The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power

The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power

The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power

The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power


There are over 1,000 McDonald's on French soil. Two Disney theme parks have opened near Paris in the last two decades. And American-inspired vocabulary such as "le weekend" has been absorbed into the French language. But as former French president Jacques Chirac put it: "The U. S. finds France unbearably pretentious. And we find the U. S. unbearably hegemonic." Are the French fascinated or threatened by America? They Americanize yet are notorious for expressions of anti-Americanism. From McDonald's and Coca-Cola to free markets and foreign policy, this book looks closely at the conflicts and contradictions of France's relationship to American politics and culture. Richard Kuisel shows how the French have used America as both yardstick and foil to measure their own distinct national identity. They ask: how can we be modern like the Americans without becoming like them?

France has charted its own path: it has welcomed America's products but rejected American policies; assailed America's "jungle capitalism" while liberalizing its own economy; attacked "Reaganomics'" while defending French social security; and protected French cinema, television, food, and language even while ingesting American pop culture. Kuisel examines France's role as an independent ally of the United States--in the reunification of Germany and in military involvement in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia--but he also considers the country's failures in influencing the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. Whether investigating France's successful information technology sector or its spurning of American expertise during the AIDS epidemic, Kuisel asks if this insistence on a French way represents a growing distance between Europe and the United States or a reaction to American globalization.

Exploring cultural trends, values, public opinion, and political reality, The French Way delves into the complex relationship between two modern nations.


By the end of the twentieth century America was the object of French fascination, anxiety, and scorn. If the New World had been observed by the French since Jacques Cartier’s explorations of the St. Lawrence River in the 1530s, it was not until over four hundred years later that America became the foil for national identity. By the 1980s America had become the standard by which the French measured their progress or decline. Success in foreign affairs meant acting as the partner of the United States yet keeping a comfortable distance and counterbalancing the U.S. government’s hegemony. the “good society” was defined by rejecting mainstream American notions of work and leisure. Similarly, a modern economy did not imitate the “wild capitalism” of the United States; if some borrowing of American practice was necessary, it had to be adapted or repackaged as French. and culture, the nation’s pride, needed to be protected against the onslaught of Hollywood movies, American English, and fast food. Viewed from France, the United States was engaged in a transatlantic competition whose stakes were national identity, independence, and prestige. Viewed from the United States, France was of little account except when it got in the way. It was an asymmetrical rivalry.

This study examines how, why, and with what consequences America served as a foil for France in the final two decades of the twentieth century. It is the story of France’s effort at designing its own path . . .

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