Monday, July 5, 2010

Phobes, Philes and Ugly Vampires

What foreign people do average Americans dislike the most passionately?  The Chinese?  The Mexicans?  The Pakistanis?  The Russians? No, no, no and no.  The clear answer is:  the French.

Yet, what foreign people inspires the most fervid, unconditional love in many Americans?  Again, the answer is:  the French.

What accounts for Americans' seeming inability to think of the French as they do of almost all other national groups:  with slightly smug but largely benign indifference?  Remember:  I'm not talking about "illegal immigrants" here.  Sure, Americans can get pretty agitated about Mexicans or Somalis who actually want to live in America--but they don't much care about these peoples as long as they behave themselves and stay in Guadalajara or Mogadishu.

The French, however--well that's a different story.  Whether a Frenchman is walking the streets of his native Paris or trying to take pictures of Ground Zero, he almost inevitably either angers or fascinates the Americans in his midst.  In Paris, he seems aloof and much too self-confident--insufferably oblivious to the manifest needs of American tourists.  At Ground Zero, he has the effrontery to ask annoying questions such as:  "What did America do to provoke such a dreadful deed?"

So again I ask:  what explains our love-hate attitudes toward the French?

Well, as an American with a longtime passion for France and the French, I'd like to advance a theory.  I wonder if both America's Francophobia and its Francophilia might be products of the the heightened awareness and the corresponding self-consciousness that the French seem to incite in us.  Because unlike most people with whom we share the planet, the French just won't let us be blissful, indiscriminate vampires.

Oh, you know what I mean.  Secretly or overtly, you've been reading the Twilight books and drooling over those shirtless / blood-deprived studs in the movie versions.  Vampires can't see themselves in mirrors, right?  So they don't have to worry about their poor complexions or sickly countenances:  they can troll along in blissful ignorance, regarding themselves as lovely and loving love-interests.  And so it is with most Americans.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, we are generally quite content being such unknowing vampires with no unflattering reflections--and, fortunately for us, most foreigners just leave us alone--perhaps avoiding us or keeping out of our way, but rarely caring enough about us to, well, draw us pictures (since mirrors don't work) of how we really appear.

But zee French, zay are arteests and zay DO care (zat's zee eenteresting zing).  Alors, zay draw some preety unlovely (i.e., honest) peectures sometimes.

For instance, they remind us that we are bloodsuckers.  They remind us that we are FAT bloodsuckers.  They remind us that we eat weird food, consume weird drinks, play weird games, fight weird wars, make weird movies--and, quelle horreur, see nothing at all wrong with going to the market in a striped top over polka dot Capri pants and Nike tennis shoes.

Worse, after they have drawn a picture of us, they sometimes LAUGH at it.  Really, this is most unpleasant.

So, let's face it:  the French make us squirm uncomfortably in our Calvin Kleins. Because, what if THEY are right?  What if hard work ISN'T the meaning of life?  What if Anglo-Saxon free enterprise ISN'T the best economic system?  What if the U.S. Constitution ISN'T the ultimate expression of humanity's political aspirations?  What if--and this is an awful thought--Jerry Lewis ISN'T a mere buffoon but, in fact, a talented comedian?

For Americans, France is the world turned upside down:  no eggs at breakfast, fast trains all day, public transportation everywhere, waiters who don't smile because the tip is already included, 360 kinds of cheese (most of which smell bad), strikes instead of tailgate parties, pedestrian shopping zones where only feet provide mobility, men peeing and/or jacking off in the street, old ladies in impeccably tailored suits and heels sniffing melons at an open-air market, thieves with no guns but really vile language, rabbit stew or goose gizzard salads for lunch, thousand year old churches that no one attends or dusts, bathrooms that have bidets but no toilets.

And that's only a partial list, of course.  But my two preceding paragraphs summarize why many Americans just get itchy about the French--and decide to hate them without even trying to know them.  And, conversely, these two lists provide a clue as to why Americans like me are so thoroughly intoxicated with France.  Because, frankly, I feel a whole lot less like an Ugly Vampire when I have a chance to see myself through the eyes of the French and, to some extent at least, experience the world as the French experience it.

Oh, I know that I will always be American--and I accept that fact without any rancor and even, when the CNN news is good, with a measure of gratitude and good cheer (we still suck up about 25% of the world's blood, after all).  But I figure that, as long as I'm a bloodsucker by birth, I might as well ACKNOWLEDGE  it and GET THE MOST OUT OF IT.  So, like my fellow Francophiles all across the U.S., I heartily rejoice in the opportunity that my French friends and my Francophilia have afforded me:  to be served life's red meat succulent and really, really saignant.  

Miam miam.

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