mardi 27 novembre 2007

Close encounter of the third kind.



We, French, are often told that Americans don’t really think of us and I strongly believe that. Why on earth would they? Don’t they have their own fish to fry?

Yet, hardly a week passes by without an article in any given American media about France or the French. In fact, there are many more articles about France than about any European country or even Asian country. How the French do this or that, how they tackle such and such problems, their failure, their success, their way of living, their habits, what they like and dislike etc.

The latest examples to date are to be found in Time and Newsweek. Americans by and large may not be much interested with France and the French but the American press, certainly is.

And here we have something rather exceptional: the apparently bemusement of “certain” Americans towards the French who, it seems, they consider as the very paradigm of strangeness. Doesn’t France appear like the ultimate foreign country, the one which didn’t deign to pay much attention to the exceptional opportunity America presented to all peoples of the world? Ain’t such attitude the very confirmation of France’s arrogance? Hence the “reasoning”: “If they’re not interested in our country it can only mean they hate us.”

The reason is simple: France being the wealthiest country in Europe during the XIXth century, very few people felt the need to immigrate to the US at that time. It seems like many Americans consider this lack of French presence in the original melting pot as some sort of evidence of French aloofness and desire to set themselves apart.

To top it all, the founding value on which the American society was built, “get rich”, is the very opposite of the traditional French value emanating from centuries of art and humanism. 

Now, you can’t deny these differences are more than enough to feed the cliché of the French as being the people who represent the “Stranger” per se in the eyes of many, many Americans.

When you add to this a possible underlying feeling of debt vis-à-vis the country that sent Lafayette, Tocqueville and Miss Liberty to America, you begin to understand the uneasiness of the relation as experienced from the American side of the Atlantic

Now, to add insult to injury, the French were right about Iraq, seemingly teaching another lesson to Americans.

How not to feel there’s something uncannily special with the French which, among all their shortcomings, seem to be reluctant to any integration into the Anglo-American vision of the world. Not to mention the French notorious incapacity to speak English and even their refusal to do so.

Going to meet them is a definitive experience, something not totally unrelated to an encounter of the third kind, really.


Note: the painting is «The meeting. Bonjour Monsieur Courbet» by Gustave Courbet (1854), Montpellier, Musée Fabre

11 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

Dans la psyche américaine, il y a à l'intérieur de la case "World" une case "France", c'est évident. Il y a aussi d'autres cases pour d'autres pays (ou peut-être plutôt "régions du monde"), mais elles apparaissent moins sujettes à l'incompréhension ou a l'irrationnalité.

Il y a aussi une case "US" dans la psyche française, où les clichés ressembleraient un peu à ceux que les Chinois trimbalent vis-à-vis des Japonais ("ils nous doivent leur culture, écriture, religion, art, etc., et ils se comportent comme des enfants qui seraient dépourvus de piété filiale"), i.e. "ils" (US) nous doivent tout, "nous" (France) avons fait d'eux ce qu'ils sont, par les idées des Lumières et les armes de l'Indépendance. Mais ce ne sont que de "grands enfants" (condescendance bienveillante) ou des "impérialistes en retard d'un siècle" (condescendance malveillante).

Les Américains, pas plus que les Japonais dans un autre contexte, ne peuvent établir de maturité, de viabilité, d'autonomie culturelle s'ils ne se débarrassent, même magiquement, de cet héritage. Terre promise pour les uns (US), héritage divin pour les autres (Japon), l'antériorité historique pose en tout cas un problème qui implique l'exclusion des modèles "sub-lunaires".

Les clichés que véhiculent les Japonais vis-à-vis de la Chine, pourtant voisin plus proche et plus ancien que dans le cas du couple US/France, sont tout ausssi empreints de mystère et de méfiance
(bivalence "sagesse"/"cruauté", "malice", "cynisme" etc.).

Significativement, les prémisses (et bien souvent les fruits) de l'entente US/Japon, quoique plus récentes que dans le cas US/Chine apparaissent plus solidement établies : obscur sentiment de partager un même problème ?

Etchdi

ned a dit…

Just as important as Lafayette to Americans were DeGrasse and Rochambeau. They were the ones that defined the strategy at Yorktown and won the battle. There were more French troops and casualties there than American.

As to China and Japan, China was more or less an ally of the U.S. since the overthrow of the emperor. American volunteers fought on the side of China before the U.S. entered the war.

During the war, people like General Stillwell advocated more aid to Mao and finding an agreement with Mao after the war. They were accused of being pro-communist and sidelined.

Imagine if in 1949 the U.S. had accepted Mao's government and engaged in normal relations with it. Many things may - or maybe not - have been avoided, like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Further as to the American psyche, could this program be presented on PBS? "Clitoris, ce cher inconnu".

http://www.clitoris-film.com/extraits.html

I mentioned this at SF. It was shown on ARTE and will be rebroadcast.

http://www.arte.tv/fr/histoire-societe/masturbation/masturbation/1741270.html

There is a second program on masturbation. I can just hear the xian right screaming holy murder.

There are good links at the site too.

Anonyme a dit…

Hello Ned,

American volunteers ("Flying Tigers", for one) did fight alongside the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese war, but it was the "Nationalist" side, by no means "Mao's army".

The US had so far no other problems with China than those other colonial powers had, as long as the pre-commie era is concerned. Still, they knew next to nothing about imperial China: their knowledge and true interest of the country and mores (history, philosophy - which played a great role in the French "Enlightenment") was far shorter and shallow than Europeans'.

They started having problems as soon as an ideology contrary to US political conceptions emerged and Japanese ambitions appeared as a menace for the US Ocean (=Pacific) sphere.

Who knows? Had the Nationalist side won, Claire L. Chennault would be the American La Fayette of the Chinese...

Etchdi

ned a dit…

Etchdi, there was not much chance that the nationalists of Chang Kai-chek could win and certain Americans on the spot understood that.

But that was after the war. I didn't say that the American volunteers fought on the side of Mao. It is clear that they fought for the official government of the time.

Flocon a dit…

C'est très intéressant cette dualité et ce parallèle presque existentiel entre ces deux couples de nations/cultures.
Comme une dynamique qui leur est propre et qui n'est pas près de s'estomper. Particulièrement entre le Japon et la Chine, depuis le temps que c'est en place (2.500 ans?) ce rapport de l'un à l'autre fait définitivement partie de l'identité de chacun d'eux j'imagine.
Sans doute à un moindre degré entre la France et les US. L'affaire Irakienne jouera un rôle de marqueur pour longtemps encore. Encore un billet à écrire...


"Les Américains, pas plus que les Japonais dans un autre contexte, ne peuvent établir de maturité, de viabilité, d'autonomie culturelle s'ils ne se débarrassent, même magiquement, de cet héritage"

As-tu quelques dons de prémonition?
Il se trouve que j'ai un billet sur le feu à ce sujet (en 2 ou 3 parties) pour la semaine prochaine.

Flocon a dit…

Hi Ned

"Just as important as Lafayette to Americans were DeGrasse and Rochambeau."
It's remarkable to notice how little interest these characters raise in French history and among the French themselves. It's much more part of American history than part of ours.

Lafayette himself is rather looked upon (négligé?) in France as you know.

Other than that, are you an undercover PR agent for ARTE? ;-)

Anonyme a dit…

"Sans doute à un moindre degré entre la France et les US."

Bien sûr, un degré moindre et moins ancien.

Anonyme a dit…

Regards to Ned.

French having a show about masturbation is nothing to show an upper hand. The USA has had Dr. Ruth for many years teaching us about masturbation and many other sexual topics on television.

France is a lovely and beautiful place. It is in the world media so much because it places its self there!

There is many oppurtunties to speak about America with Iraq but lets not forget the sins of anyone in the world! From Rwanda, Chad, Riots, Ms. Royale was a public embarrasement for the Quebec Area.

From someone that was born in Canada and lived throughout the world.

Anonyme a dit…

French having a show about masturbation is nothing to show an upper hand.

That's a good one. Don't need to tell what the lower hand's doing :lol:

Mustang a dit…

A ludicrous stereotype is what I have come to expect from the likes of Time Magazine and other such journals. They used to be respectable sources of news and commentary, but now I fear they are mere sensationalists with a particular political bias. Admittedly, they may have always been that, and it has just taken me a while to realize it. I am suggesting sensationalism because when the media offers up a tidbit involving the French its purpose is to sell more copies of their magazine.

I think that given the history of French-US relations, it has been long assumed that these two nations would be perpetual allies — which in my view is still possible even when there are occasional disagreements. When has anyone observed a family that does not also have differing points of view? This attitude began to break down (in my view) when de Gaulle was president and worked so hard to establish and maintain French independence from the international community. More recently, news here in the US has focused on a government campaign in France to diminish such facets of American culture as music, clothing, films, and so on. Personally, based on the trash we find in our “rap” music and the idiocy produced in films, I think France should ban such nonsense. As for clothing, I assume the writers of such news overlook the fact that most American clothing is manufactured in Asia.

I would guess that few Americans have ever met a French person, let alone form a friendship with one — so it may be well to point out that what most Americans know about the French, they get from their own “favorite” news provider. Yet, I think it is also true that people everywhere are guilty of forming absurd conclusions about others based on what they read or hear parroted by news media. And this brings me to my final point for now: the so-called “French Bashing” you refer to has less to do with any criticism (based on a full understanding of the French perspective), and more about the number of idiots employed by the American media and how they pander to other idiots who want the news of the day delivered in five second sound bites. People may indeed form lasting friendships, but international relations, like coalition governments, are usually only temporary arrangements. At least, that’s how I see it.

Anonyme a dit…

Personally, based on the trash we find in our “rap” music and the idiocy produced in films, I think France should ban such nonsense.
No ban, a very bad idea. And here is a free country too.
... [blame] the number of idiots employed by the American media and how they pander to other idiots who want the news of the day delivered in five second sound bites.
And here is the country where we have the same kind of idiots.

Etchdi