This page is one of the annex pages of www.understandfrance.org, the foremost site on Franco-American intercultural differences. It contains documents, facts and figures illustrating the content of some of its pages.

Facts & figures

This page contains Facts and Figures about France and the French. Some are significant, other less so....

See also :

(credit)
 France and America    France
  • Both universal ? "..... If there is a distinctive edge to French-American relations, it derives not from antipathy, but rather from rivalry. ..... The American Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen were both drafted and promulgated in 1789 and -despite their formal differences and objectives- they are strikingly close in tone and purpose. .... American and France are the only countries in the world today ... that share a universal ambition. Both are prozelytizing nations, and what they are selling is their model of the good society, teh well-lived life. ..... When American politicians speak, as they have done over the centuries, of bringing liberty, democracy and opportunity to the rest of humanity, they touch a deep chord in the American people...... But France, too, has a project. It is not of course an individualistic, Protestant ambition to construct a godly community, much less facilitate "the pursuit of happiness" (a distinctively American twist on the 18th century design for human improvement, and one that never much appealed to the world-weary French). What France has lon been selling is civilization. French colonialism was promoted by its defenders and practitioners as a "civilizing mission". France cultural protectionism - l'exception culturelle, as it is presented to the skeptical free-traders in Brussels- is not just about subsidizing obscure art-house films ; it is the only way to preserve the national "patrimoine" for the benfit of mankind as a whole. ... Many French writers (and their readers) still understand themselves as offering a cultivated, civilized alternativeto what they see as the American capitalist model ; a way of life in which the state is not afraid to intervene on behalf of the collective interest, in which progressive taxation redistributes national wealth to everyone's benefit, in which the depredations of the market are mitigated by considerations of social justice. France has long been a capitalist economy, of course, but of a different sort. As in 1789, it is proposing its own distinctive path. ...Meanwhile, it can only be hoped that the current level of calculated Francophobia in Washington and in the American media will give way to a shame-faced silence. In France, Anti-Americanism is an old story and largely irrelevant to French policymaking. .... When Americans disparage and alienate France, they do America itself a disservice. Paris may no longer be "the burning lens of Western civilization", as Koestler called it half a century ago, but it has contrived today -for the first time in many decades and largely by good fortune- to position itself as the representative of a large, if loose, coalition of nations and peoples. When Americans pusue a vendetta against France, the world is looking on. And in the eyes of the worldit is America, not France that looks foolish. ..." writes Tony Judt, from New York University, in Newsweek October 6, 2003.

  • Seeking the Glory That Was Once France (the British and U.S. press like this recurrent kind of headline....) : ".... Mr.Chirac says he wants to free the latent creative energy that has been smothered under socialism. There's only one way to do that : Set the French free of oppressive taxes, economic regulation and the burdens of tradition and custom. Let them sample the dreaded elixir of Anglo-Saxon culture, if they wish. There's no danger that they can imbibe too freely. Perhaps with other means of self-expression, there will be fewer demonstrations and fewer frights from radical politicians." by George Mellon, The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday May 7, 2002.

  • Paul Starobin wrote in National Journal Friday, Nov. 7, 2003 "Let's just say this at the start, since this is the begining, not the end, of the discussion about how to grapple with the post-9/11 world (and because it's the grown-up, big-man thing to do): The French were right. Let's say it again: The French -- yes, those "cheese-eatin' surrender monkeys," as their detractors in the United States so pungently called them -- were right."

  • "A more benevolent people I have never known, nor greater warmth and devotedness in their selected friendships. Their kindness and accomodation to strangers is unparalleled and the hospitality of Paris is beyond anything I conceived to be practicable in a large city. Their eminence, too, in science, the communicative dispositions of scientific men, the politeness of the general manners, the ease and vivacity of their conversations give a character to their society, to be found nowhere else." wrote Thomas Jefferson, in a letter quoted by The International Herald Tribune, April 30, 2003. A little excessive, isn't it ?

 
  •  Privacy : "The three weeks in his assignment, a newly appointed American boss created panic among his staff when he invited everyone at head office to his home with spouses for an old-fashioned American, house-warming party one Sunday afternoon. He had forgotten that Paris is not American Midwest. He and his wife were all teeth and hair. Their broad, American smiles never slackened throughout the party, so overcome were they by the hundred per cent attendance. They said they felt something like love radiating from their new happy family of employees. The event was, of course, anguish for the French. People who had never crossed paths outside the office spent the afternoon moving crabwise around the edges of the room to avoid contact with various untouchables below and above them in he office structure. The presence of their spouses was a keen source of discomfort for most of the employees. They seemed to feel that by displaying their partners in public they were lowering their personal defences, making themselves more vulnerable. The next day, the American was taken aside by his French second-in-command and advised not to try it again. The American was bewildered. All he had seen was THEIR smiles reflecting HIS smiles. The Frenchman tried his best to explain the Chinese wall that separates private and professional life." writes Michael Johnson, in French Resistance : Individuals Versus the Company in French Corporate Life.

  • Anti-Semitism in France : "The Schulmans are claiming "institutionalized anti-Semitism in France" by using some distorted statements. In 1984, my late husband Louis Mitelberg, a political cartoonist and sculptor (pseudonym TIM) was commissioned by the French government, President François Mitterand and Culture Minister Jack Lang, to create a monument to Captain Alfred Dreyfus. After the Ecole Militaire's refusal to place it on their grounds - grounds incidentally that are closed to the public- it was temporarily installed in the Tuileries gardens. It is true that some time went by before an appropriate place was found but it was not "unceremoniously unrooted". Nor was it "moved to an obscure location". It was inaugurated on a little square, beautifully landscaped for the occasion, on the Blvd Rapail in the heart of Montparnasse, a block from Rodin's statue of Balzac, near several universities, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Senate, and more to the point, one block from the former prison de Cherche-Midi where Captain Dreyfus was first imprisoned. The unveiling was most ceremonious with Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris and many of his official attending, government representatives too. Chirac delivered a most moving inaugural address. In my experience of living in France for 50 years, I have not seen any more anti-Semitism in France than in my home in Los Angeles. I believe the recent acts of violence against Jewish institutions were committed by suburban youths of Arab oriigin who usually are burning cars protesting their condition, but got new ideas on who to blame on television watching the intifada in Israel every night." By Zuka Mitelberg, International Herald Tribune, Aug. 27, 2002.

  • Hate? Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer reporting on Irak October 18, 2002 estimates that the U.S. government is too open to the French position and should not take it into account. He suggests with scorn "Why not an embargo on cheese ?". Pretty patronizing, n'est-ce pas ? 

  • Secularity : "It is obvious that Anglo-Saxon minds find it difficult to understand secularity "à la Française".... Secularity in France was built up again Catholic clericalism over a long period and resulted in the separation of the Church and the state in 1905. The rules are simple : everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and to choose the religion that he wishes. All churches are free. The state does not interfere in their operation. They receive no money from the state. In public services, including state schools, each citizen must not openly express religious or political opinions. In chools, religious neutrality provides the necessary serenity for the absorption of knowledge while respecting the opinions. These rules operated perfectly until 1989, the moment when fundamentalist Muslims wanted Islamic head scarves to be permitted in schools. The Administrative Supreme Court then handed down an ambiguous decision which created confusion because it sought rather clumsily to produce a finely balanced opinion. The phenomenon of the head scarf then developed and has come to represent the visible part of a policy seeking to impose fundamentalist religious dogma in schools : refusal to use swimming pools, refusal of girls to be questioned by men, refusal to attend biology classes and holdin of anti-Semitic rethoric. It is evident that this "communitarian" policy on the part of the fundamentalists is aimed at placing womenin a minority status, which is wholly out of line with our principles and our values of equality of the sexes and of all citizens. It was necessary to change the law and to reaffirm the principles of secularity. This has been confirmed by an overwhelming vote in the National Assembly that will forbid the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in schools (494 votes from a total of 577 cast)...." wrote Jacques Myard, Mayor of Maisons-Laffitte, member of the Parliament (International Herald Tribune, February 14, 2004.

  • "The French point of view has been consistently scanted, and even in the most objective journals, the loaded word passes unperceived. The difference between cool objectivity and hysteria was dramatized one day in the late 1967 at a "background meeting" between the American press corp in Paris and Charles E.Bohlen, who had directed the embassy with restraint and distinction during five trying years. A leading correspondent said :"Mr.Ambassador, don't you think that Charley's foreign policy boils down to this : he gets up in the morning and says to himself ' What can I do that would hurt the United States?' then goes ahead and does it ? Nobody seemed to think this is an odd question. Bohlen, an old poker player, just blinked and raised his eyebrows, before replying... "You know, I have talked with General de Gaulle maybe forty times over the past five years (more in fact than any other ambassador had), and I'll tell you : I don't think he's anti-American at all. Time and again, he likes to talk of power relations like solar systems. He just dosn't think a small or medium size country should get too close to a great power ; it would get pulled into its orbit." writes John L.Hess, former correspondent of The New York Times in Paris.

  • France and America : "During the French presidential election, you published a lot of France's supposed anti-Americanism without seeming to appreciate the converse : American Francophobia. France annoys many Americans -especially the political class- because it is so immeasurably superior culturally to the United States, yet maintains American standards of living, without hardheaded American capitalism and with a style and elegance long vanished in the United States. By contrast, Americans can love Britain more than ever because it has been reduced to their level, indeed below it, by half a century of American clientism. What more exquisite sensation can there be than to have your colonizers of yore colonized ?" by Steven Misander, London, in a letter to the International Herald Tribune, June 12, 2002. To the attention of US readers who read too fast : this not MY opinion, it is a quote... Please do not send me a nasty message...

  • Yes, France, America Will Keep Acting Unilaterally : ".... States act in their own interests. But interests must be interpreted more broadly than they are by most so-called realpoliticians. Interests include economics and strategic security, but also national self-image (de Gaulle), moral issues (disgust with Milosovic), internal politics (the US and Israel). They also include national affinities. The US is indeed tied more closely to Britain by a common language and tradition than to other nations. But the nations of the West are tightly bound by their common history and particularly their common democracy. At the depth of the US-French clashes toward the end of the Cold War, a French military friend said that when issues turned real, France would always stand with America unequivocally. It has. Within that strong context however, the United States and France do have different national interests. And on those interests, the United States will cointinue to act as a unilateral superpower. It will because it can. The stark fact is that America is a lot more important and visible to France than France is to America....." By Robert A.Levin, International Herald Tribune, Feb. 8, 2002.

Back to "Intercultural"

 
  • Quality of life : What France might Laurent Cohen Tanugi be talking about when he says the country may be losing ground in the evolution of planet? Not the France or the French people that he will see if he walks the French cities, towns or countryside. The quality of life in France is equal to, and arguably better than, that of any other country in the world. Housing, food, health care and a general state of well-being are evident for the great majority of the French. The 35-hour work week, five weeks of paid vacation and another two weeks of paid holidays add to the quality of life- not substract from it. Sure there are challenges for France to meet as it moves ahead and into the 21st century. Where aren't there? writes Richard Ballin Roberts in a letter to the International Herald Tribune , Oct. 30, 2003.

  • A sandwich is not a meal : "When I first came to France over twenty years ago, I decided to introduce the concept of The Sandwich As A Meal to my in-laws. This was pre-McDonald's, when people like my father-in-law still returned home for lunch, a four-course affair. My mother-in-law, used to the preparation of two ample daily repasts, embraced my idea eagerly. We hence proceeded to prepare sandwiches for lunch and serve one to my father-in-law, normally the soul of tolerance. He gazed at our creation as it it were a strange living creature and, upon being informed that you ate The Sandwich with your hands, commented ironically, "Welk, why don't we all just get down on the floor and throw bones over our shoulder while we're at it?". That, needless to say, was the last time we ever entertained the idea of fast food in that family. My father-in-law has since died, but tradition holds. In my belle-famille, a sandwich is not a meal." (Harriet Welty Rochefort, in French Toast).

Back to "Attitudes"

Anti-Americanism

  • "What touched Americans most was that de Gaulle doubted their good intentions. Taking it as normal that all states seek their own interests, de Gaulle saw and proclaimed American self-interest where Americans wanted to see their own idealism and generosity. This was more than a disagreement ; it was a moral affront." wrote Robert Paxton in the New York Review of Books (1980s?)

  • When novelist and biograph André Maurois was invited to teach at Princeton University in 1931, an old friend (who had never been to America) told him : "My dear friend, do not do that ! You would not come back alive. You do not know what America really is. It is a country where agitation is such that they will not leave you one minute in peace ; a country where noise is so constant that you will be unable to sleep and even to rest ; a country where at age forty, men die from excess of work and women leave their house in the morning to participate to the general agitation.There, wit and intelligence have no value. Liberty of thinking does not exist. Human beings have no soul. You will here nothing except talking about money. Since your childhood, you have known the sweetness of a sophisticated civilization ; you will find a civilization of bathrooms, central heating, refrigerators,...". A sort of extreme point of view, isn't it ? Maurois then recalls how impressed and happy he was at Princeton. (this is a quote from : Philippe Roger, L'ennemi Américain, Seuil, 2002)

 Recent polls (by Figaro Magazine July 2004, by the French-American Foundation (FAF), Le Monde, Business Week, August 2002 and Le Monde June 18, 2005)

  • as seen by the French, America evokes
     %  FAF 2002  Figaro 2004  FAF 2005
     Power

     73

     65

     68
     Inequalities

     47

     42

     45
     Wealth

     42

     41

     33
     Violence

     53

     40

     50
     Imperialism

     33

    33

     31
     Liberty

     20

     28

     15
     Energy

     31

     27

     23
     Racism

     39

     25

     29
     Naivety  

     19
     
     Youth  

     17
     
     Generosity  

     10
     
  • the main objectives of US foreign policy (as compared to a comparable poll May 2000) are to :

 

 2002

 2004

 2005
 Protect and extend interests and US investments worldwide

 63

 64

 69
 Impose US will to the rest of the world

 51

 62

 63
 Maintain peace in the world

 28

 23
 
 Help the development of democracy in the world

 11

 9
 

 
  • The myth of the cold continent where everything is small.... "One evening in February 1778, Benjamin Franklin, the newly appointed envoy of the United States to France, was hosting a banquet at his Parisian residence in Passy. The guests were eighteen Europeans and eighteen Americans. Just before dessert Franklin asked the guests to leave the table and stand against a wall. He wanted to measure them to see who was taller. The shortest of the Americans proved to be taller than the tallest of the Europeans. Franklin had organized the exercise for the benefit of his guest of honor, the Abbé Reynal, who had just published a hefty tome arguing that, when transferred to America, all living creatures, including men, became diminutive. Thomas Jefferson, who later succeeded Franklin at the Paris embassy, narrates the episode as an illustration of "the irrational in the European approach" to things American. More than two centuries later that irrational approach is still present...." (Nationalreview.online, Nov.26, 2002)

  •  "... France want America to sink in a quagmire there (in Iraq) in the crazy hope that a weakened United States will pave the way for France to assume its "rightful" place as America's equal, if not superior in shaping world's affairs....", writes Thomas L.Friedman, whose consistent anti-Frenchism has no equivalent for anti-Americanism in the French Press. The next day, in the same newspaper (IHT, Sept.20, 2003), Guillaume Parmantier, a French columnist wrote : "No French representative has been heard to say (about the war in Iraq) anything like "I told you so", though the temptation is strong .... Many Americans honestly feel, however, that French foreign policy is inspired essentially by a desire to oppose American moves.... In fact, France's policy is not determined by a desire to counter the Americans, but by a deep-seated mistrust, inspired by French history, of any excessive concentration of international power. This attitude should be readily understandable to Americans, whose history, Constitution and political process are all inspired by a similar diffidence toward concentration of power."

More on French anti-Americanism in history

  • How an adjective can change the meaning of a whole article. On the front page of the International Herald Tribune (July 1, 2010, apparently reprinted from the New York Times) a very long article about the "grandes écoles" and the French elite system. Quote : "The result, critics say, is self perpetuating elite of the wealthy and white, who provide their own children the social skills, financial support and cultural knowledge to pass the entrance exams, known as the concours, which are normally taken after an extra two years of intensive study in EXPENSIVE preparatory schools after high schools". Pretty convincing, isn't it : when you read that, your conclusion is "people who go to one of the 220 "grandes écoles" for engineering or business studies come from rich families : what an unfair society". Your conclusion could be right but, in fact, you must change the word EXPENSIVE for the word FREE (which, actually, is the truth). Still the same conclusion ? There may be, here or there, a few private institution with paying "classes préparatoires" (with tuitions of few hundred $ and not thousands !) but the immense majority of students attend FREE preparatory classes. There is, clearly, a problem : not enough children from the working class in the elite system but it NOT related to money but to family and cultural values. The article is misleading. Back to education. Back to US press.
  • See a list on 100 French companies which are world leaders in their field
 
  •  the respective feelings of the Americans and the French are:
 %

 Americans

(for the French)

 French

(for the Americans)

 2002  2004  2005  2002  2004  2005
 Sympathy

 50

 44

 35

 39

 39

 31
 Neither/Nor

 34

 45

 35

 44

 48

 51
 Antipathy

 10

 7

 25

 16

 11

 17
 No opinion

 6

 4

 5

 1

 1

 1
  • what is the other nation for yours :
 

 Americans

 French

 2002

 2002

 2005

 2000

 2002

 2005
 mostly a parner

 64

 68

 44

 47

 50

 39
 mostly an adversary

 14

 18

 45

 15

 11

 24
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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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