The Hegemonic Hamburger

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

The Hegemonic Hamburger


"The French Exception" by Sophie Meunier, in Foreign Affairs (July-Aug 2000),58 E. 68th St., New York, N.Y. 10021.

Resistance to American-led globalization is, well, global, but the French, as usual, are a special case. Theirs is the only 21st-century nation, besides the United States, with universalist pretensions. Naturally, then, they feel especially aggrieved by the sight of the Golden Arches and the invasive presence of the Big Mac.

"[France's] political and cultural identity combines all the elements threatened by globalization," explains Meunier, a visiting fellow at Princeton University's Center of International Studies. Those elements include "a universalist culture, a language with international aspirations, a 'superior' cuisine, a sensitive view of national sovereignty, a strong, centralized state, a need for a world role, a sense of duty toward the poorer nations, and a deeply rooted anti-Americanism."

The French have worried about the invasion of American movies, music, and TV programs for years. More recently, Meunier says, their fears have grown to encompass "trade in general." The World Trade Organization (WTO) "has been portrayed... as a Trojan horse that forces on others the low-brow uniformity of the American lifestyle--fast food, bad clothing, and even worse sitcoms." A sheep farmer who destroyed a McDonald's in France last year has become a national hero. "Resistance to the hegemonic pretenses of hamburgers is, above all, a cultural imperative," intoned the respected newspaper Le Monde.

The French were infuriated by two WTO rulings last year that let the United States impose retaliatory sanctions against Dijon mustard, Roquefort cheese, and other products because of the European Union's protectionist ban on U.S. hormone-treated beef and its discriminatory preferences for bananas from former French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. "The rulings," Meunier says, "were presented in France as clear evidence that globalization puts business interests above consumer safety, international political stability, and humanitarian concerns. …

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