Vive la Difference; Americans, French in Their Third Century of a 'Lovers' Quarrel'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

Vive la Difference; Americans, French in Their Third Century of a 'Lovers' Quarrel'


Byline: Delphine Soulas, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A year ago, wartime friction with an old ally added "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" to patriotic menus, but America seems to have suppressed the anti-French fever that swept the country after Paris objected to U.S. plans to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Franco-American feud still has not been forgotten in France, where books and articles in newspapers and magazines continue to analyze the disputes and disagreements between two nations that have been allies since the American Revolution.

One scholar has likened the relationship to a "lovers' quarrel."

"The well-known lovers' quarrel between America and France, an 'I Love You, Moi Non Plus' mixture of frustration and admiration, gratitude and annoyance, is now into its third century and still going strong, as France and the French clearly continue to inspire strong feelings in Americans," Edward Knox, professor of French at Middlebury College, wrote last year in an article for the French Politics, Culture & Society review.

A French businessman who has lived in the United States for nearly 20 years offered his intercultural analysis in the book "Francais & Americains, L'Autre Rive" - which translates as "French and Americans, the Other Shore."

"The American first looks at the positive side of things. In a situation of potentially contradictory interests, he wonders if both protagonists can jointly win: the win-win," Pascal Baudry wrote in his book. "The French first look at the negative aspects of a situation he has to face: what is wrong in what the other person is saying or writing, ... what he wants from me, what I will lose."

Mr. Baudry, director of a consulting company based in Berkeley, Calif., wrote that from a French point of view, the American win-win attitude may seem "ridiculously naive."

As a consequence, Mr. Baudry said, although Americans usually view encounters with strangers as a way of mutual enrichment, the French consider strangers a threat. "The obvious absence of smile from the French in the presence of unknown people in public situations corresponds to this attitude. Everything happens as if a smile has a cost," Mr. Baudry wrote.

"For the French, the smile of Americans looks - sublime reproach - as stereotyped, or even worse, 'commercial.' This last word is significant for what it implies: 'He smiles to me so he wants to sell something to me, and if he does so, necessarily it's in his interest and not in mine," he wrote.

Mr. Baudry believes the roots of these divergent attitudes begin in infancy.

American children are weaned earlier than the French, he says, and as a result the French are more prone to see the negative side. Americans, in contrast, are more inclined to consider matters through a positive mind, even if this can lead to envy.

"Americans are on the side of envy and the French on the [side] of jealousy. …

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