The French hate us. And they love us. Actually, if anything, they really love to hate us.
Let’s just say that most of us – Americans studying abroad in France – are on the defensive from all the non-constructive criticism that is thrown in our faces.
Whether we’re talking about American politics, American culture or American I-don’t- know-whats, we usually get slammed with some kind of unfounded insulting comment.
In a speech that President George W. Bush made last week to mark the six-month anniversary of Sept. 11, I scoffed when I saw that France was the first country named in a list of allies.
If the French are considered our allies, I can’t even imagine what our enemies are like.
At dinner with a group of French students, I was attacked just for the fact that Americans call themselves Americans as opposed to United Statesians.
A friend of mine, an English major, is tired of hearing about how poorly Americans speak English. And another friend of mine was told that Americans smile too much – God forbid.
But the worst is really in class – especially political science classes at the Institute for Political Studies.
At first, I thought it would be interesting to take a class on international relations to learn a different perspective. I didn’t realize that “International Relations and the Exterior Politics of France” was defined as “How the United States Screwed-Up the World and How France Has Tried to Correct It.”
Let me tell you what I have learned so far: France’s foreign policy objective is to oppose the United States – no matter what – through the use of the United Nations in order to bring equilibrium to the uni-polar world. France has no self-interest and conducts a foreign policy that supports regionalism solely for this idea of world balance. France’s foreign policy also focuses on the humanitarian aspect of exterior politics while the U.S.’s foreign policy only focuses on money and power.
Throughout the year, I can only recall one brief conversation about a negative effect of French foreign policy – for example, French support of the Rwandan military regime that exterminated hundreds of thousands of people. This little factoid did not spur too much discussion from the class.
However, each “negative” action taken by the United States usually intrigues the students and provokes at least 20 minutes of a one-sided discussion.
So far, we’ve been blamed for every environmental issue worldwide, we’ve been criticized for our capitalist-consumerist ways and apparently, as one student pointed out, the Sept. 11 events were not an attack on our territorial integrity or sovereignty. We’ve also been blamed for every humanitarian crisis because we either do too much or we do too little.
Even the most liberal and the most critical Americans are tired of hearing about the “bad, ignorant” Americans and the “good, enlightened” French.
Give me a break.
I don’t know why we really even let it bother us. After all, if they want to have their illusions of grandeur, what do we really care? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really count anyway. And in July, we’ll all be back in the states where what the French think of us doesn’t really matter.
But in the aftermath of Sept. 11 it’s hard to put aside anti-American feelings because it becomes personal and threatening. Many times when discussing Sept 11, they seem to stop short of completely saying that we deserve it – and this coming from the “humanitarian” country that states all people have human rights except of course the ugly Americans. They even debate whether the United States has the right to self-defense.
It’s a funny thing this anti-Americanism that leaves most us wondering why we even decided to study here in the first place. After all, most of us came liking the French – the culture, the food, the clothes. But now, most of us are disillusioned about French hypocrisy – wondering what we ever did to France that pushed their buttons so much.
But despite all of this anger towards us they still love all that is American.
American movies are in every cinema, the TV is filled with dubbed American sitcoms. And in the video rental store, most movies are also American.
The French probably love McDonald’s more than we do. And “coca light” is probably the most popular drink among all of those skinny French gals.
Everywhere I turn, I wonder how a country can enjoy the things we produce while at the same time criticizing the country that created it.
Ultimately, French criticism comes more from bitterness over their diminishing role in the world and their struggle to maintain the French identity. Stop and consider: If a Western ally like France is this bitter toward America, then imagine the level of anti-Americanism in non-allied, underdeveloped countries.
Even if the United States has the luxury of ignoring French criticism – which fortunately we do – we do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye to the criticism in non-allied countries, where it has turned violent.
Yael Kohen is a Daily columnist writing from Aix-en-Provence, France. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.