The Editorial page of the Webmaster: the USA and Americans (#2)
Read Rochefort's "Diary of an old student"

No more prayers : legislation, please ! The French observe, with a mix of amusement and exasperation, what happens every time a lunatic kills ten or twenty people with a machine gun in the USA. The scenario is always the same. The president goes on TV and says something like : "Our hearts are broken and we pray for their souls". Then the TV shows people in a church singing and and the interviewee says something like : "We pray for their souls and our hearts are broken" (or reverse). This is is ridiculous. Please spare us the show and just admit that this is the price to pay for the Second Amendment . If I were the minister of the church of Newtown, where 20 children and 6 adults were shot on December 14, 2012 by a 20-year old who took his mother's guns, I think I would say to the audience :"Those of you who own a hand gun or a machine gun, please stand up and leave the church. I am going to try to comfort those who will remain seated." Period. I guess a majority of Americans will hate this column but as long as so many of them consider that owning a weapon is a sign of democracy, no one should be shocked by its collateral effect : 2,97 people killed per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 (see figures), i.e. fifty times more than in France where there is a law against owning dangerous weapons. (Dec. 2012)


  American children are too strict with their parents! At last, one of the domains where Americans could maybe learn something from the French! (the amazing success in the US of books about French kids illustrates it). A father of three boys, I think that the parent-children relationship is probably one of the major USA-France differences. Although French parents are indeed much less "disciplinary" than their own parents thirty years ago, they are certainly not as dominated by their children as US parents seems to be. A few illustrations : in France, it is still a tradition that children and parents sit down together and talk once or twice a day around a common meal, parents still stop their children when they monopolize attention and disturb adults, when children say they don't want to eat something new for them the standard answer is still "taste it first, then, you’ll have the right to like it or not", here when parents reprimand a child for something wrong he/she did, if he/she cries, they don’t say "Did I hurt your feelings, honey. I’m sorry " (I heard that many times with American parents!), they say something like "You may cry as much as you want : I am right and you are wrong", etc. This is why I can go to a restaurant with French children and enjoy it whereas I would never imagine to do it with American children. What’s remarkable with American children ? Their amazing self-confidence. What’s unbearable ? Their invasiveness.  For most French children, an adult is somehow an authority figure, for American children an adult is another child, just bigger (here an interruption : my American wife tells me not to generalize : I better stop now). (July 2014). Read about children in Paris.

You guys are really funny ! The deal between the US Government and French bank BNP-Paribas (June 29, 2014) gives an excellent illustration of several typically American traits ( the Good wins over the Evil, or never lie, etc.) and it is a perfect example of the purely American concept of extraterritoriality.
For several years, BNP-Paribas traded in US dollars with countries under US embargo (Iran, Sudan and Cuba). No question to defend the bank, who knew that the US would be upset, and kept doing it even after the US authorities protested. However this was not crazy banking but this business would have been very banal with other clients and these particular transactions are absolutely legal by French and European laws. But the transactions were in US currency.
After an excruciating negotiation, the bank agreed on a $8.9 billion fine, which is roughly one year of profit for BNP.
Let me give you an example to illustrate how exaggerated this punishment is.
I love raw milk Mont d’Or cheese and like most French families, we like to have it for instance as a treat for Christmas dinner. It is forbidden in the US for sanitary reasons. Let’s say I buy one and my cheese dealer wants me to pay him with a $50 bill (this cheese is damn expensive!). Although my cheese dealer is Rue des Pyrenees, Paris, France, I could be prosecuted by the US government (that is what extraterritoriality means) and under the threat of never obtaining a visa for the US, I would be forced to agree on a fine which would be arbitrarily fixed at one year of my income.
Do you think it would be fair ? (Aug. 2014)

Read about the US and extraterritoriality.


Which US President would the French like the best ? Traditionnally, the French judge US candidates by French concepts. For instance, if they vote in France for the Left they prefer a Democrat because they think he is closer to their values. As far as I am concerned, my preference would be for a US President who has travelled abroad and knows at least one foreign language. I would vote for the candidate who knows international issues the best. It would ensure that, being the president of the most powerful country of the world, he/she knows that the rest of the world does exist and he/she has an idea of what other people think. Then he/she would not invade and destroy a country "to bring democracy" and fight weapons which do not exist. Regarding US domestic issues, like health care or energy policy, he/she could also consider what exists in other countries and works better than in the USA. Do not say "mind your own business" : your country is so powerful that what the President of the USA thinks and does is also MY business ! (2007)

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About insular America : In a letter to the IHT Dec.23, 2006, Graham L. writes : "...I have a modest suggestion for an amendment to the US Constitution : any candidate for the presidency should be required to have lived outside the USA for at least 12 consecutive months. This would ensure, at the very least, exposure to opinions and attitudes other than those in common circulation within the USA, and, at best, could lead to the formulation of a more mature approach to foreign policy."

(2006) Evaluate your "Insularity Score". Back to top of the page.

About secularism and political correctness: I understand that, now, in the USA, you have to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas not to offend people for whom Chrismas does not mean anything. At the same time George W.Bush keeps saying "Let's pray God" or "God bless America" with no consideration for people for whom the idea of God has no meaning.

This is not logical...If I were American, I would feel offended. There is definitely TOO MUCH religious fanatism and intolerance in this world : it needs more "laicité". Read more.

(2004) Back to top of the page.


Racist America ? I met a young Frenchman who works in a small town in Missouri. He speaks good English and graduated from Cambridge. Every day, his colleagues say hello to him by throwing their arms up in a surrender gesture. They say it just friendly and there is nothing mean in this gesture since it is well-known that the French always surrender. Of course, if he was Jew they would not make a gesture of greediness, if he was Black they would not make a gesture of lazziness, etc.. But he is French and this is just a "joke" : everybody knows that Americans are not racists.... On the contrary, they fight racism everywhere in the world, especially in France where they constanly lecture the French on anti-Semitism. I am sick and tired of seeing so many Americans consider French-bashing just like a good "joke" : it is just pure racism. Calling it a "joke" is what people used to say in Germany in the 1920s about the then very common "Jewish jokes".... Remember : racism is "attributing to a whole group a characteristic that they are all supposed to share and which is considered inferior". (Oct.2006)

More about French-bashing and the US press. (2006) Back to top of the page.

The ugly American eater....

By French standards, Americans have a very strange behavior as far as food is concerned. Rather than a moment of enjoyment, the normal meals seems to pose a whole series of problems for them. Before they eat anything, they keep asking themselves : Do I really like it ? Is it good ? Is it clean ? Is it good for my diet ? etc... The French skip this stage : they just eat what's there and see if they enjoyed it. I've had many guests in my life but Americans are, by far, the most difficult to satisfy. You never know if they are going to eat or not what you offer them. French guests, if they are well brought up, just eat what's ON their plate WHEREAS Americans always look suspicious, afraid and/or disgusted. And the French do not have these extraordinaries allergies that any American seems to have (to shrimps, to anything red, to nuts, to anything begining with the letter "z", to red wine, or white wine, to anything green, etc...). I remember once I had to drive in the middle of the night to the emergency ward of an hospital where one of my American students had been admitted. She did not speak French but did not want to be treated by a French doctor because she feared he did not know to cure what she had. Asked about her mysterious illness she said she was allergic to champagne and she had had a lot of it. In France, this "illness" is very well-known and we treat it with a traditional therapy : 1/ throw up if necessary, 2/ aspirin and a glass of water, 3/ sleep. But Americans have all sorts of allergies which apparently did not cross the Atlantic. So if you are invited by a French person or eat with a French family, please remember the following rules :

  • Enjoy eating, it's fun : do not spoil it with chemical considerations (How much protein ? Does it contain this or that ? etc...)
  • Be polite : in France, you eat what you are served, whether liking it or not. It is very boring to have to wonder what people like or not! It is considered rude to look at food with suspicion and (worse) to decline to eat something you are served.
  • Do not mention the word "allergy" : the French do not think they exist (except for serious and medically established cases) (same with hypo or hyperglycemia, etc...)
  • Enjoy : eating is a social action and not a chemical process. It is convivial and not a scientific experiment.
  • Don't go to the restaurants of the great chefs if you are only up for a small salad or tofu and/or are allergic to most of what's on the menu. I heard the true story of an American who took her little grandson to a top restaurant and then decreed that the said child could not eat anything cooked with beef broth etc...turning what might have been a pleasant dining experience into a pharmaceutical outing. The point of the story is that Americans think that when they pay, that's it. The French know that paying is only part of the story. They also need to respect the rules and customs of the establishment : it's as if a Frenchman goes to the States and insist on eating frog legs as part of his main dish. You'd say he is nuts : Americans don't eat or have frog-legs. In France, the Americans are nuts when they insist on having things "their way".
  • Eat when it's time to eat and not when you're hungry : don't try to eat a full meal at 4pm. (Jan.2010).

See more DOs&DONTs and more tips on food. Back to top of the page.

  No more lectures, please! Over the past few years, we French have been lectured by our American friends about many subjects (Americans,like the French, love to lecture other people!). I can recall the following "lessons" :
  • In my job (see my resume) : I have been lectured for hours by the Federal Reserve (FED) ("we demand that you, foreign bank, adjust to our higher US standards ", "you're progressing but you're not yet at the level of risk management of US banks ", etc...) and by the teams of our US subsidiaries (" you French are not aggressive enough and you don't understand the new economy ") : see the subprime crisis and its wonderful effects on the whole world and read my column "Sub-prime, Stupidity and Selfishness" published more than a year before the sub-prime crisis hit France
  • By US politicians (see Donald Rumsfeld : "you are the Old Europe : you support dictatorships and you oppose us in bringing liberty and freedom to the world") : see the brilliant success of the Iraq war
  • By the US media (" the US press has higher ethical standards and reports only "facts" : in France the press is linked to the government " : see the orchestrated campaign on French-bashing in 2003-2004 in the US media ; when the lecture is : "you are anti-semitic", see the excellent impact of the Iraq war in Arab countries and among Arab minorities in Europe regarding Israel and the Jews) and when it's Fox News (about the "cheese eating surrender monkeys "), see my page "French-bashing " (you can keep lecturing on racism only if Obama is elected...)
  • By Main Street America : ther French are accomplices of terrorists (one of my readers wrote : "I can't help hating the French when I see where the Twin Towers used to be") and we are also communists (we inject tax-payer's money into companies : how about the $700 bn. bail-out of Wall Street ?)
  • By US essayists about the State ("less state and regulation means freedom and prosperity"), about health ("we do not want a bureaucratic system" which implicitly means "we prefer 50 million people without coverage")
  • And so on...

Therefore, my humble request for the coming years, as our European countries will try to overcome a disastrous geopolitical and financial situation which has been largely created by the above-mentioned lecturers is : " Please, no more lectures ! ". Why don't you, Americans, try to look around you, to accept differences, to be humble when you don't know something (as a Frenchman, I must admit that it's hard!). Don't force other countries to be exactly like you. America does bring a lot to the world and deserves admiration and praise for it. Do not try to bring us EVERYTHING you do in your country.

(Oct. 2008) Back to top of the page.

American expats : remember it's another country !

Many Americans living here live as if they were not in France. Either on a short stay or having lived here for 30 years or more, they watch the news on CNN (or on BBC World), read the International New York Times, etc... : no French paper, no French TV. If in addition to that they live in one of these neighborhoods where most people are foreigners (Le Vesinet, St.Cloud,...), send their children to an American school, go to the American Church, never discuss with French friends, their information on French issues is not very different from what they could have if they still lived in the USA. Therefore, on many issues, they express an opinion which is just like the one of the average journalist in New York. All they know about the French comes from their discussions with shop-keepers and with their "concierge" (who often is Portuguese). Very frankly, this situation is not very different from the situation of French (or British) colonists in the old days of colonization : you spend several years in a country and, actually, keep the vision you had before you set foot in it. A typical case of that is the issue of the Islamic veil : if you put on your American glasses ("religious freedom", etc...), are you sure you can read it well ? Do you know what "secularity" means for the French ? Are you sure that American values are "universal" ? Are you sure American TV is any better than French TV ?

More unbiased ? (July 2009) More on French TV channels. Back to top of the page.


Credit ? No thank you.... Americans (including the US government) live on credit. It is very dangerous for them and, as the sub-prime crise illustrated so well, it can be very dangerous for the whole world. One of the most absurd concepts is the concept of credit card. I read that it amounts in average to more than $8,000 for each card holder. With an average above $8,000, if the outstanding is zero for so many, it means that it is incredibly huge for some (one third of card-holders do not pay in time) : those irresponsible consumers should be protected against themselves. For me, a credit card is totally useless and potentially dangerous. If you can't afford something, don't buy it : buying on credit will just make it more expensive. When I discuss this with my American friends, many have this very strange answer : " I have one but I don't use it ". For me it is as absurd as saying : " I go on week-ends with my secretary but I am faithful to my wife ". If you don't use it, don't get it and if it's required to have a good credit score, challenge the absolute stupidity of the US credit scoring system, which forces you to have credit cards. The total outstanding of credit cards in the USA is between a half and a third of the one of subprime credit : potentially, there is another world financial crisis in it.... Are you ready for it ?

(Oct. 2008) More on the French and money. Back to top of the page.

Sub-prime :stupidity and selfishness! The sub-prime crisis is an interesting example of stupidity and selfishness. As everyone knows, American households do not save money : the rate of saving of Americans is next to zero, when it's around 15% in France and in this range everywhere else in Western countries. However, the US society considers that :
- everyone can buy a house even if he/she cannot afford it : they call it the American dream
- the Government must not interfere in your personal life and prevent you from doing irresponsible things : they call it freedom
Well, today it is a nightmare and it is not freedom in the USA. This could not happen elsewhere : all over Europe (and in France of course), you cannot buy a house with a 100% credit and the bank regulators forbid loans to people who are unlikely to pay it back (there are rules on minimum income, etc...). If you cannot afford something, you don't buy it...
But the American society tolerates that millions of poor people, fooled by irresponsible banks acting without any serious regulation, lose their house and have their life destroyed. This is not freedom, this is a stupid jungle.
In addition to that, a large part of the credit risk has been transferred all over the world through structured finance vehicles. This is not market economy : this is a rip-off and Europe has to pay for America's irresponsible behavior.

(July 2007) Back to top of the page.



What a weird people (taxwise) ...! Americans are proud of their country and tend to consider the rest of the world as dangerous and not as good as the US. They have developed the notion of "un-American", which means not only different but potentially dangerous. For this reason, expatriates are not well-considered in the US : why did they choose to live in a country which is not as good as the US ? They must be some sort of traitors to American values and certainly not good US citizens. This is why it was only after years of lobbying that US expatriates could vote and that their children could keep US citizenship. This is also why the US is the only country in the world (with Eritrea) where expatriates are expected to pay their income tax twice : in the country where they live and work and in their mother-country. Far from considering its expatriates as an asset for US image, prestige and business, American law-makers, expressing with no doubt the views of insular deep-America, do not treat their expatriates well. This is crazy ! In addition to that, the American government treats the rest of the world the way Americans would hate to be treated. A recent example : there's been a movement by citizens abroad to repeal FATCA (Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act), which allows the IRS to monitor all individual and company accounts in foreign banks. This is as if the French tax officials demanded that US banks open their doors and reveal the names and bank balances of French account holders. They wouldn't want to do it of course and neither do the banks abroad. The result : many banks abroad will no longer allow US citizens to have accounts. The act is not only scandalous, but self defeating… (Nov. 2011)

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WARNING : On this website, I am trying to give balanced points of view BUT, as a Frenchman, I have my own strong personal opinions. I don't know if they are representative but they are mine. If you hate my comments read about Americans and criticism. See also my resume. Philippe ROCHEFORT

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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

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