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America Cops an Attitude With France

The nation's Iraq stance has made it the brunt of U.S. scorn. Jokes abound about its beret-wearing, surrendering- to-the-Germans ways.

February 23, 2003|David B. Caruso | Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Mon dieu, how some Americans are bashing the French these days!

Americans galled by France's reluctance to endorse an invasion of Iraq are boycotting French wine and French fries, and trading jokes and insults about all things Gallic.

A Las Vegas radio station last week used an armored vehicle to crush photographs of French President Jacques Chirac, photocopies of the French flag, a Paris travel guide, bottles of wine and a loaf of French bread.

In Beaufort, N.C., one restaurant owner replaced French fries with "freedom fries."

In West Palm Beach, Fla., bar owner Ken Wagner dumped his stock of French wine and champagne into the street, vowing to serve vintages only from nations that support U.S. policy.

And Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, 75, said he would try to block a subsidiary of the French conglomerate Vivendi from getting a $25-million contract to build a sludge-treatment plant.

"France's attitude toward the United States is deplorable. I don't want to have any French companies earning dollars from American interests," said Aaronson. "We've left thousands of our men and women over in France, underground. It's quite possible that if we didn't send our troops there, the French people would all be speaking German."

France is far from alone in pushing for a delay in military action. Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Greece, Ireland and Luxembourg said they would prefer to give U.N. weapons inspections more time.

But it is the French who have borne the brunt of U.S. scorn and become the butt of jokes about their beret-wearing, wine-drinking, cheese-eating, literature-deconstructing, surrendering-to-the-Germans ways.

"France wants more evidence," David Letterman wisecracked. "The last time France wanted more evidence, it rolled right through France with a German flag."

Comedian Dennis Miller quipped: "The only way the French are going in is if we tell them we found truffles in Iraq."

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) warmed up a crowd of Republican leaders in Missouri recently by saying: "Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris? It's not known; it's never been tried."

And this: "Somebody was telling me about the French Army rifle that was being advertised on eBay the other day -- the description was, 'Never shot. Dropped once.' "

The New York Post branded France and Germany "the axis of weasel," and ran a doctored page-one photo that put giant weasel heads on the shoulders of the French and German ambassadors to the United Nations.

Natalie Loiseau, spokeswoman for the French Embassy in Washington, said the barbs go beyond the dispute over Iraq.

"There is kind of a tradition of French-bashing here," she said. "There is a kind of rivalry. It has lasted for years and for centuries, really."

Mark Twain joked in 1879: "There is nothing lower than the human race except the French."

It's not something that the French take too seriously. Even last week, Loiseau said the embassy had not received any complaints from French citizens in the U.S. about harassment.

For their part, the French have long lambasted American cultural influence in Europe, decrying American fast food and pushy American tourists.

"There is also a tradition of American-bashing in France, yes," Loiseau said. "If you read the press on either side of the Atlantic, you would think we were ready to go to war with each other. Obviously, that is not the case. We are still good friends."

A Gallup poll in early February found a nearly 20-point drop in the percentage of Americans who think favorably of France. About 59% view France favorably, while 33% do not.

Germany, America's enemy in two world wars, does not seem to have produced the same level of disdain. Some 71% of Americans thought favorably of Germany, while 21% did not.

"It's a little different," said state Rep. Stephen Barrar, who has asked Pennsylvania to bar French wine. "For 60 years, America has protected France. And we're tired of their anti-American attitude."

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