Intercultural differences and anti- Americanism! (#2)  

NO, this anti-American demonstration did NOT take place in France! Where?

Click here for the answer !

 A 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 polls illustrate.

  • 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", etc).

  • 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")

  • 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..

 DID YOU KNOW THAT....? Among recent books on Anti-Americanism (they have been published in English), two are particularly interesting and were very sucessful in France :

- 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 quote from it.

- 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 in France    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.

  • Real 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, etc
  • 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 correct"
  • Exporting too many American series on French TV
  • Constantly eating and calling "coffee" a very strange black beverage you drink in paper cups
  • 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 America ?

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

  Mr.Sylvestre is 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...)

Bibliography :

  • 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, 2003
  • 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 French values, more about equality.Read DOs & DON'Ts and Miss Manners and irksome France.

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, etc

 

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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..)

 

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