French antipathy toward United States a fabrication

As Lance Armstrong roared down Paris’s Avenue Rapp Saturday on his aerodynamically inclined super bike, thousands of fans screamed, “Allez, allez,” and, “Go Lance!”

Armstrong, who has won the last four editions of the Tour de France, did fairly well in the first stage of the 1,000-mile-plus, 22-day race. Parisians lining the first-stage route on the city’s streets enthusiastically cheered Armstrong as he kicked off his effort to win his fifth title in a row.

So much for anti-American sentiment in the country that was most vocal against the U.S. war in Iraq.

To put it simply, the popular myth of “tres chic” French people scoffing at anything American is a complete fabrication.

Granted, I didn’t have a chance to sit down with every French citizen while I was there for the last two weeks. However, among a whirlwind of political hatred between the two countries, not a single French citizen called me a “stupid American” or told me to go back to my country.

Of course, I pretty much gave off every sign of a tourist. They could have just wanted my sight-seeing dollars. After all, most of the people I dealt with in France were those who work with tourists, like myself, for a living.

Still, every indication of a Franco-U.S. standoff came from media, not from people. The fabricated hatred was embodied in a fairly lengthy article in the International Herald Tribune, The New York Times’ overseas edition.

The article exhaustively tackled a trivial question: Will Tour de France spectators boo Lance Armstrong? After all, out of about 15 of the last races, Americans have won seven.

Sure, the spectators will boo, the article concluded. Crazy French fans, drinking wine all day, will line the race’s route under the warm sun, waiting anxiously for a chance to primitively scoff at Armstrong.

But not at the hands of anti-American sentiment, the writer said. The article’s author came to the conclusion that fans will boo Armstrong for reasons other than the war.

Regardless of the article’s conclusions, it still drew unnecessary attention to a trivial matter and gave further credence to the idea that Americans are a bunch of war-mongering cowboys and the French are nothing but snobby smokers, aching to reverse their declining role in the world.

If I picked up on any overriding French attitude toward Americans, it was a completely hospitable one.

At Disneyland Paris, formerly known as “Euro Disney,” the clerk who sold us our passes noticed our California accents and proceeded to sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

She then told us, “It’s good you live in America. I love America.”

My uncle replied that he also loved France. The clerk frowned and said that while France is a beautiful country, she wants to return to San Francisco where she had lived for about two years.

In essence, on a person-to-person basis, most French people I met welcomed me when they found out I was from the United States. After all, American sitcoms play continuously on French television (with some pretty bad dubbing).

The popular U.S. conception of haughty Gauloise-smoking and anti-American French citizens is one that is concocted by politicians who apparently need an enemy to survive.

In the name of rallying Americans behind a war, politicians have pitted our cultures against one another, resorting to fast-food name changes as a medium to express anger.

In the meantime, some Americans have forgotten the long history of diplomatic friendship between the United States and France. Without France’s help in the Revolutionary War, America might not exist. In fact, inside the Pantheon in Paris, the monument’s centerpiece sculpture is a group of Revolutionary War soldiers staring at what appears to be Lady Liberty. On the base of the sculpture is inscribed in French, “Live free or die.”

Unfortunately, U.S. media has swallowed a fabricated concept of French culture and is feeding it to Americans.

Paul Thornton, University of California-Berkeley