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The French Re-Connection
By Kregg P. J. Jorgenson 
Posted April 25, 2007


Awhile back a friend who was planning a trip to Europe with his wife asked me for advice on where to go and what to see. When I recommended several of my favorite places he nodded and asked if I’d write them down, but when I penciled in several stops in France he balked.  

  “Uh-uh, I don’t want to go to France,” he said over my shoulder. “The French hate us.”

  “Wow, all 68 million of them!” I said, surprised by the news. “How’d I miss that vote?”


  “So, did you see it on CNN? 60 Minutes? Was that little clock ticking behind Mike Wallace’s oversized head when he said the vote in Paris was unanimous?”

  “What vote? What are you talking about?”

  “I guess I’m just trying to figure out where you heard that the French really hate all of ‘us’ or say, just you in particular?”

  “I mean, that I can understand. Your wife is pretty so she’d be popular in France. You, on the other hand are ugly as a stump and the French have a law against that, part of the Napoleonic Code, as I recall. So I can see why you don’t want to go there or have to believe that they hate all of us. Self-preservation, right?”

  “You know what I mean, smartass,” he replied.

  “Naw, I don’t,” I said, getting back to the point on why France is a good place to visit and why stereotypes tend to suck the nutrients out of food for thought. “The French don’t hate us, they just hate the way we mangle their language at times…”

  “Yeah, well I don’t speak French.”

  “Ah, but you know what?”


  “They really don’t hate that either.”

  “They don’t, huh?”

  “No,” I said. “They’re just happy when we at least try.”

  “You’re kidding me, right?”

  “No, I’m not,” I said, trying to find the right parallel. “It’s like dancing...”

  “Yeah, well I’m not a good dancer.”

  “You don’t have to be. Women love it when we’re great at it but they like us anyway when we’re willing to get up and do it without stepping on their toes one too many times.”

  “Is that right?”

   I shrugged. “A poor analogy maybe but you get the general idea.”

   “So, when did you become a big fan of the French?” 

   I thought about it for a moment and smiled recalling a wild car ride I had back in the 70s with a chain-smoking old French woman in the Vosges Mountains in the Northeastern part of France.

  I was hitchhiking my way to Strasbourg and the German border. It was about ten in the morning, I was tired, a little grubby, and still had a long journey. The woman owned a small blue tin can like Citroen 2CV, stopped, offered me a lift, and once I was seated roared off like a maniac.

  She laughed a lot and took some dangerous curves at ridiculous speeds. In her broken English and my broken French we passed the time talking about traveling—where I was from, where I was going, and how I was enjoying Europe so far. 

  We talked politics, food, and everything under the proverbial Alsatian sun. She dropped me off close to Colmar, thrust some francs in my hand for lunch and told me to enjoy life as much as I could because life goes by much too quickly. She continued to laugh as she sped off. I grinned and waved goodbye. Because of those experiences I became a fan of the country. 

 “I like France and for the most part I’ve had nice times there, which tells me that maybe they don’t all hate us. Besides, I also know you can’t go on a trip to Europe without at least including Paris. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t. There are great things to see…”

  “Like what, the long lines of tourists at the Eiffel Tower?”

  “Yeah, there are lines of tourists,” I admitted, “But not when you’re looking at it from across the river at night. It’s not crowded and there’s no admission fee for the amazing view. Wander through the D’Orsay, the Louvre and the Les Invalides Army museums—they have stuff there that’ll wow you!”

  “I’m not thrilled with crowds.”

  “Not a problem. If you don’t like big cities then you can always head out to the countryside and find a small town or wine vineyard where you can pick up a great bottle of wine at a price so low that it will make your local grocery store manager cry! Not to mention, you can usually find tasty food in small local restaurants anywhere you go because, well, they celebrate tasty food. In fact, there was a Frenchman who went by the name of Curnowsky who made fine dining a national art form.”

  “I don’t like fancy food,” he said.

  “Okay, so what about good food? And I’m not talking about stuff that is super-sized or comes with a crappy toy.”

  “I like good food.”

  “Good because not every plate in every French restaurant is going to look like a Monet painting but my impression is that you’ll like what you get anyway...”

  “Whad’ya know, Monet and impression in the same sentence?”

  “Drawing conclusions, are you?”

  “Have you no shame?”

  “None,” I said. “And there’s always the Riviera which ain’t a bad place to see as well, romantic views for your wife and with views of bikini clad or half-bikini clad women for you.”

  “Bikini’s, huh?” he said suddenly figuring that maybe France might not be such a bad place to visit after all.           

  “Yeah, that’s where they were invented and partially discarded,” I added and then hit him with the best argument I could think of. “Besides, if you don’t kick yourself for not going to Paris then your wife just might kick you instead. I’m betting she probably  wants to see it, right?”

  “She does,” he conceded.

 “Of course, she does! All women do. It’s on their ‘places to see’ punch card.”

  “They have punch cards?”

  “Probably that they keep with their ‘shirts-of-my-husband’s-I-won’t-ever-let-him-wear-again’ list. So keep her happy and you might find you like Paris too. I’m reasonably certain you’ll find at least one or two tolerable French people there while you’re at it.”

  “One or two, huh?”

  “At least that many,” I said, smug in my mathematical assurance.

  Stereotypes are hard to get over at times, even harder when some politicians or public figures react or even overreact to isolated events or comments, trying to force us into antagonistic corners with loud, bogus or foolish arguments.

  Take ‘The Ugly American,’ moniker for example. Not all Americans traveling abroad are ugly. However, there are always a few folks who fit the bill and don’t know how to travel. It’s the law of averages. For those people I always wished that the Immigration and Customs people the world over would have a special stamp reading: TOO DUMB TO TRAVEL and thump it on their passports to keep them from crossing borders and going abroad.

  Unfortunately world travel is open to those with the money and time which means the rest of us have to put up with pinheads, yahoos and occasional SOBs who somehow seem to transcend nationalities and time and who have that unique knack of momentarily souring an otherwise nice occasion.

    If you’re thinking of traveling to Europe, include a visit to France. Don’t believe what you’ve heard about the French until you see and meet them for yourself. Be your own best judge and don’t carry a pocket gavel.

            When my friend and his wife came back from their trip to Europe they said they had a great time in France and the French people they came across didn’t hate them.

  “In fact, most were actually very nice,” said his wife smiling.

  “Really? The French people were nice to you,” I said, “And they didn’t stamp your husband’s passport with a special stamp or anything?”

  “What special stamp?” she asked while her husband chuckled and shook his head.

  “He thinks there ought to be a stamp that says: ‘TOO DUMB TO TRAVEL’ for passports for pinheads and rude SOBS when they travel.”

  “Just a thought,” I said in my defense. “It’s not like I suggested branding their foreheads.”

  “And to think that people like Mother Teresa get all the good press,” mused my friend.

  “Yeah, go figure,” I said.

  “I’m surprised they let you travel anywhere,” he added.

  “They have to,” I replied. “They don’t have the special stamp yet!”


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