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A New Excuse for Francophobia

“We discover ourselves by discovering others” was one of the messages author and intellectual Adam Gopnik expressed in his talk Monday evening before a standing-room-only audience in the ornately gilded room at France-Amériques on avenue Franklin Roosevelt near the Seine. His hour-long-plus rapid-fire lecture with the same title as his latest literary anthology, “Americans in Paris,” was certainly one of the most brilliant lectures to have braised my ears and senses I can remember. By the pin-drop silence of the Franglo-American attendees, I’d have to assume they agreed.

Conceptually, Gopnik understands what it truly means to be an American in Paris, even though he is no longer one of us, having left Paris five years ago to take up residence in New York…but through his five-year experience here writing for The New Yorker magazine and the lives of the Americans he studied carefully in order to construct his most recent work, he is able to clearly define the love affair Americans have with Paris, for both her bourgeois and Bohemian sides. He equated the difficulty of life in Paris with a love affair that isn’t good if the woman is too easy — it’s the challenge, the chase, that makes it exciting (I can only paraphrase his more textured description).

On the opposing side of the Francophiles of which he spoke, live the Francophobes who have a new excuse for fear and hatred of the French: the current unrest in protest against the new labor contract, the CPE. Jerry White’s April 1st article on the World Socialist Web Site illustrates the “inordinate amount of ill-tempered commentary on the wave of protests and strikes in France” and the reaction of the media which “suggests that French are suffering from some type of collective dementia because they believe they have the right to such things as job security.”

He cites a few headlines from major newspapers: The Wall Street Journal’s, “The Decline of France” (March 21) and “Casseurs” (or “Smashers,” March 29), to the Washington Post’s “French take to the Streets to Preserve their Economic Fantasy” (March 22) and “The French In Denial,” (March 28) to the New York Times’ “France’s Misguided Protesters” (March 27).

While one might be able to argue that White’s assessment is from a purely socialist point of view, I have an anger and frustration with the media that has nothing to do with capitalist vs socialist ideas. It’s more in line with Gopnik’s message of discovering oneself through discovering others that Americans living in Paris are privileged to embody. Even if we Americans in Paris don’t wholeheartedly agree with the opinions of those protesting for job security, nor fully understand why these unemployed youth wouldn’t be in favor of reform meant to provide more jobs (at any amount of risk), we at least have discovered the reasons for our own contradictory opinions, now that we have witnessed and understood our French counterparts’.

Yesterday, I could hear the commotion from the marchers working their way slowly down boulevard Beaumarchais as I sat quietly at my desk. Hundreds of thousands had once again taken to the streets. The Métro was running, but only one out of three. The buses along the demonstration route taking alternatives to provide their service. Was I angry that the strikes and strife continue?

No! But it angers me that this provides Francophobes with a new excuse to support their anti-French sentiment in a way that results from a lack of knowledge and understanding, not an intelligent assessment. I could “almost” understand the “freedom fries” reaction when France outwardly opposed the Iraq war which so directly affected the American position…but this time — it escapes me how the youth of France demonstrating to a

chieve the quality of life they feel is rightfully theirs should cause any scorn from a people who believe they should consider themselves fortunate that it does not endow its workers with the right not to be fired.

The point I am trying to make is neither right nor left, capitalist nor socialist. This love affair we have with this woman we call Paris isn’t always easy, but by discovering her, you will discover the self you never knew.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Jean Taquet’s Q’s and A’s April Column is available to read in its entirety at /parlerparis/practicalanswers.html
To subscribe to his monthly newsletter, email Jean Taquet at [email protected]

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