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Vive le France
The French think Americans are ignorant and boorish. Americans think the French are effete snobs. We're both right.
The Blarney Star, an otherwise perfectly fine bar and restaurant on Murray Street in lower Manhattan, has flags, stickers, posters, and signs that serve as tribute to the souls that were lost on September 11, 2001 and the service of those who aided the rescue and cleanup of that day. There are yellow ribbons on display to support our troops overseas in harm’s way and wish them a safe return. Then there are a few other bumper stickers – two that I counted – that were truly out of place among the more dignified emblems of patriotism: ‘Forget the Boycott, Bomb France Too’.
It is heartbreaking to see Franco-American relations deteriorate to this point. Even though I’ve never been to France, I love the French language and culture. I think Celine (Louis-Fernand Celine the writer, not the Las Vegas resident and chanteuse) was terrific even if his politics were awful. I used to dream bout joining the French Foreign Legion, but decided that the free French lessons wouldn’t be worth five years in a third-world cesspool. I’ve heard only good things bout Paris from everybody that’s been. "If you go to Paris," one friend told me, "you may never come back."
Until learning of the show’s cancellation, it was my dream to be a famous enough writer and fluent enough in French to be a guest on the French TV show ‘Apostrophes’, hosted by Bernard Pivot. Pivot has since retired. It pains to me know this dream will not be. I had it all planned out: I would pay an homage to Charles Bukowski by swigging from a bottle of bourbon (Bukowski drank wine) on the air, and deftly field questions to the bemusement of the French audience:
Bernard Pivot (présentateur): And so what would you say to God if you met Him?
Matthew Sheahan (ecrivain americain): I would apologize for doubting His existence and ask Him to take a more active role in human affairs.
(polite intellectual French laughter and applause)
But, assuming there are other literary programs that have filled the vacuum left by ‘Apostrophes’ departure, the dream lives on. I am behind schedule on both my achievement of literary fame and my proficiency in French, but giving up is not an option.
In the post World War II era, the alliance between the United States and France has been an uneasy one. Lately though, the anti-French rhetoric has gone from the slightly humorous to the embarrassingly overzealous. "Freedom Fries" it is an attempt to couch the current war in Iraq in the nostalgic terms that gave us "Liberty cabbage" in place of Sauerkraut during the First World War. These potato goodies formerly known as French Fries are now being served to the United States Congress - the same gullible class of people who rubber-stamped "Operation Iraqi Freedom" to begin with. A restaurateur in New Jersey poured hundreds of dollars of Champaign and French wine in the toilet. French toast, named for a New York chef and not France, has even been called "Freedom toast". I can’t wait to "Freedom kiss" with a red-blooded mademoiselle.
Many left-leaning anti-war Americans are self-congratulating snobs who will embrace France because they think it will make them look contrarian, cultured, and sophisticated. Many war supporters will despise France as an extension of the same Neanderthal anti-intellectualism that led them to support George W. Bush’s war on Iraq in the first place.
The truth is that France has more in common with the U.S. than either country will ever readily admit. The U.S. government breaches international law to invade Iraq for its oil. France breaches common diplomatic protocol in an attempt to keep Iraq untouched for its oil. The French think Americans are ignorant and boorish. Americans think the French are effete snobs. We’re both right. The level of anti-French sentiment in this country is out of proportion to France’s wrongdoings, which merely mirror our own.
France has every bit the colonial and imperial history we do – more probably, since they’ve been around longer. Think about it: did all of West Africa wake up 300 years ago and decide to simultaneously learn French? No – France and Belgium colonized and exploited Africa and are still at it. They also colonized and exploited Asia, South America, Polynesia, North America. President Jacques Chirac, who cries foul and demands that the U.S. adhere to international law and treaties, had no problems walking all over the will of the free world when he ordered nuclear weapons testing to be done in his first term in office. Like George W. Bush, Jacques Chirac’s pockets are stuffed with blood-drenched oil money.
Why France is held to ridicule and derision over the multitude of other countries that oppose our current war in Iraq is because they are going to lose the most oil in the process. France complains the loudest because they will lose the most money, not because they suddenly cared deeply for American democracy. Hence, the anti-French rhetoric is the loudest because France is the biggest victim of our Iraqi oil heist. Neither side is acting very nobly.
If it were not for America, France would have remained part of the Nazi Empire. If it were not for the French, the Unites States would still be part of the British Empire. I can’t tell which would be worse. Maybe the two countries how indebted we are to one another and bridge this divide.
Vive le France.