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Vive la pastry! It's time to side with the French

February 25, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

For years I have attended a foreign-affairs discussion group, and I think any member of that panel would take the stand and somberly testify to my steadfast, long-established French-bashing credentials.

I was a French basher before French bashing was cool. Now, all of a sudden, everyone is a French basher, given France's reluctance to support war with Iraq. And wouldn't you know, just when the rest of the nation finally jumps on the bandwagon, I feel the need to jump off.

I haven't made up my mind about the war. As with anything else in my selfish little world, I want whatever will be best for the stock market and if that means I have to endure a long and grueling peace, I'm braced for the worst. So technically this means there is still a 50-50 shot that I could end up siding with the French - or as Bart Simpson calls them, the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

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As a point of interest, the French newspaper Le Monde did an article about American French-bashing, but "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" translated into French as "Primates who capitulate and who are always on the search for cheese," so it's unclear whether they got the joke.

A better "Simpsons" joke, in my view, was when Homer was playing the father of Joan of Arc, who said she would lead their troops to victory, and Homer says "Victory!? We don't even have a word for that."

Yes, all the jokes are coming out of the woodwork now:

Q. How do you advertise a French assault rifle?

A. Never used, only dropped once.

Q. How are French Canadians like cue balls?

A. The harder you hit 'em, the more English you get out of 'em.

And I can't even enjoy it. I mean, even the Germans don't want to fight; something's gotta be amiss.

Think about it: The French don't want to fight. And we're surprised? We're upset? There's no irony here. Irony would be if the French were egging us on into war.

Then I could understand that list that's making its way over the Internet of all the battles France has lost. It purports France's only victory as coming in the French Revolution, when the enemy was itself.

I am aghast. Do the perpetuators of such mass e-mailings not know their history?

Have they forgotten about Gen. Charles Francois Dumouriez marching triumphantly into the city of Mons? Have they forgotten the big guns of Admiral de Grasse controlling the Chesapeake Bay, preventing the escape of Cornwallis by sea and allowing the American and French infantry to defeat the British once and for all at Yorktown? What of Lafayette? What of the Battle of the Marne in 1914 and General Gallieni's mobilization of the taxis to save Paris? What of the bulk of Napoleon's career? What of the French victory over McDonald's restaurants?

So you can bash the French all you like, but I say vive whatever it is we're supposed to be vive-ing right now!

See, the weakness that is driving me down is, as usual, food. For every Waterloo to drive France down in my estimation, there is a steak au poivre to put it right back over the top. And frankly, given a choice between war and pastry, I'll take a scone over a Scud any day. Really, how can we be mad at a nation that has given us such a fine collection of sauces?

The other problem is that last summer I actually spent some considerable time in France, and I've always found it's harder to hate someone after you've been introduced. I know there are about a million people out there who know the entire population of France is rude because they have an uncle who works with someone whose plumber knows a general contractor who has a daughter who went to Paris and was grunted at by a waiter.

As if that would never happen in New York City to someone who didn't speak English.

Get out in the countryside and the people in the small villages of France are just as friendly as the people in Hagerstown, Sharpsburg or Hancock. I'll leave it to your imagination whether or not that is meant as a compliment.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. You may reach him at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, fax him at 301-714-0245 or e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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