They Love Us, They Love Us Not
One of my favorite Sunday morning guilty pleasures is reading the Version Femina that comes in our newspaper, the Midi Libre. It’s guilt-inducing because a lot of it is about how to match your eyebrows to the season’s hottest colors, what super-models eat between lettuce leaves, how much some really sexy young actor loves to change his baby’s diapers, and that sort of universal pap that women are supposed to adore. And I do. Because I can read entire articles and understand every word, and because it proves to me that French women aren’t really born knowing how to be the way they are, they have to read up on it every Sunday like the rest of us.
But today, oh wow, see that headline? “Do We Or Do We Not Love The USA?” Ok! Now finally we get to find out whether the Freedom Fries debacle and the cruel dumping of French wine left a lasting impression. At least, that’s what I hoped. The reality of the article is that the people surveyed were mainly responding to a multiple choice list, which tells us a lot about the person who made up the list, as well as something about the respondents.
For example, here’s the list of places the survey creator thought might be the most iconically American. No translation needed here, and not many surprises, unless it’s that Mississippi and Key West made the list while San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle didn’t. And the Maison Blanche, the White House, is apparently the stand-in for Washington, which is understandable given the way news is reported here.
This little sidebar makes the point that although it’s been almost twenty years since French television showed the TV series Dallas, for 46% of the people surveyed, the show is still the incarnation of Americana. I have to admit that, although I myself have never seen Dallas, I do find this factlet surprising. A nation of filthy rich cowboy blonde sexpot oil baron sleazeball scandal-mongers, is that us? Or have I got it wrong? Remember, I’m the one who never watched Dallas, unlike, evidently, a gazillion French people.
Now here on the left we see a reflection of a curious facet of French life. In France, it’s the film directors that get the attention and publicity, before the actors. So while we see that Steven Spielberg is properly appreciated in France, it also comes to light that, for some reason that escapes me, Woody Allen appeals to audiences here. Last night we happened to see his latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which we thought was generally pretty terrible as movies go, although it was apparently appreciated by the mostly-French audience with whom we shared the theater. To which I can only say “Ah, bon,” which is a polite French way to say “go figure.”
And on the right, the Brand Wars. No surprise that Coke and McDonalds are on top, but Harley Davidson? There’s Google and Apple but no Microsoft, Intel, or IBM. Take that, geeks of America! And how did Ray Ban even get on the list?
Here, though, we get to the heart of things. This is the part where no answers were suggested, where respondents spoke freely when answering the question “What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think about the US?” La grandeur et la puissance. Its size, and its power. Those are really two different things, of course, but I think that by combining them people mean to speak of the country’s large and mighty aspect, as opposed to the “country so big it takes five whole days to drive across” aspect. And then, New York, which seems fair since I think Paris would be at the top of most of our lists if we were answering the same question about France. And then, Monsieur Bush. Here I’ll just heave a parenthetical sigh and say that every French person I know is rooting vigorously for Obama.
It’s heartening to see that fast food is dead last on the list, although it’s only one percentage point behind the war in Iraq, imperialism, the dollar, and the 9/11 attacks. And it’s also heartening that, if you look at the fine print in the very first picture, you’ll see that 62% of the people who participated in this survey like the US. 62 % yes, 38% no, and there’s not even the electoral vote to consider. Folks, I think we can declare a winner here.
So please, say thank you by going out and buying a bottle of nice French wine. The economy’s in rough shape over here too, and the winemakers need your support. And since the economy over there’s no better, a good bottle of wine is just what the doctor ordered.