The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary December 8, 2006

French Do Hate Americans, Donít They?

Check this, I’m about to read your mind. 

The French are snobs. The French hate Americans. The French hate all things American. The French believe they are better than Americans. 

Though I am generally a supporter of stereotypes as a tool of social classification, the American view of the Parisian is mostly incorrect. Yes, it is in fact true that many, probably most and perhaps all French people hate America. However, this ubiquitous and irrational hatred of America does not extend to Americans, or to their music, fashion, art and other cultural products. It is reserved for what is perceived as the reactionary politics, conservative social practices, cutthroat economics and general stuffiness of American culture, but is not applied to the members or products of this society. 

Wait, what?

Let me try to explain why the French view of America may seem illogical: The French view of America is illogical. It is hardly surprising that the city which produced such masters of irrational thought as Lacan and Derrida would not follow their own Enlightenment rules when engaging American culture. This continental thinking is especially evident in my and other Americans’ discussions with Paris natives.

I was eating lunch at a café with a French friend a few days ago and the discussion turned to American politics. “What is wrong with American voters? Americans are so uptight! If a French president was caught with an intern he would gain the respect of the country, not be disgraced!” Had he forgotten that I myself was one of the American voters about whom he talked much trash? 

Not exactly. However, he failed to make the connection between me and his generalized conception of American citizens. Perhaps this is because I do not fit the stereotype, but honestly, most people don’t. What my friend was doing was unknowingly separating his stereotypical notions of America from his personal experience with Americans. However, he was unable to take the next step and use his specific observations to amend his general views. This is how it is possible for the French to hate America but love Americans.

There are countless examples of this in music, fashion, pop culture and academics. The transfer of such ideas occurs in a trickle down fashion, to borrow a term from the celebrated American economist Ronald Reagan. Cultural trends, ideas, bands, fashion statements, are filtered through the American public and some of them end up in French culture, often some time after they have died in the U.S.

The French youth have mad love for The Offspring, a band popular in America several years ago but who have since, mercifully, fallen from grace. Walk around Paris and you can see a large proportion of kids with Offspring patches on their shoulder bags and large offspring belt buckles into which their shirts are tucked into so you can’t miss how much they love the Offspring. The only thing Americans remember about the Offspring is kind of liking that song about a white guy in junior high.

Also very interesting is how hard the new Akon record Konvicted is being pushed here.  This one isn’t outdated since Konvicted is just coming out in the U.S. (next column is about how the Internet revolutionized the spread of information), but I could think of about five or six new American albums that should for both musical and commercial reasons take precedence over the Akon album (Jay-Z, The Game, The Clipse, Snoop Dogg, Young Jeezy, etc.), as well as any number of French hip hop artists. However, in my neighborhood it is Akon’s name that is tagged onto the side of buildings and Akon posters plastered on telephone booths. It is true that Akon grew up in the Francophone country of Senegal, but I doubt that if he had stayed in Dakar I would be seeing posters of him in the French metro. Possibly Akon’s popularity is due to the fact that he is a Francophone who has become an American, which is in a sense what is happening to Parisians through music such as his. Or perhaps it is simply that trickle down “works” in mysterious ways.

The same phenomenon can be seen with fashion. In a city famed for its clothing stores and style, most kids I’ve met shop mostly at Gap and American Apparel. Probably a full quarter of people I see on the street are wearing 200 Euro Levi’s jeans, which shows that people are willing to pay for American fashion statements even in one of the fashion capitals of the world.  All the while mocking Americans for their poor fashion sense and sloppy clothes. The French claim to be able to identify Americans by their bad shoes, but this is mostly a lie.

These examples show that the French simultaneously scorn and embrace American culture. They are charmed by tourists with American accents but appalled by the American voters without quite realizing that they are one and the same. The attitude is reminiscent of young progressive communities in the U.S. such as Oberlin, where students are critical of America at the same time as they are part of its society. Strangely enough, the French, despite their distaste for America, are also part of American society through their love of American culture and their participation in American economics.

But come on, if you’re gonna copy us, do it right and stop rocking those G-Unit sneakers. Don’t you know Fitty fell off the game like a year ago? Cash Money Records, dogg!


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