Which men and women, by national origin, are the most seductive in the world?
A recent Associated Press story from Paris reports that Europeans picked Italian men and French women.
On the face of it, the question is foolish; men and all women everywhere, judging by the world birthrate, are seductive.
What I want to know, though, is how Italian men know that French women are more seductive, and how French women know that Italian men are more seductive.
The poll was conducted among 5,911 European men and women and 993 Americans. The poll included France, Belgium, West Germany, Italy and Norway.
Of the Europeans, 35% considered Italian men the most seductive; French men were second with 28%. French women were rated most seductive by 31%, and Italian women by 28%. Americans rated sixth.
Americans, on the contrary, did not cross national boundaries: 59% found American women the most seductive, 30% favored Swedish women and 21% French women; 57% thought American men were the most seductive; 25% favored Italian men and 19% French.
Only the American poll makes sense. The 57% who found American men the most seductive have probably never been seduced by Italian men or French men and probably haven't even been close enough to a real Italian or French man for him to make an attempt.
There is a lot of international travel in Europe, but I doubt that 35% of French, Spanish, Belgian, West German and Norwegian women have ever been seduced by an Italian, or have even had a chance to be.
I suspect that our ideas of the sexual magnetism of men and women of other nationalities come mostly from the movies. That would certainly explain the No. 1 position of Italian men.
What woman would not have been seduced, in absentia, by the compelling magnetism of Rossano Brazzi, the Italian lover of Katharine Hepburn in "Summertime." Even though he had the romantic background of Venice to assist him, his seduction of the repressed American was a masterpiece.
The love-struck Hepburn was shocked when she found out that Brazzi was married and had four or five children, but he assured her that he was not living with his wife (an unlikely story), and she was soon in his arms.
Now that is seduction.
However, most single American women traveling in Italy do not meet Rossano Brazzis, even married ones. They are likely to be whistled at on the street and pinched on the behind, but that technique is hardly seductive.
Ever since the American Yank discovered French women in World War I, French women have been synonymous with sex appeal. Every doughboy came home singing "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" in all its bawdy variations; but he married the girl next door.
In the post-World War II 1950s, the French pussycat Brigitte Bardot became the international sex symbol, the object of every virile man's fantasies. But it was only that: fantasy.
As for the Norwegians, I concede that Liv Ullmann is an excellent actress and has an earthy appeal, but I don't think her strength is blatantly sexual.
The Swedish Ingrid Bergman was certainly a great beauty, combining refinement and passion, but, alas, she has passed from the scene.
In these times when we are losing our dominance in automobiles, electronics and political leadership, and when our foreign trade is in decline, I am encouraged that American men and women find American men and women the most seductive.
The exotic is only that. It is exotic. It is foreign. It is different. But finally, homemade is best.
Like men and women everywhere, Americans learn how to be seductive from the movies. There are styles in seduction as there are in everything else.
We have always had our exotic sirens: Theda Bara, Pola Negri, Lili Damita, Natasha Rambova; but in the end it was usually the fresh American girl who got the boy: Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, June Allyson, Sylvia Sidney (a nice girl from the Bronx).
We had a run of exotic heroes, too: Rudolph Valentino, Ricardo Cortez (born Jacob Krantz), Omar Sharif. Half the women in America imagined themselves carried off to his tent by Valentino; but it was the plain American types they dreamed of marrying: Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, John Wayne.
Today's heroes aren't that much different. Deep down, Don Johnson and Harrison Ford are both solid American types, true and fearless, even though they always need a shave.
Evidently Madonna is the prototype of the new American woman: voluptuous and theatrically sinful, with tight skirts, half-exposed breasts and bee-stung lips. But underneath all that artful degeneracy she's just a nice girl, like Clara Bow.
Nobody has more sex appeal than Kathleen Turner. She radiates heat. She is convincing as a hit-woman in the Mafia; yet she also turns out to be a dreamy high school girl, trying to reconcile two incompatible futures.
It's time to buy American.