Why are the French anti-American ?

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A recurrent question "Why are the French anti-American ?"...

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.

  • 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")

  • More comments :

    • Don't you think that a smart way to fight anti- Americanism in Paris would be to re-open the American Cultural Center ?

    • How about French-bashing ?

    • Read a funny letter on American Francophobia and an interesting article in Newsweek about Franco-American rivalry.

    • Read a very nasty message I received from a Frenchman who considers this site anti-American....

 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 :

    • See a poll about the most significant differences (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, religious signs, illegal immigrants, capitalism, socialism, profit, etc...)

    • and another about compared views on American international policy : they are clearly very different

    • Click for a brief record of Franco-American crisis over history

    • and here for what the French do not understand about America....

  • (if you are upset by what's above : click here) and here if you think the webmaster is anti-American

Stereotypes of how French and Americans often see each other....  

Of course these are broad generalizations and once Americans and French really start talking to each other and explaining their societies to each other, the stereotyped vision changes. There's more room for "grey" in what is generally seen in black and white. See the mutual stereotypes of the 25 European countries

The Americans see the French as ...

  • Lazy : people who do not work and demonstrate in the streets (when they are not on strike)

  • Cowards : they always surrender, unreliable allies

  • Rude, anti-American and ungrateful, people who don't speak English, distant and difficult to meet

  • Communists : people who live in a bureaucratic Socialist system and who are totally dependent on the State

  • Dirty : people who do not use soap (recently, I received a message : "why do French women use perfume instead of taking a bath?")

  • Arrogant and conceited people, always giving lessons to the others

  • Not democratic : people who do not respect religious freedom

  • See the remarkable list of Q&A ("112 questions about the French") published by the US Army for the GIs in 1945

  • etc...

Read about the image of France in the US press and the image of the French for the other European countries and see pay page on irksome France..

The French see the Americans as ...

  • Arrogant and sure they are always right and good,

  • Moralizing and overly religious

  • Insular : people who do not know other nations and whose press never addresses international issues : read more about it, see a few examples, try our French Quiz and read a funny letter about it and measure your insularity score !

  • Domineering : people who do not take criticism (see some of them...)

  • Naive : de grands enfants (ie, people who are naive and have no, or a too short, history)

  • Violent : people who have free access to guns and who use them to shoot each other when things go wrong

  • Materialistic : people who are arch-capitalists and only think about money

  • Clik for the image of America for the French in history, the popular image of America and what the French do not understand about America

  • etc...

What other countries think of France and the French    And how about French-bashing ?

The image of the French for other countries (source : Francoscopie 1999)

  • the Japanese : sophisticated, conservative, elegant, art de vivre, noisy, brutal and dirty, cheerful and patient (see a letter from Japan)

  • the Americans : creative, not open, cold and wary (and anti-American)

  • the Dutch : culture, respectful of human rights, welcoming and open

  • the Danes and the British : disorganized and aggressive

  • the Poles and the Swedes : inveterate talkers, exuberant, impatient, distant and inhospitable

  • the Swiss : unsafe, crime

  • the Germans : they say "happy as God in France"

  • the Belgians : messy, inefficient, self-satisfied

  • the Brazilians : the French do not like children

  • and for all of the above : arrogant. My God!!

  • See another similar list, read Frischer and see a quote by a writer from Quebec ; Nadeau, who is Canadian, wrote "France is a mouse with the skin of an elephant ; America is an elephant with the skin of a mouse" !

And the French about themselves :

  • "The French constitute the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference" (Alexis de Tocqueville)

  • "General de Gaulle is right to believe he truly incarnates the French, he is wrong to believe it is flattering" (Jean François Revel)

  • Read about France as seen by Charles de Gaulle in the History section.

  • More later...

It is funny to observe that many of the stereotypes about the French (arrogant, frivolous, quarrelsome, etc...) were the stereotypes about the Gauls by Roman or Greek authors : read a few quotes about it !

  • A very typical form of French-bashing is what I would call "collateral bashing" : you take one very negative thing on one side, and something about the French on the other. The reader or the viewer will make an involontary association and that's it. For instance, you put in the same article "...Jack the Ripper killed nine women....(and further along) .... Jacques Chirac declares that it is time to subsidize cheese..." : the reader may conclude that Jack the Ripper was subsidized by France. Read my column about it and see a few documents to substantiate it.

    About French-bashing, visit an excellent site on French-bashing, read a "letter" I received and read Paris Diary (after a trip to the USA). French americanophiles are very hurt by French-bashing : read a letter about it.

    This is the cover page of the New York Post (Feb 14, 2003) about "the Weasel Axis" and Iraq evidence... (still to be found!)


  • Racist ? : Knox (see above) says : "No other national or ethnic group appears to get the same continually negative treatment in print media reserved for France and the French, with the possible exception of Arabs or Palestinians, and even there, the treatment is not so much cultural as political, linked to a specific context or event." He also says "If one were to substitute, for example, "Mexican" or "Japanese" or "Indian" for "French", what would reader reaction be ?". Try to do it the next time you read an article about the French in the NYT! Read my editorial about American racism...

  • The French are irritating... In 2002 the British European Commissioner Chris Patten, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joshka Fischer and his French colleague Hubert Védrine expressed the same (negative) opinion about the policy of the US government. Only the latter was heavily criticized by the US Press and the US government. One year later, Russia, Germany and Frence opposed the (absurd) invasion of Iraq. Condoleeza Rice, then adviser to president Georges W.Bush said : "Forgive Russia, forget Germany, punish France". Says Colombani: " ...the President (of the USA) is the headmaster and the Europeans are the students. Whenever there's noise in the class, without even turning around, the professor designates the French student as the author of the disturbance "

  • Read Jefferson about the benevolent French people...

  • More to come

 From the American Press :

  • In The Washingtonian (who reads that?) dated July 1997, a certain David Brooks, described as "liking to vacation in France" (I'd hate to meet him) writes :"Other nations have accepted their diminished stature. They meekly accept the spread of American popular culture, American political might and the increasing dominance of the English language. But not France ! The French are too great a nation to let their sense of glory be brought low by something as trivial as reality" and also :"You despise them (the French) a lot of the time, but you can't help admiring them, too. Especially because they always lose".

  • "... Crushing taxation may be one reason that an estimated 5 million Europeans tried to become permanent U.S. residents last year. Or perhaps they are simply tired of drinking lukewarm beverages with Lilliputian ice cubes, driving Altoids box-sized cars, or smelling too many Frenchmen who clearly could use a shot of the ozone destroying effluents formerly found in spray-on deodorants...." (The Washington Times, House Editorial, July 22, 2001)

  • "...the USA and France do have different interests. And on those interests, the USA will continue to act as a unilateral superpower. It will because it can. The stark fact is that America is a lot more important and visible to France than France is to America." (The International Herald Tribune, February 8, 2002)

  • More to come...

The British gutter press provides an endless flow of anti-French views. Examples of the traditional French-English love-hate relationship:

  • "I do not dislike the French for the vulgar antipathy between neighbouring nations, but for their insolent and unfounded airs of superiority" (Horace Walpole 1787) from the "I Hate the French Official Handbook"

  • "Oh please, spare us all from France.... What a worthless bunch of bullies and braggarts the French are" (Julie Burchill, Sunday Times July 7, 1995)

  • More to come...


USEFUL TIPS.... The world famous comic strip books "Asterix and Obelix" (more than 310 million sold) give an excellent idea of how the French see themselves : the whole world is against them but they do not care ! In a small village, totally surrounded, with the whole world against them and particularly the powerful Romans (meaning the Americans...?), they have fun eating, singing and drinking, and the Romans are afraid of them. They survive thanks to the magic potion elaborated by their druid Panoramix and which gives them a formidable strength and because they are more astute that the external world which keeps bugging them when all they want is to enjoy their life and eat wild boar in their lengthy banquets... Read these books (in English) : they are a lot of fun and you might learn something about the French ! See a cartoon of Asterix and Obelix and read what Roman authors wrote about the Gauls : you could write it about the French! Near Charles-de-Gaulle airport, the "Parc Asterix" is a theme park devoted to these characters : it is smaller and less spectacular than Euro Disney but not bad at all. It is interesting to observe that this quintessentially French character was created by René Goscinny (of Polish origin) and Albert Uderzo (of Italian origin), illustrating the melting-pot of the French society.

 What is the popular image the French have of America ?    

America is a huge continent, with a variety of people and of situations but, from a foreign country like France, only a few caricatures of them make up the image of America (the French have no idea how big and varied the country is).
Among the most stereotyped visions of America, some negative, most positive :
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