The Editorial page of the Webmaster: the Franco-American relation





Throwing in the towel... In a very tongue-in-cheek letter to the International Herald Tribune (July 2, 2005) that I wish I had written myself, G.Vernet writes : "In response to recent columns by Thomas Friedman : Being French, I am an enemy of the USA, I am also an ugly protectionist ; I have delusions of past grandeur ; and I live in a failed state with an over-regulated economy and closed borders. We have a totally outdated social system that is not even a system after all, and certainly not social. I am unemployed, like everybody else here, but I live in comfort by retrieving benefits from the bankrupt welfare state. I am not looking for a job because I am too afraid to find one. I am ashamed when I read Friedman's column with religious fervor in copies of the IHT that are left behind by American tourists in Paris. I can only hope that my country will soon embrace globalization, the American economic model and adopt English as its mother tongue and the US dollar as a currency. When I see the benefits of an American invasion elsewhere, I also wish that the USA could send a few divisions here (we shall surrender immediately if we are not on a long week end) and occupy France until it is purged of its socialist mentality and its encroached racism and anti-Semitism. Friedman could write a new constitution in which our daughters would be required to do their homework so that Indian and Chinese little boys and girls do not pinch their jobs in the future. Alas, I know that America's war machine has been too busy lately. I wish the USA every success, but knowing that America won't be able to come and rescue us anytime soon, my family and I I have decide to commit suicide by eating cheese without any wine until we die. Maybe this will set an example and the French will reform by themselves."

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Moral (for others) and business (for me) : a typical American mix? At the end of 2010, there was a bid in California for a $ 45 billion fast-train line project. Several competitors, with serious credentials were interested : Siemens (German), Hitachi (Japanese), SNCF (French) and a few others. A California politician, Bob Blumenfield, demanded that the SNCF apologize for its role in WW2, when French Jews were deported to Germany in its trains which were requisitioned by the Nazis. This raises two comments. First, you can observe that the same politician did not ask the Japanese company to apologize for Pearl Harbor or the German company to apologize for Auschwitz. No, only the French (read more on French-bashing). Second, does this politician have any idea about how conceivable it was for the SNCF in 1942 to say to the occupying army : "You want our trains to take these people to the German border : we are sorry but we disapprove of what you are doing so we suggest that you take your own trains, which are currently carrying your troops to Russia, to do the job. Please, do not insist : for us it is a matter of moral principle." Anybody who can imagine what it is to be occupied by a foreign army can only laugh. Ask the Iraqis. For sure, the Germans would have said to anybody saying that : "OK, you guys go on the train with them". One must recall that, after France surrendered in 1940, the armistice treaty with Germany included provisions about trains and other facilities which could be requisitioned with no limits. Of course. By the way, who will benefit from this absurd demand of apology ? An American company ? American Airlines ? Who knows but for me it is more a matter of (American) business than a matter of ethics. Read about the behavior of American firms in occupied France : surprised? (January 2011)

The parliament of a Democratic country must not host a TV show... While in the US, I watched President Trump's State of the Union Address on TV by President Trump (Feb.5, 2019) and was horrified by what I saw. Trump, the showman, introduced a succession of “living illustrations” of what he said by having accomplice marionettes, spread all over the Chamber, standing up and waving at the audience, which applauded vigorously each time, Trump supporters and Trump opponents together. These muppets were a black man, a little girl who had cancer, a survivor of the holocaust, of course a glorious veteran and many others. At the end, the show was a real hit for its star who was constantly applauded in dozens of standing ovations by an enthusiastic audience screaming “USA! USA!”.  A real success ! This could never have happened in France and, I am sure, in any other Western democracy (but it happens daily in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and China to name a few and in Europe we were familiar with this kind of show in the 1930s-1940s and remember what a crowd screaming “Sieg Heil” means…). What would such an address be in France ?  Constitutionally, the President does not have the right to speak to the Chambers and this kind of address is given by the Prime Minister. The public is admitted, in very small numbers, only in a reserved section far from the speaker and anybody moving, speaking or waving would be immediately expelled. Screaming “France! France!” would be legally considered a political demonstration and the President of the Chamber would immediately close the session and have the room evacuated by police. What I considered particularly shocking was to see the Opposition falling into the most obvious traps of the showman by loudly applauding anything reasonable he said. This concession to an apparent consensus gives the showman the right to say “The Chamber applauded the President on many occasions to show strong approval of what he said.” That is exactly what he wanted. Wait for the 2025 State of the Union Address when, after his likely second term, maybe he will say it would be nice to offer him the possibility of a third term with a friendly Amendment to the US Constitution : I am sure that the Democrats will applaud (to illustrate their love of consensus). We, in France, have our (large) share of political stupidity and historical mistakes. We’re sorry when we see our American friends trying to emulate us. (Feb.2019). More about consensus

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 About the "Islamic veil" and, now, the "burkini".
Many Americans and typically the New York Times are shocked by the prohibition by the law of the Islamic veil in public places and now the prohibition by mayors of the burkini on many French beaches.

For them it is an attack on the liberty of people to dress the way they want to be dressed and, worse, an attack on the liberty of people to follow the rules of their religion. My opinion is that this is major example of intercultural misunderstanding and, if I dare use the word, of plain ignorance.

Let me try to substantiate this shocking comment, in three points. First, the concept of liberty is of course an universal value in its essence but not in every immediate meaning of it. An example : in Papua-New Guinea, "liberty" means that you can walk freely totally naked without offending anybody but what would happen if a Papou decided that his liberty is to walk in this attire in St.Patrick's cathedral in New York ? What would the NY Times write ? Second point : is this really part of Islam to dress women with specific attires ? The answer is clearly : No. The only explicit mention in the Koran is that "women must be dressed decently" and it is only in a few hadiths that it becomes a little more specific, with the words and the vision of the time of the author of the said hadith and, as everyone know or should know, among the hundreds of hadiths many reflect the time they were written, are sometimes idiotic and should not be considered seriously. Islam is to follow the Koran, but not all the hadiths (would you consider that you are a good Christian if you kill your own son like Abraham did?). There is nothing religious in this burkini episode. Third, you have to be as naive as the writers of the NYT to be blind to the obvious fact that all these "scandals about religious freedom in France" are just a plot, part of the terrorist strategy, conscious or not, to create tension and push people to retaliate against peaceful and law-abiding citizens who compose the immense majority of Muslims in France. In France, very frankly, we know Islam much better than most NYT journalists and we learned it the hard way through our mistake as a colonial power.
Maybe this is why we did not think it was smart to invade Iraq? (Aug. 2016)

Read about religion in France, about provocations in the name of religious freedom.


About French bashing : Collateral-bashing is associating something very negative to the French. 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. I give in " Documents " two examples of this " collateral bashing " :

  • One by William Safire, a renowned anti-French columnist from the New York Times : in his column (IHT 7/1/2004) he says (more or less)
    1. Jacques Chirac declares that it is not President Bush's business to declare that Turkey should be a member of the European Union (may I humbly observe that France never suggested that Cuba or Colombia should join NAFTA...)
    2. Chirac is sure that he is right
    3. Being sure of something is always difficult : for instance, the NYT was sure that massive destruction weapons existed and they did not : we admitted we were wrong
    4. Conclusions (implicit) : the NYT is the best newspaper in the world and the French are traitors. Please explain to me how the brain of Mr.Safire works !
  • Another example is provided by two messages from a visitor (obviously a very nice and warmhearted person) :
    1. First message : "America saved France from Nazism and they should be more grateful, etc ; therefore I hate the French"
    2. Second message : "you have to understand that when you see the toll of 9/11"
    3. Conclusion (implicit) : "the French supported terrorism and the crime of WTC." Wow.... (

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About the American press : when I think of all these moralizing stories I heard over years about fact-finding journalism, about the independent power of the press and its contribution to democracy, about the absolute separation between reporting facts and expressing opinions, about the obligation of being totally free from any governmental influence, etc , I just crack up as I watch Fox News or read the International Herald Tribune. The Iraq War will have been the end of that myth : there is no longer an American model for the press. The American press expresses the views of the government and the big business of its country as much as in any other country in the world. Regarding the Iraq war, when, later, the US press had to admit that it had reported wrong facts, it did not apologize for all the anti-French columns which had been "based" on them ("Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged - or failed to emerge", in the NY Times reported by IHT, May 27, 2004). I remember a student who asked me this question, after a talk on France : "Is there liberty for the Press in France ?"" (Univ.of Missouri, 2000).... (2004)

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Another lecture by the New York Times or Where are the real Talibans ?
Once again, th NYT uses its incomparable condescending and scornful tone against a foreign country on the basis of its self-presumed moral superiority (January 26, 2010).
The subject is the Burqa. A bipartisan commission of the National Assembly has recommended that this outfit, covering the whole body of women should be banned from all public services in France.  The headline writes « the taliban would applaud ». A simple question : where are the talibans ? In Kabul only or also in New York ?
Several comments on this issue :

  • This ridiculous article is based on the idea that France should respect the liberty of faith. Is the burqa part of the muslim faith ? If you answer YES, please cite the part of Koran which demands it (do not waste time searching : there is not one word about it). It is only a (scandalous) custom in extremely primitive countries where women are treated like dirt (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia and a few others). Not all customs are respectable everywhere : you are not allowed to walk naked in Paris, eventhough it is a very acceptable custom in New Guinea.
  • No respectable imam in France supports the Burqa and, on the contrary, when they say it is not requested by the Koran, they get attacked by Islamic mobs (see the French newpapers this week : do not look in NYT, it rarely reports about anything which does not confirm its fanatic prejudices).
  • If you support the Burqa in the name of « religious freedom », why don’t you support excision and infibulation, odious customs in some Muslim countries, which are of course forbidden by French laws. Ask the female journalists of the NYT what they think about it.
  • Americans, and particularly the NYT, love to lecture other people and tell them what is good and what is bad. Do they think that other people like it ? The recommendation to ban the Burqa was issued by a bipartisan committee. It is extremely rare in France and it show a very large level of consensus in France against this purely provocative attitude of Islamic fanatics.

My conclusion : The USA are a very religious country (some say : very sanctimonious) and we are a secular country. You see religion everywhere…. Do your homework, study other countries, look at facts instead of being arrogant New-Yorkers…. If you wonder why there is so much anti-Americanism in the world, you have here an excellent example of what fuels anti-Americanism worldwide. Mind your own business and no more lectures, please ! (Jan.2010)

Read about religion in France, about provocations in the name of religious freedom, about French bashing, about the US press and try my insularity test. See Harriet’s blog about the same article.

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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