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«Freedom Fries, Redux»

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«Freedom Fries, Redux»

Postby M. Henri Day » Sun May 29, 2005 10:10 am

I hope that fellow Agorists will find the following analysis of (the initial stages of) Franco-US relations as entertaining as I did....

Henri

May 29, 2005

Found in Translation

By STACY SCHIFF


BY now it is something of a migratory pattern. Canada geese fly south in the winter; Americans flock to France in the summer. The trip today is easier than it was in the 19th century. Then it was said that a good American went to Paris when he died; a good American need now only hoard his frequent flier points. But the city beckons still as a paradise, robust euro aside. An American in Paris is a liberated (and yes, sometimes liberating) American. He remains a cause for song and celebration, a four-word recipe for happiness.

It was by no means love at first sight. Long before Gene Kelly danced in Paris, John Adams tore his hair out there. In the 1770's and 1780's the greatest collection of brainpower this country had to offer found itself installed in the French capital. They were miserable. Almost to a man, the founding fathers looked upon Paris as a hardship posting. To their minds a farm in America would have been preferable. So would the job as doorman in Congress.

"We all pant for America, as will every American who comes to Europe," wailed Thomas Jefferson, in 1785. Part of the problem was that Paris was unforgivably foreign. There was neither a bowl of Indian pudding nor an uncoiffed head nor a bashful female in sight. (Nor was there a Protestant chapel, aside from the one in the Dutch Embassy.) As Mark Twain gasped later: "In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language."

Loyalty played a role too, along with its brawler of a cousin, chauvinism. "This is a very fine country," allowed John Jay, "almost as much so as our own, but not quite." He was among the first to grasp that the French capital did nothing for an American's self-esteem. One unilingual American could not bring himself to contemplate a Parisian appearance; he shuddered to imagine how "extremely awkward, insipid and uncouth" he would seem, especially to French ladies. That craven soul was George Washington.

And too the American relationship with France got off on the wrong foot. That country was inexcusably good to us. Washington won his first victory in 1776; the war continued until 1783. Over the course of those years the American Revolution was to a great extent a French venture; the original cast of Americans went to Paris to borrow, not to spend. For its own reasons (and against all logic) Versailles was fantastically generous. Yorktown constituted as much a French victory as an American one; Washington's men were clothed, armed and paid by France, joined by an equal number of French troops, and protected by a French fleet.

Critical as it was, that assistance only pointed up our helplessness, to be followed by a long line of condescending, menu-translating maîtres d'hôtel. It may be as difficult for us to forgive the French for having underwritten our independence as it is for the French to forgive us for having liberated them in 1945.

As in so many other arenas, Jefferson proved accommodating in his relationship with France. He confined his displeasure to the French weather (insufferable), the French government (abominable), French morals (pestilent), and French poverty (unspeakable), before falling, as soon as the sun came out, head over heels in love with Paris.

He was not the only convert. The city of light struck Abigail Adams as a den of iniquity, the world's filthiest city in every sense of the word. At the theater she cringed before the flying petticoats, the visible garters, wholesale affronts to her sensibilities. (She would have been more scandalized yet had she known that those undergarments were a rarity. The women in the audience next to her were unlikely to be wearing any.) Eight months later Mrs. Adams was instead appalled by her own behavior: "I have found my taste reconciling itself to habits, customs and fashions which at first disgusted me." The distaste melted to pleasure; she became a balletomane. The conversion from Paris is "the very dirtiest place I ever saw" to "nobody ever leaves Paris but with a degree of tristeness" took less than a year.

Who knows what would have become of Mrs. Adams had she stayed any longer; here was a country that tried men's souls. And strange things happened to Americans when they debarked in Paris - a sort of early Las Vegas. Following in Mrs. Adams's tradition, Twain dutifully covered his eyes at the Folies-Bergère. He also peeked. Jefferson developed a ruinous taste for French housewares. Wealthy American women went entirely to pieces. No sooner had they set foot in Paris than they were slathered with rouge, dripping in jewels. They looked preposterous, the more so as French fashion fit uncomfortably on the larger-boned American frame.

Long before the American in Paris was a myth it was a morality play. On that front Jefferson was clear: no other city in the world so severely tested a young man's virtue. Thirty years after his Parisian childhood, John Quincy Adams needled his mother on the subject. "If you or my father had known the moral dangers through which I passed, and from which by the mercy of Providence I escaped, I think neither of you would have had the courage to expose me to them," he chided.

He need not have worried. Both parents were fully alert to that city's depravity. Abigail Adams was quick to report on its 52,000 prostitutes. (Puritans too can be guilty of exaggeration. There were 14,000.) John Adams felt the city could "debauch angels." He distinguished himself as a man who couldn't wait to get back on the farm once he had seen Paree.

Before he did so, Adams put his finger squarely on the problem. He saw none of what a later traveler (James Thurber!) would extol as "the most beautiful surface of manners in the world." Instead Adams found French charm suspect from the start. He understood elegance and virtue to be natural-born enemies; Parisian luxuries struck him as toxic. He prided himself on his immunity to the city's ecstasies. Paris presented herself as a sort of litmus test of republican sensibilities; those who succumbed to her were stained. One proved one's republican stripes, one's moral fiber by resisting her.

ADAMS could not warn his countrymen often enough of the plague of Europe. These were years when the roles were reversed, when the New World feared contamination by the Old, when America feared European designs rather than the other way around. At our birth we fretted for our national identity - would a French alliance not in some way undermine it? - just as the French today stumble toward a vote on a European Constitution, one they fear may cost them their soul.

It should be noted that at its origin French-bashing had no political affiliation. (It would acquire one before the end of the 18th century, when "French" was the worst pejorative a Federalist could hurl at a Republican. In 1796 President Washington relegated the first tricolore - it was sent him by another proud, revolutionary government - to storage.) Nor had it anything to do with that seasonal, semi-serious, red-state snickering. There was no rounding up of the usual suspects: pretension, arrogance, rudeness.

Instead French disregard played a defining role for America: This was the stuff we were rebelling against. Benjamin Franklin made that point clearly. More diplomatic than his colleagues, he criticized the Old World only when trying to define the New. What he hoped to spare America was Europe's lack of opportunity, her inert class system. Insofar as he saw plagues in Europe, Franklin railed against heredity privilege and the cult of idleness. France went a long way toward winning us our independence. As important, she put the New in the New World.

And she continues to serve an essential purpose. "What I learned in Europe," wrote Saul Bellow, "was how deeply involved I was with the U.S.A." We may no longer be innocents abroad, but we have some inkling of who we are not. For that we'll always have Paris. It makes Americans of us every time.

Stacy Schiff is the author, most recently, of "A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby William » Tue May 31, 2005 8:30 am

Interesting Post, Henri,

AS one cursed with a significant genetic base in France (my great grandmother was an American-born French woman) I have long been interested in French influences in America and am familiar with France's absolutely essential assistance in the Colonial victory over the English, though I am not blind to French motives. The French apparently saw the Revolutionary War as an opportunity to help them win what was really a world wide war between the French and English.

I assure you that my French heritage remains largely genetic. My family long ago dispensed with cultural traits that might be considered exclusively or predominantly French. Perhaps my affinity for "french" fries saturated with tomato catsup/ketchup would be an exception. I promise that I have no memory of ever eating snails which, I am told, are considered delicacies in France. Does anyone know if they go well with catsup/ketchup?

I have learned of the existance of a book that might be of interest to those concerned with French and American feelings toward each other. I must apologize for not posting the entire contents of the book for the convenience of Agorists. To do so would be highly impractical for several reasons. First, I don't actually have a copy of the book. Second, even if I did own a copy it would take weeks, perhaps months, to transcribe it in a format suitable for posting (I only type about 50 wpm) and I know of no available digitalized editions. Third, I lack the resources for an effective defense against copyright litigation. However, I found a couple of reviews on Amazon that might be worth reading. I post them here hoping that other Agorists don't "rat" me off to the reviewers for copyright violations. Even if you do, the reviews are properly attributed.

The name of the book is:

The American Enemy : The History of French Anti-Americanism

by Phillipe Roger, translation into English by Sharon Bowman.

Here are the reviews:

From Publishers Weekly
The surface flippancy of some references to the "freedom fries" kerfuffle during the debate over the war in Iraq masked the long history of antagonism between the U.S. and France. In this fascinating history, noted French historian and cultural critic Roger wittily documents French anti-Americanism from the Enlightenment through McDonald's invasion of French cuisine. Part of Roger's analytic technique is uncovering obscure but intriguing historical information—e.g., early anti-American sentiments were based on the supposedly scientific argument that the Americas were filled with poisonous substances and sickly animals. While such tidbits are entertaining, the book quickly demonstrates how, during the 20th century, France's anti-American attitudes deepened as the U.S. become a world power, overshadowing the traditional European empires. This shift helped create a cultural container for all anti-American feelings including mistrust of Ford's assembly line, moral abhorrence of a growing world economy controlled by the U.S. and distaste for American customs and personalities. The translation is very readable, and though Roger's source texts are often unknown in this country, his arguments are persuasive. The book falters at times because the author is so quick to take exception to all examples of French anti-Americanism that the reader suspects the author dislikes his own country. In spite of this, the book is an important addition to international cultural and political history.


and

"Philippe Roger has written a superb history of French anti-Americanism, elegantt, learned, witty. This enjoyable exercise, in the very best traditions of French scholarship, richly deserves to be published in English translation, unabridged. The book's argument is far too subtle and intricate to summarize briefly, but the word "genealogy" in the title should be taken seriously. . . . In nearly six hundred pages of close textual exegesis, Roger demonstrates not only that the core of French anti-Americanism is very old indeed, but also that it was always fanciful, only loosely attached to American reality."


by Tony Judt, New York Review of Books

As a side note, the word "kerfuffle" in the first sentence of the Publishers Weekly review is new to me. Have other
Agorists encountered this word?


Another book for those interested in the broader history of European hatred for America is:

Hating America: A History
by Barry Rubin, Judith Colp Rubin, Barry M. Rubin

Apparently history is rich with examples of European hatred for America from the earliest days of the United States.

I confess that I haven't yet read this book either, but I do intend to buy it. Amazon has a couple of reviews.

William
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Postby M. Henri Day » Tue May 31, 2005 12:22 pm

After Sunday's referendum on the draught European constitution, I can only say :

Vive la France !

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby William » Tue May 31, 2005 3:49 pm

To which I boldly reply

THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER!!!
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Postby KatyBr » Tue May 31, 2005 3:55 pm

I'm with you Will, I'm no Francophile, such arrogance in a tiny package. Historically Spain, England and France vied for power in the new world, and the new world rose above them all. Now the aEuropean alliance is trying it again,

Katy
I found this
"...Roger demonstrates not only that the core of French anti-Americanism is very old indeed, but also that it was always fanciful, only loosely attached to American reality."
very telling. Perhaps that works both ways. Except that for the most part the anti-Americanism has fueled the Anti-Franco feelings we have here,
Last edited by KatyBr on Tue May 31, 2005 4:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby William » Tue May 31, 2005 4:02 pm

For some interesting reading as to why the French voted "no" on the Constitution, check out the World Forum.

William
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Postby gailr » Tue May 31, 2005 11:06 pm

William
As a side note, the word "kerfuffle" in the first sentence of the Publishers Weekly review is new to me. Have other
Agorists encountered this word?


http://www.allwords.com/word-kerfuffle.html
carfuffle
kefuffle
kerfuffle
noun

1. colloq
A commotion; agitation.
Etymology: From Gaelic car- + Scots fuffle to disorder.


http://www.hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=kerfuffle
Pronunciation: kurf'uful
Definition: [n] a disorderly outburst or tumult; "they were amazed by the furious disturbance they had caused"


This word begs to be more than just a noun; I propose kerfufflourage, kerfufflesque, kerkufflery.

gailr
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Postby KatyBr » Wed Jun 01, 2005 12:07 am

I thought we'd had that in another Agoran incarnation, but I could be wrong, and silly.



Ah, not in me dotage yet see here, carfuffle/kerfuffle (such phonaesthesia)


Katy
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Postby Stargzer » Wed Jun 01, 2005 12:59 am

William wrote:Interesting Post, Henri,

. . . I have long been interested in French influences in America and am familiar with France's absolutely essential assistance in the Colonial victory over the English, though I am not blind to French motives. The French apparently saw the Revolutionary War as an opportunity to help them win what was really a world wide war between the French and English.
. . .
William


Yes, and therein lies, I believe, the roots of the antagonism. It was the French King who helped bankroll the American Revolution as a way of tweaking the tail of the British Lion. When the French Revolution arrived, America owed its freedom to the monarchy, not the revolutionaries, who were miffed that we didn't help them in their revolution. Then again, there was that little matter of a land deal between President Jefferson and Napoléon. I'm sure later generations of Frenchmen were miffed about that.

In World War I, France US troops were issued the French-designed Chauchat machine gun, one of the more unreliable firearms in history, while awaiting delivery of their own Browing Automatic Rifles.

World War II was another story altogether. French troops in North Africa inflicted major causualties on British and American troops before deciding "Oops! Perhaps we should switch sides!" Some French generals refused to serve alongside former Vichy generals. Can't say as I blame them. (See America's Forgotten Army, The True Story of the U.S. Seventh Army in WWII - And an Unknown Battle That Changed History by Charles Whiting)
Regards//Larry

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Postby Apoclima » Wed Jun 01, 2005 5:23 am

No, no, no!

No one is going to take away the great destiny of France.

Things that might help make a better EU:

1. Change the name to the United Nations of Greater France.

2. Make French the only official language of the UNGF, and let it be Parisian French.

3. Offer free vacation stays in private homes of the other European nations, providing, of course, that the visiting French never wash any dishes.

4. Grant equal citizenship status and freedom of movement to all the dogs of France.

5. A world apology retracting the oft repeated saying that all the monuments of Paris smell like urinals.

6. Celebrate human hair wherever it grows.

7. Let the French know, or, at least, feel that they are tops in your book.

8. Fill your time with them with alot of empty diplomacy, (they love that talking stuff) and never feel bad when they turn their back on you.

9. Woo them!

10. Chocolates, nylons, cigarettes, and American jeans have worked well over the years.

Good Luck with them, EU! May la France deserve you!

Apo
'Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination.' -Max Planck
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Postby tcward » Wed Jun 01, 2005 8:33 am

Purely for fun...

1. Change the name to the United Nations of Greater France.


As if there could be a "greater" France? France alone will do!

2. Make French the only official language of the UNGF, and let it be Parisian French.


If the name of the empire shall be called France, then French à la Paris is the only natural French!

3. Offer free vacation stays in private homes of the other European nations, providing, of course, that the visiting French never wash any dishes.


Here you meant "other French states", of course!

4. Grant equal citizenship status and freedom of movement to all the dogs of France.


And social wellfare! Why, where would the empire of France be without its bitches?

5. A world apology retracting the oft repeated saying that all the monuments of Paris smell like urinals.


Non! But of course, the natural thing to do is to offer public outdoor urinals to everyone!

6. Celebrate human hair wherever it grows.


Une philosophie de pilosité... For the greater good!

7. Let the French know, or, at least, feel that they are tops in your book.


There is nothing that could make a Frenchman feel any other way!

8. Fill your time with them with alot of empty diplomacy, (they love that talking stuff) and never feel bad when they turn their back on you.


Diplomacy is an act of exploration! Emotional attachment to that which is superior can only lead to disappointment.

9. Woo them!


The French deserve all the best that life has to offer.

10. Chocolates, nylons, cigarettes, and American jeans have worked well over the years.


Case in point!

-Tim
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Postby Brazilian dude » Wed Jun 01, 2005 8:51 am

Man, I'm happy I'm not French, otherwise I would have given you a piece of my mind.

Brazilian dude

(hides in his corner and hopes nobody ever trashes his home country)
Languages rule!
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Postby Spiff » Wed Jun 01, 2005 11:10 am

tcward wrote:
5. A world apology retracting the oft repeated saying that all the monuments of Paris smell like urinals.


Non! But of course, the natural thing to do is to offer public outdoor urinals to everyone!



Preferably looking like monuments of course, so as to avoid any confusion. :wink:
Spaceman Spiff

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Postby KatyBr » Wed Jun 01, 2005 11:59 am

tcward wrote:Quote:
8. Fill your time with them with alot of empty diplomacy, (they love that talking stuff) and never feel bad when they turn their back on you.


Diplomacy is an act of exploration! Emotional attachment to that which is superior can only lead to disappointment.


They are still miffed that the world chose English to speak rather than French. They spend all that time trying to keep French "pure" and look what happened? I think we should all speak Ugandan it'd make more sense.
:
9. Woo them!


The French deserve all the best that life has to offer.


Who says?

Katy
funny thread
Last edited by KatyBr on Wed Jun 01, 2005 12:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby tcward » Wed Jun 01, 2005 12:11 pm

Brazilian dude wrote:Man, I'm happy I'm not French, otherwise I would have given you a piece of my mind.

Brazilian dude

(hides in his corner and hopes nobody ever trashes his home country)


You have been granted the Cone of Safety, to respond as freely as you wish.

Only the pure French understand what is French, so what we say here is meaningless anyway.

-Tim
...you can replace French with Uhmerican anywhere in this thread, and it's just as "true" and just as funny.
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