Magazine article The American Conservative

La Belle France

Magazine article The American Conservative

La Belle France

Article excerpt

"Last Chance For France" cries the London Spectator in a cover story, which means that tout va bien in the land of cheese. The Anglo-Saxons have been predicting the end of France since time immemorial, but if I were a Brit I'd worry more about what is taking place in my own back yard and leave the French to their mistresses, their wonderful culture, and the fact that France is a far more civilized country to live in than old Blighty.

I was recently in Washington for a speech, and ended it by saying that the next time someone says something rude about the French they should be reminded that at least the Frogs executed their Fifth Columnists after the war, which is more than we Americans are about to do to the neocons. It got a good laugh.

The French, whether one likes them or not-and I do-run rings around the rest of us where social interaction is concerned. To be French is to be well educated and civilized. Two summers ago, in a camp near St. Tropez where I had gone jogging, I watched and listened to teenage boys playing a soccer match. What struck me was the lack of swear words between 15-year-olds giving it their all. Compare this with an English pick-up game in Hyde Park, where the F-word is the only word one hears, or its equivalent basketball game in Central Park-and weep.

Better yet, as Theodore Dalrymple writes in the Spectator, "mass public drunkenness as the highest form of entertainment seems scarcely to exist." French everyday culture is less crass and vulgar than ours and certainly superior to that of Blair's Britain. People still take three-hour lunches, especially in small towns; women do not walk around with bottles of water attached to their mouths; and television programs tend to cover books and the arts more than the sexual antics of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.

The French trains not only run on time, they also go very, very fast. The TGV takes me from Lausanne to Paris in two and a half hours, is extremely comfortable and clean, and serves a perfectly good meal. Compare that with the D.C. shuttle and shed a tear.

I remember when I was living in Flambertin des Creppières, a small hamlet west of Paris with an admittedly pretentious name, listening to two butchers argue about Camus. They had both obviously read him, but it was their evocation of the other writers to whom they compared him that left me breathless. …

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