Lovers' Spat or Quitsville?

Lovers' Spat or Quitsville?
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[Paris, France-April 10, 2003] - I’ve been answering lots of e-mails these last few months regarding traveling to France. Mostly people trying to decide whether or not to rent Maison Margaux in Paris for their next vacation despite current geopolitical reverberations, and many ultimately agreeing that it’s a great time to visit the City of Light. But not everyone. One recent e-mail read: “This would have been perfect for our vacation, but alas as US citizens we have been told that the people of France despise [us]…”



Despise? For some reason we Americans tend to slip into love-hate vernacular pretty easily. Fortunately, it’s usually the latter when talking about France. But not lately. Anger and frustration with the French administration seems to be straining America’s love affair with France. What to do? Head off to the counselor? Reserve a therapist? Sort of. Times of strain and crisis push us to the brink, where we teeter and then decide to split or work things out. Divorce or talk. Let’s talk!

Photo by George DavisThe good news is that most of the “anger” on the French side is isolated among a handful of politicos (predictably frustrated with the American administration and its rather cavalier foreign policy), and the pressies (eagerly and hungrily embroiled in the latest sensational polemic). It is at its core largely a historically ingrained adversity to war. Quoted last week in Carol Pucci's article in the Seattle Times Traveling soon? Biggest hurdle may be your own fear), Adrian Leeds, Paris-based publisher of Parler Paris, reminds us that the “French are our comrades, our friends, our admirers. They are not in any way anti-American. ... What is clear, however, is that they are frightened and concerned by the threat of war. They never want to live through a World War II again… This doesn't make them anti-American. Only anti-war.”


The French population at large is mostly perplexed at the strong anti-French reaction in the US. In fact, it would seem that the perception shift is primarily American; we have all but shut the door on the French at the risk of a cold and lonely isolationism. Yet most French remain fascinated with and intrigued by America and Americans. Despite the fact that the French have an insatiable appetite for current events and polemics, always warm to a good argument, and are genetically predisposed to a bias that French culture is the single most important aspect of existence, the door has been opened more and more to Americans every year since I first traveled here in 1980.

Photo by George DavisOf course, the present may be a lull in enthusiasm for American policies and politics, but it has not diminished the quality of life or travel in France in the least. There is no hatred or even directly targeted anger at Americans. Period. At most there are questions. Debate. And, of course, street protests which are perhaps less unpleasant than some of those that have happened in the US. In short, France remains a magnificently splendid and intoxicating destination. "I still love France and all it has to offer,” gushed novelist Josephine Humphreys in an essay in the Travel section of the New York Times (No Reason to Spoil a Friendship (No Reason to Spoil a Friendship). “I want liberty, equality, fraternity, wine and cheese. I want France, not as a compliant follower but as a companion with whom we have a continuing exchange. If the United States and France are temporarily stuck in the door and snapping at each other, I have to trust that we'll figure out how to spring ourselves free and proceed once more in joie de vivre.

And indeed we will. Most French, Chirac included, openly express a hope that US/French relations will soon recover the bent of their amicable past. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without the requisite interaction and communication. A “companion with whom we have a continuing exchange”, opines Humphreys, will help Americans rediscover the France—the French—that they have so long loved. So before you decide to shelve your travel plans to France this summer because of the ugliness which pervades the media, ask yourself, are you really ready for a divorce? Or maybe it’s just time for a good heart to heart…