recurrent question "Why are the French anti-American?"...
|| What fuels anti-Americanism?
This is a serious question
and we can only give a few comments to suggest that, maybe, it
is not a GOOD question :
When you do not speak a language,
you may misunderstand
what people say (and their body
language) and if you are a little paranoid, you may conclude
that people are rude to you when it was not to you and maybe
they were not rude at all...
When you are a big and successful
country, you tend to think that people in the other countries
should think and live just like you ; maybe they do not want
to and when they express it, it is not necessarily " anti-Americanism
" : see José
Bové and his fight against McDonald's or quotas on
American movies on French TV , what is "l'exception
culturelle française" and the fear of "Americanization"
More than many other people,
Americans want to be loved : why would gnats love elephants
? See a psycho-analytical
analysis of it ! It is a fact that, for the French, it is
much less important and they are much more comfortable than Americans
in situations such as "alone against the rest of the group"
: they do not value consensus.
Even when allied on key-matters,
countries in Europe, including France, do not always share
the same geopolitical interests : business is business (Airbus
vs Boeing) and this is not "anti-Americanism ": this
may happen when gnats become bigger than elephants would wish....
See figures about the image of American leadership in Europe.
Sometimes the American press
focuses on the French only : in early 2002, Europeans were
upset by US foreign policy and expressed their view the same
way and with the same word ("unilateralism") : the
US press bashed French Foreign Affairs Minister Hubert Védrine
and hardly mentioned British European Commissioner Chris Padden
and German Minister Joshka Fischer who had said the same things
with the same words.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that
there is a long tradition of (political) anti-Americanism, especially
in the political left wing in Europe (see below and bibliography and see comparative ratios
for the 27 European countries), the very symbol of it being the
magazine Le Monde Diplomatique. It is also a fact that
in France, as in other European countries, the words associated
with America are not always positive: see a poll.
Roger (see below) explains that since the 19th century, Anti-américanism
has been a value shared by the whole French society, the only
area of consensus between left and right.
Americans, who generally don't take criticism well, often consider "anti-americanism" what is just the normal expression oif an opinion : read about criticizing Americans.
But do not take it personally
and don't fear any situation where you would be the victim
of anti-Americanism : American tourists are never ill-treated
and everybody will be friendly with you and, in France, in any
poll on " What people do you like the most ", America
always ranks #1 or #2... Read a letter
about it. The French think that what we have in common with
Americans is more important than what divides us (64%,
to compare with 55% as seen by Americans) : see more.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, in the recent years, the
negative image of the other country has increased on both sides
of the Atlantic as annual
However : it is a fact that
the constant rivalry between the USA and France is explained,
largely, by the fact that both countries consider themselves
universal : read more about universalism.
When Americans complain about
anti-Americanism, they are right to be upset : it does exist
and it is often an easy way for the French (like for the other
Europeans) to put the blame on someone else for their own weaknesses.
But Americans should also think a little bit about what fuels
anti-Americanism. I see two factors in the recent past :
The war on Iraq has proved, as everyone knew (except
in the Oval Office and on Fox News) that Iraq, an ugly dictatorship,
had nothing to do with terrorism and had no massive destruction
weapons whatsoever. The war was a waste of money and lives and
a gigantic geopolitical mistake, hurting the USA and its allies
(those who had the guts to say from the very begining that it
was a stupid war as well as those whose foreign policy is to
follow the USA blindly, like poodles). It has generated an incredible
increase of hatred toward the US outside Europe and in Europe
(and in France) a significant increase not of hate but of anti-Americanism
("when you're the leader, you have to be the smarter",
"when you're so powerful, you must use your strength wisely",
The subprime crisis has illustrated that the dogmatism of
the American government and the irresponsibility of US consumers
impacts not only their own economy but the entire world. Today,
the Europeans (and the French) are experiencing the consequences
: a slowing economy, a troubled financial sector, increased unemployment,
etc... Do not be surprised if the French Main Street resent the
USA for all that. (Read my column "Sub-prime,
Stupidity and Selfishness")
Very often, the US government or major US corporations take it for granted that their foreign partners should follow US laws or US legal practices
(read about it).
An example about language : How good Americans generate anti-Americanism without even noticing it!
The world is dominated by technologies which were created and are developed in the US by English-speaking people (IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook, to name a few). For them, English is the normal global language and other languages are purely local and anecdotic. Therefore, designing software that is easily adaptable to foreign languages is an additional hassle and cost that they wish to avoid if they can. This is why, in many applications, the specificities of other languages are not possible, like the Spanish "tilde", the French accents ("é", "è", "ê") and many others or are possible only through a complicated process. But is Spanish "pena" means "effort or penalty" and "pena" (with tilde) means "rock" and in French, "ne" means "not" and "né" (with accent) means "born" etc. English-speakers do not imagine it but each time they encounter this situation, non-English-speakers feel a strong outburst of anti-Americanism. Read about the French and their language.
For most French people, the American controversy about keeping or not a national health program is considered as coming from outer space. See about the French system. and read my column "Socialized medecine : give me a break".
The comment by Justice Scalia "Forcing people to have a health program is like forcing them to buy brocoli" (April 2012) did not do good to the American image in France...
More comments :
More to come..
YOU KNOW THAT....? Among many books
on Anti-Americanism, two
are particularly interesting and were very sucessful in France (they have been published in English)
Academic : Philippe
ROGER, "L'ennemi américain - Généalogie
de l'antiaméricanisme français", Le Seuil,
2002 illustrates the long tradition of anti-Americanism in France
: from the XVIIIth century (it is extraordinary to read some
stupid things that the illustrious philosophers wrote) to our
days, many stereotypes have remained unchanged ("Americans
talk about good and evil, they being good", "they are
archi-materialistic and hypocritical", etc...). Read a funny
- More polemic
but brilliant : Jean-François REVEL, "L'obsession
anti-américaine", Plon, 2002 focuses on the traditional
anti-Americanism of the French left wing.
If you think that this site
is anti-American (or anti-French), please read a message from
the Webmaster !
| A study on anti-Americanism
|| Franco American controversies
The attitude of the
French toward the USA
(according to a comprehensive study by the French-American
Foundation in May 2000 analyzed by SOFRES/ Le Monde Jan.6,
2002, partly translated below) :
There are fewer anti-Americans than pro-Americans in France
but they are more politically active (on the left) and vocal
than the pro-Americans. (this is illustrated by another recent poll also
sponsored by the French-American Foundation).
Globally the French feel a relative
sympathy (41%) toward America even if the most largely felt feeling
is no strong feeling (49% feel neither sympathy nor antipathy)
and only 9% antipathy. Objective allies of the USA, the French
do not perceive globalization as an instrument of American power
but more as a phenomenon which benefits developed countries over
the interests of the poorest countries. They admit the efficiency
of the USA in modern economy but think that France performs better
on issues like social protection, education or integration of
immigrants. The survey leads to a typology of attitudes, based
on three questions : sympathy toward America, considering America
primarily as a partner or an adversary and judging its influence
(excessive, insufficient or raising no problem) in each of the
following domains : TV programs, movies, new technologies, music,
economic ideas, language, advertising, food, clothes. Four categories
emerge from this typology, with two of them very structured :
the anti-Americans and the pros, and two varying between indifference
and distant sympathy.
anti-Americans represent 10% of the population. They consider
themselves hostile to the Americans, considering them more as
adversaries than partners and judging their influence excessive
in culture, lifestyle, economy and international relations. For
them, the USA can be summarized in four words : violence, inequalities,
racism and imperialism. Liberty and dynamism of the country are
never mentioned. They see in US international policy only a way
to impose its will on the rest of the world and do not credit
it the will to maintain peace in the world or help the development
of democracy in emerging countries. While criticizing the US
power, this hostile group also criticizes the weaknesses of the
American system. They think that in the USA, education, integration
of immigrants, policies against unemployment, safety and the
fight against criminality, public transport and social protection
do not work as well as in France. They acknowledge US superiority
only for new technologies and universities. To hierarchize the
criticisms of this group against the USA, one must note the importance
of the cultural field (read about "exception
culturelle"). The negative influence of the USA
on TV programs, movies, language and music is particularly stressed.
It is clear that the threat to national identity is a key factor
of anti-Americanism, more than economic or military competition,
for which this group is resigned to seeing France playing a secondary
role. Contrary to what people think about the alleged anti-Americanism
of the upper and intellectual class, this structured group of
opponents to the USA is primarily composed of lower middle class
and clerks, i.e. the part of the middle class more reluctant
to embrace economic and social change. This group represents
only 25% of the French society but 40% of the group the most
hostile to the USA. Upper and upper middle class are not over-represented
in this group, working class and retirees are largely under-represented.
It is clear that this group has a strong interest in political
matters, more than the rest of the French population. Voters
on the left are a majority (more than 50% of the group vs. 20%
for the right and 30% for people expressing no political preference).
The strength of the anti-Americans resides more in their level
of politization and their capacity to express publicly their
views than in their number.
Many people in France disagree
with some aspects of the US society, so be ready for an animated
conversation if they are mentioned at a dinner party. Among them
- Death penalty
- Free possession of guns
- Millions of Americans with no
Social Security, no pension,
- Expensive tuition in college
- Supporting and respecting even
dangerous sects in the name of religious freedom and, more generally,
the fact that the American society is deeply religious and France is not
- The President of the U.S. on
TV talking about his sex life (Bill Clinton in 1999) or the newly
appointed governor of New York summoning the media to confess
he cheated on his wife (and his wife declaring she did too!)
(David Patterson in 2008)
- The concept of "politically
- Exporting too many American
series on French TV
- Constantly eating and calling
"coffee" a very strange black beverage you drink in
- Americans ignoring native Americans
- More to come :
- if you are upset by what's
above : click here and click here if you think the webmaster is anti-American
AN AMERICAN MYTH...... When Americans back home
report : " I was in France and everybody was nice to
me ", what is the origin of their expecting to be ill-treated
? Did they meet somebody who was actually ill-treated or was
it just a stereotype ? In France, it wouldn't even cross the
mind of the worst anti-American to mistreat an American tourist
: people make a clear distinction between their political ideas
and their anti-American prejudice, if any, and how to behave
with another human being who happens to be American. It is very
depressing to see how largely spread is this American prejudice....
Does it mean that, if France and the USA disagree on political
issues, French visitors in the USA can expect to be ill-treated?
| Answer : Los Angeles, 1996. And now : how about anti-French
A few anti-American quotes (I'm sure you'll read them with a good sense of humor)
- "America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration, without the usual interval of civilization" (Georges Clemenceau, French Prime Minister 1917-1920)
- "America is a country with thirty-two religions and only one dish" (Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, a prominent French historical character who lived in exile in the USA 1794-1796)
- "Eurodisney Paris is a sort of cultural Chernobyl" (Ariane Mnouchkine, director, c.1990)
- More to come...
If you are shocked by them, which is normal, please refer to their authors and do not write to insult ME
a funny character in a very popular daily TV show ("les
Guignols", on Canal +) ; his company ("The World Company")
represents the American domination on the world.
|| USEFUL TIPS..... In Southern
Europe in general and in France in particular, people like to
talk and exchange ideas, sometimes with passion.
It is not necessarily a big deal if they don't agree and if,
to the ears of an American, it may sound as if they are going
to kill each other. Many Americans consider French conversations
aggressive when they are not. For the same reason, relations
among friends are very different : in France a friend will
say more directly what he/she thinks considering it is more important
to try to help by saying something that his/her friend does not
realize than to avoid hurting his/her feelings. Therefore, if
you go through a very heated discussion with a French, it is
not at all the end of your friendship, on the contrary it means
he/she really considers you his/her friend ! Regarding the recent
down in our relations and the attitude of the French government,
Americans would say "The French are not our friends"...
when the French would say "it proves that we are friends"...
! As American author Ned Rorem notes "Quarrels in France
strengthen a love affair, in America they end it".
Pro-Americans : America has many more supporters than
opponents in France. More than a quarter of the population expresses
total sympathy for the USA, a country they consider as a partner
with no excessive influence on our daily life. More remarkably,
pro-Americanism goes along with a real confidence in Europe existing
with the USA. A majority of the supporters think that in twenty
years, Europe will be more powerful than the USA. This opinion
leads them to believe in the capacity of France, and more largely
Europe, to resist foreign influences. The group adds to that
gratitude toward the allies of World War II (the group is composed
of older people). Pro-Americans are clearly politically to the
right (in the group 45% right, 33% left, 22% with no political
preferences) and their interest in political matters is similar
to that of the average French population's.
Between the pro and the anti-Americans is the majority of the population. For
two thirds of the population, the attitude toward the USA ranges
from " sympathetic rivalry " (15%) to " pragmatic
indifference " (50%). They can be critical on certain points
but are never hostile. America does not interest them much and
is a distant continent. It is on them that anti-Americans, politically
active but not very numerous, can have an influence in the years
to come ; for the pro-Americans, less active politically and
more reluctant to express publicly their views, it is hard to
fight, in spite of their much larger number.
DID YOU KNOW
THAT .... ? Gratefulness
is stronger than anti-Americanism ! In WW2, more than 300,000 civilians were
killed (see figures), many of them by American
bombings. An evaluation of civilian casualties due to allied
bombings is 67,000. Some cities were destroyed 80% or more (Brest,
Le Havre, Saint-Nazaire to name a few). The US strategy of carpet
bombing made it very imprecise whereas British bombers often
took more risks to drop their bombs from a lower altitude. However
I have never heard or read anything against Americans
about this (and I have lived in Nantes which was severely damaged
by a bombing in 1943...)
- See above
for two excellent books
- The point of view of left-wing
anti-Americanism is expressed in Le Monde Diplomatique
(monthly, circulation 225,000)
- Eric DIOR, Un couple infernal
- 200 ans de francophobie et d'antiaméricanisme, Perrin,
- John L.HESS, The Case for De Gaulle
- An American Viewpoint, William Morrow, New York 1968 (very
wise, by former New York Times correspondent in Paris)
- Richard PELLS, How Europeans have loved, hated and transformed American culture since World War II, Basic Books, 1997
- Philippe ROGER, The American
Enemy : The History of French Anti-Americanism, Univ.Chicago
Press, 2006 (the best book on anti-Americanism in France)
- Ziauddin SARDAR & Merryl
Wyn DAVIES, Why Do People Hate America?, Icon Books Ltd
2002 (bad, full of clichés)
- More to come
Click here for more about the
State, more about taxes,
more about equality.Read DOs
& DON'Ts and Miss Manners and irksome
To related pages : more intercultural
(#1), intercultural management
(#3), French visions of
the USA (#4), US press on
France (#6) and favorite US artists (#8), America and the world (#10), the history of US firms in France, the Americanization of France, etc
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Back to home
For more on intercultural
differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's 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
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
or separately, Harriet and Philippe speak
about Intercultural Differences
here for information.
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