Saturday, December 04, 2004

Gallophobia — Word of the Day

gallophobian. Fear of France, French people or French culture. Also, francophobia. See freedom fries, cheese-eating surrender monkeys, xenophobia, hypocrisy
Why is this today's Word of the Day? Because hating the French, much like an exquisite oak-aged Bordeaux, never goes out of style.

So, why do so many of my fellow countrymen hate the French? Perhaps it's their air of condescension and cultural superiority; perhaps it's their inexplicable embracement of American goofballs like Jerry Lewis and Noam Chomsky; or perhaps it's simply that people can't bring themselves to trust a country that's shaped like a hexagon.

Regardless, the gallophobic tendency runs deep in this country. Its argument (insofar as it is actually an argument) usually hinges on culture or politics, and quite often, both.

Gallophobes see the French as a bunch of snooty elitists who turn up their noses at McDonald's and EuroDisney, preferring instead to drink wine with their children and read Michel Foucault for pleasure (and what's not fun about Discipline and Punish?). They are purported to hate Hollywood movies, although if this is true, then why was Sean Penn on the Cannes Palm d'Or judges panel? And if the French claim cultural superiority, then why did this august body bestow the coveted laurel on Fahrenheit 9/11, one of the flimsiest pieces of garbage ever produced by Hollywood? And what about the mimes? The mimes!?!?

Sorry about that. I guess it's clear that cultural gallophobia can be rather tempting. But it needn't be. They say "pride goeth before a fall." In this case, the saying is backwards. The cultural ego of the French is so exaggerated because they have precious little left. Once the home of Charlemagne and the cradle of the Enlightenment, power used to emanate from the six corners of this fabled land. But now, France is just a sad, forgotten corner of Europe looking back in envy at its former old-world glory. Sure their zeal to protect the French language borders on the chauvinistic, but they're protecting it from the encroachment of English. Yes, the French want to speak English! We win! So instead of sulking like school children, we should sit back and watch their hilarious attempts to make hip-hop with the quiet satisfaction of those confident enough in their own superiority that they don't need to proclaim it.

The political strain of gallophobia is a different animal altogether. It is here where one finds both its truth and its ultimate folly. The French are a favorite target of the American right because of their antagonistic and insufferably moralistic stance toward American foreign policy. That the French are hypocrites when it comes to moralizing becomes all the more obvious with each revelation about the UN oil-for-food program abuses or the backroom deals between the French and the Baathist regime.

One thing the right does not seize on, likely because it meets with their approval, is the degree to which French society is much more hostile to Islam than is American society, despite breathless claims to the contrary. And this problem is not unique to France: look at how the Dutch are reacting to Theo Van Gogh's murder. (Granted, his execution at the hands of fanatics is deeply troubling and deserves far more attention in the States than it has received.) After 9/11, despite fears of reprisals against Muslims, the biggest story is what didn't happen. There was no orgy of vengeful bloodletting in the streets, no general call for the expulsion of the Muhammedeans from our country.

In places like France, immigrants can live among the "natives" for generations, they can have French as their first language, and still not be considered French. In America, if you become a citizen, you're an American, or at the very least, your children will be. The openness to cultural identity that can be found as a matter of course in most Americans is a rare commodity in the old world, and this is something we ought to be very proud of.

But, as I mentioned above, the politically oriented gallophobe almost never makes these sorts of arguments. The general complaint is that the French have some gall (get it?) to criticize our administration. This smacks uncomfortably of the inability of this administration or its water carriers to brook any kind of oppostion at all. Gallophobia is an especially virulent subspecies of xenophobia and, as such, it reveals its adherents to be hypocrites of the lowest order. How can you simultaneously harbor xenophobic urges and be engaged in the project of, as George Bush would have it, marching democracy and understanding across the globe?

This is not to say that the French should not be open for criticism. Au contraire, an honest and frank airing of grievences is probably good for both sides. But gallophobia is so rarely honest, more often hinging on the slanderous and the insipid.

Take, for example, Freedom Fries. Do you want to look like the pack of slack-jawed yokels that many Europeans already think we are? Then rename a potato side-dish (that comes from Belgium) for ideological reasons. That makes us look brilliant. At least when saurekraut became victory cabbage we were actually at war with Germany.

At a time when we want to promote our image and way of life to the rest of the world, the last thing we ought to do is look like slavering bigots and Know-Nothings who want to shut out the rest of the world due to our own ignorance and indifference. We already have a president with these leanings, do we really want to expand on that?

Perhaps the most discraceful face of gallophobia is the oft-repeated slander against the bravery of the French soldier. With few exceptions, the French have fought along side us for the past 228 years, proving their valor time and again. And the French have shown grit and determination even in the face of defeat. Any mention of cheese-eating surrender monkeys does great damage to the memory to the brave partisans of la resistance, who, amongst other things, gave a name to most popular game in Washington, D.C.

Every time you hear someone say that the French would be speaking German if we didn't swoop in to save their asses, don't forget that if it weren't for the French, we'd be speaking, well, English, but we'd spell things funny and everyone would laugh when we say "aluminum." Just look at Canada if you want to see what happens to a country that can't throw off the shackles of the British monarchy. I think you know what I'm talking aboot.

Do you have to go to the loo? I don't think so; not in America. Thanks, France!

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