So Long Johnny Hallyday; the French Have Much to Teach Us. Too Bad Americans Don't Listen

Newsweek International, May 7, 2007 | Go to article overview

So Long Johnny Hallyday; the French Have Much to Teach Us. Too Bad Americans Don't Listen


Byline: Long is a Hollywood screenwriter.

A few years ago, I developed a script for an American TV sitcom. An aging French rock-and-roll star--picture a slightly seedy Johnny Hallyday--meets a young, sweet American girl in Paris, woos her, marries her and, together, they move back to the United States to live with her conservative and very rich family.

High jinks, as we say in the business, ensue. He wanders around the house in a Speedo and Ugg boots, criticizing typical Americanisms like Starbucks and Quizno's. Her uptight dad mutters about smelly cheese and Iraq War betrayals. But the two of them--OK, OK, it's a metaphor --actually have something to learn from each other.

What we were going for was a clash of cultures, but funny. Our American father (all hypertension, reflexive right-wing nuttery, scolding puritan attitudes) and our French libertine (sexually frank, culturally snobbish, unemployed) would learn to live together in tolerant harmony. Dad would come to savor good wine and two-hour lunches. The rocker would get a job and wear pants. You know, an exchange .

That was two years ago. Two events have since sent our project into turnaround. The first came when Nicolas Sarkozy, the center-right, America-tolerant French presidential candidate, emerged as a clear favorite. Could it be that France, stung by violent eruptions in the mostly Muslim banlieues of Paris, stagnant economic growth, a soaring national deficit and falling per capita income, may be slowly lowering the national nose just a touch? Recent polls show a population more worried about the future, and less convinced of Gallic exceptionalism, than ever before. As for that pompous old grandee, outgoing President Jacques Chirac, and the self-dramatizing diva act known as Dominique de Villepin? Let them trundle off into irrelevance.

But that's politics. The really big event was last December, when Johnny Hallyday--France's Elvis, Jagger, Springsteen and Sinatra rolled into one--picked up and moved to Switzerland. And for terribly un-French reasons, too: taxes . With rates as high as 60 percent, and inheritance laws turning outright confiscatory, the French superstar threw in the serviette . …

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