I wrote this originally on July 14, 2003, shortly after the US decided to invade Iraq.
It’s Bastille Day and a great time to comment on all things French.
On Friday the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood Shores hosted a party to celebrate an early Bastille Day. It wasn’t all that much fun – way too American! (The band should have played French music!) – but I got to catch up with my friend Valerie, an actual French person, and there were fireworks afterwards. We spoke French a little as well and I was happy to see I haven’t forgotten it all despite not having been in France since March. When I’m in France my French skills sort of warm up and I get more fluid with my speaking. But I don’t practice much when I’m in the US because it just doesn’t seem intuitive to describe life in the US in French. French fits France: the roads, the buildings, the people, the food, the life, the light, the French ambience in its entirety. But in the US, and maybe California in particular, the spaces are broader and, how shall I say it, differently colored? There is a rhythm to life which requires the English vocabulary and its broader phoenetic syllables to describe. Whereas IN France the opposite is true and English feels clunky and ineffectual.
Apparently last year for Bastille Day the Sofitel Hotel hung a gigantic French flag off of their building. This year I guess they’ve chosen to be more subdued. I think it’s an absolute shame that they think they need to. There was a recent article in the New York Times about how American families were refusing to host French foreign exchange students. Such behavior is absolutely appalling.
- Even if we assume that the French have done something unforgivable, what sense does it make to penalize students?
- Given the rift between our respective cultures, what sense does it make to deny ourselves the opportunities to build bridges between us that foreign exchanges afford?
- Even if we accept the most cynical assessment of Chirac’s motivation for not agreeing with the US on Iraq, I don’t believe, from my experience meeting real live actual French people in France, that the French reluctance to invade Iraq was based on anything other than reasonable, rationale, and humane concerns.
- If either country has behaved in a way that requires apologizing, it’s not France. All things considered I think the French have been tolerating tremendous American arrogance with astonishing equanimity. I’ve not heard of an example of the French being nearly as inhospitable to Americans as we are being to them.
Not to mention how foolish this attitude is if it turns out that the French were right about Iraq.
I just find it unfathomable that there are Americans who would tell me that to support my country I need to now hate the French. I didn’t go to all the trouble to learn their language just so I could lord myself over them in a misplaced sense of haughty patriotism. I think, rather, that it would be advisable for more Americans to go to the trouble to try to see things from the French perspective. And rather than continue to resent them for WWII, if we are determined to rely on history to justify our contemporary relationships, perhaps we would be better served by recalling the contributions of Lafayette, or perhaps the gift of the Statue of Liberty, or any other of a number unsung occasions of the French supporting Americans.