Those irritating Frenchies. Only they would see America as “the worst kind of beautiful woman: a powerful woman that we desire but feel unworthy of and whom we must therefore degrade.”
Thus spoke actor-singer Yves Montand in an interview with onetime U.S. News & World Report correspondent Chesnoff (Pack of Thieves, 1999)—and if the urbane Montand thought of America so, then imagine what ill thoughts your average perfidious Parisian must be harboring about us. Of course, Montand was Italian, just as the famously anti-American Jean-Paul Sartre was Belgian. But never mind: The French liked them, so they go on the suspect list, for, by Chesnoff’s account, the French and their ilk suffer from fundamental and fatal flaws: They insist on speaking French, despite “the diminished utility of French in worldly affairs,” insist on nursing Cartesian concepts, insist on insisting that they have a place at the world table. Plus they opposed the Iraq invasion, and some of them helped the Germans during WWII, which makes them surrender monkeys. Plus “France is a vertical society where rules and regulations come from on high,” whereas America is ruled by consensus. (Did you ever doubt it?) Plus they like Jerry Lewis and Michael Moore—and Chesnoff doesn’t even get around to Mickey Rourke. Only readers who take such premises seriously will enjoy Chesnoff’s diatribe, expressed in sideways assertions that, for instance, our media are superior to theirs because we stopped paying attention to Janet Jackson’s breasts after a while, whereas they’re still fixated on “an aging Belgian-born pop star named Johnny Halliday” (that would be “Hallyday,” monsieur). None of which keeps Chesnoff from maintaining a residence in the Midi, where his neighbors, of course, are rude to him just because they’re French and can’t help it. . . .
Anyone who knows France will recognize this as a half-cooked canard. Anyone who wants to know about what distinguishes France from the U.S. can read Raymonde Carroll’s infinitely superior Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience (1990). That leaves the freedom-fry crowd, and they’re welcome to this book.