossing?

    I seem to remember boots, something about boots.

  5. I wonder too if the reason that the Germans don’t engender this sense of betrayal, the shock of a once-considered friend stabbing us in the back is because Americans are used to opposing the Germans and them opposing us. In the three major world wars (and increasingly in the fourth) – the major wars for every living American – at least half of the Germans were on the opposing side.
    World War I – we fought to stop the “huns” from taking over Europe. We were dragged, but we went, and we deposed the Kaiser.
    World War II – we fought to stop the “krauts” from taking over Europe. We were dragged, but we went and we deposed Hitler.
    World War III (the Cold War) – half of Germany belonged to the USSR, our enemy. We didn’t fight them with bullets, but with bucks. We helped establish a thriving capitalist West Germany which eventually led to the Berlin Wall coming down, which eventually led to the Iron Curtain coming down.
    World War IV (the War on Terror) – under the guise of international diplomacy and the growing (beyond reason, that is) European Union, over which Germany is vying with France to control, the Germans stuck it to us again. To be shocked by this would almost require a reduction in intelligence.

    On the other hand, France fought beside us in World War I for their own soil on their own soil; the French Resistance told its treasonous government to shove it and fought beside us in World War II for their own soil on their own soil; the French thumbed their nose at the Russians behind our defenses throughout World War III; and so their flat betrayal in World War IV came as quite the surprise, although in hindsight, perhaps it shouldn’t have.

    In addition to this, there has always been a sense of brotherhood between the French philosophy of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and the American ideal of “All men are Created equal.” Even though their assistance to us during the American Revolution was more to kick England, and American know that, they still helped and we inspired them to go for their own revolution in the year of our Constitution. We were neighbors in spirit who told our parents off at the same time (although in different fashion) and set off on our own to make our mark in the world. To find out that your traveling companion has been the one whose been trying to hamstring you at best and putting rocks in your shoe at worst is jarring and disheartening.

    Jacksonians don’t take to dishonored friendships and dishonorable people well. These were the Americans hurt most by France’s kick in the ass. I personally have no problem buying my wife’s mine (I hate the stuff) from the Aussie or California vineyards. From what I hear, its better anyway.

  6. I think the antipathy towards the French is worse than towards the Germans springs in part from the idea that, “an honest enemy is better than a treacherous friend.”

    Even though something like 40% of Americans descend from Germanic culture, Germany has never had any moral authority in political or cultural matters within the US. In a nutshell, we think they’re crazy. We care so little for their opinion that the stances they take and the things they say evoke no emotional response from us.

    France did at one time, carry some moral authority with Americans. France exerted some cultural influences on the US and Paris (unlike Berlin) has always had a certain cachet especially among the wealthy. Basically, we “expect better” of France.

    I expect that going forward, American antipathy and respect for France will decline in tandem. It is pretty easy to see that France will never again have significant input on American affairs. Given that and its continued loss of influence in cultural matters, France will move into the “crazy aunt” category where we keep Germany.

    At that point, they will receive from us neither smiles nor frowns.

  7. Maybe it is just where I come from (that middle belt of the country was the destination for a lot of Germans – farming was something they liked to do), but in most of the areas in which I have lived, identification has been a good deal stronger with the Germans than the French. But the German identified with is cultural in a different way – food, music (both classical and polkas), etc. That 40% has meant that some of our own cultural traits, cuisine, pasttimes, passions are closer to those of Germany than those of France.

    I also wonder if this lack of antipathy toward Germans doesn’t come in part from the late unification of Germany and its attitude toward colonization.

    By the way, my impression is that Germany has not been as embroiled in the oil-for-food scandals as has France.

    And we tend to see the French as looking at the world differently than we do. And we tend to see the French as looking down their noses at us; we may find the Germans critical but our tradition has not granted them a superior culture, a superior style. This is probably in part because Germans aren’t known for style, but rather a fairly heavy substance.

  8. I think there’s also the sense that it was French intellectuals that started the whole multipolarity to Anti Americanism ball rolling. The Germans, especially Schroder, are then just tagging along in this latest euro fad.

    Its also efficient to target the French since France has the cultural power to propagate its views of the world both within the francophone countries and beyond. Germany’s cultural empire by contrast streeches only as far as Austria.

  9. 1)The German media are not as uniformly anti-American as the French media are.

    2)The instigators of the Franco-German anti-American
    alliance were the French; they are still the most ardent and innovative practitioners of it.

    3)The French have demonstrated beyond any remainig
    doubt that they will betray anyone for a commercial
    advantage, and don’t see anything wrong with open lies and subterfuges.

  10. I think that Ginny and Shannon have pretty much summed up why Germany has avoided much of the American ire that has fallen on the French. But I’d like to comment anyway. (So there!)

    When NATO was formed, a joke started to make the rounds as to it’s purpose. The organization was important to Europe because it kept the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.

    No one expects good behavior from Germans, and the last 60 years has been a pleasant surprise even though the US military was constantly poised to party like it was 1945. The French claim to be our buddies, they claim to be moral, they claim to be better at diplomacy. Their behavoir over the past 4 years have exploded these myths.


  11. Quick question, what is the pro-american party in France? If you answer none of them, you’re both right and you’ve put your finger on a reason why the French come in for special condemnation. The FRG gets a pass because we know that when the next CDU/CSU government comes in, things are likely to take a turn for the better. Thus, relations are likely to improve at the next elections. Smart americans won’t burn their bridges.

    Russia and the PRC get a pass because they’re not mature democracies. Russia’s wavering and the PRC hasn’t got past some village elections with full democratic republicanism penciled into the ruling elite’s calendar sometime around 2050.

    France’s elite could improve US relations a great deal by simply having a philo-american party. They can go to a chic little getaway and draw straws for it. The US would be infinitely more patient with France if there were prospects that at some point, they’d stop spitting in our soup at state banquets and actually like us.

  12. I think the antipathy towards the French, at least my antipathy towards the French, dates back to De Gaulle and his inability to permit anyone other than him to be responsible for the French winning WW II. I also blame the French for getting us into Vietnam to start with. Then when De Gaulle couldn’t possibly have the Americans be over the French in NATO and he pulled them out of NATO that put the icing on the cake.

    When you couple that with their refusal to allow English names for things like email because it caused a breakdown in the sainted French language and that was not permissible. That English became the official language of international airlines also caused a snit by the French.

  13. Captain Mojo,

    You need to read Washington’s Crossing. An excellent study of Washington and the first year or so of the Revolution.

    Everyone who thinks our enmity with France is recent,

    You need to read Our Oldest Enemy which shows that our English heritage has made us always an enemy of France, even if we have used eachother to our own advantage from time to time, the Revolution and WW I.
    veins than any other ethnic group.

  14. All god points, but one comment I must make is in regards to MisterBixby’s post regarding the 4 world wars. Ok, the Cold War ill buy, but the “War on Terror”? (God, I hate that term) IMO a better candidate would be the 7 Years War (which conveniently takes us full circle to Richard Heddleson’s post on our English roots and our inherent animosity towards the french)

    That being said, I think one point that was missed is the fact that the French are a lowly, sniveling lot who can’t take care of themselves. I won’t speak for the rest of the nation but I tend to view their collective mediocrity with a fair amount of disdain. As for their recent behavior, it seems that they are so put-off by the fact that the world has moved off and forgotten them that they have become the nation-state equivalent of an attention whore. My only hope is that somewhere, deep in the fatherland, Schroder has a huge underground factory pumping out German takes by the thousands and that this whole franco-germanic EU fiasco was just a ruse and that tomorrow on CNN ill see large blond men with angular faces rolling down the Champs-Elysees in German tanks. Knowing how current public opinion is running how do you think America would respond? I would like to think that the powers that be would tell the French that “After considering your previously lodged complaints we have decided that a military response is in fact not always warranted and that we do not wish to be entangled in an intrusive and unjustified war. Have a nice day”

    BTW james, “the US military was constantly poised to party like it was 1945” = absolutely hilarious.

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