(A little tidbit concurrent with the poll that showed that 1 in 3 Frenchmen wanted Saddam Hussein to win the war - apparently those 1 in 3 all decided to show up here)
How to Hate the French: A User's Guide: Michael Lewis (Correct)
(Commentary. Adds dropped letter in ``choose'' in third-to- last paragraph. Michael Lewis, whose books include ``Liar's Poker'' and ``The New New Thing,'' is a columnist for Bloomberg News. His book ``MoneyBall,'' about professional baseball, will be published next month. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Berkeley, California, April 9 (Bloomberg) -- It's astonishing how much easier it has become in America in just the last few weeks to hate the French, even for those who shouldn't.
A random sampling of three friends who disapprove of the war in Iraq and enjoy a good Burgundy reveals that all of them are inclined more than ever to detest our former ally. Trouble is, they don't know how to do it.
Of course they are perfectly capable of spluttering about having ``saved their candy asses in two world wars,'' or even sneering how ``the food's just as good in London now as it is in Paris.'' True as those sentiments may be, they lack bite.
The French do not care what we Americans think of their courage or their cuisine. And if you seek to hate well, you must know well the object of your hatred. In the case of France, we really don't.
We must begin by making it clear that when we say we hate ``the French,'' it does not mean we hate all French people. That would hardly be possible. We haven't a harsh word for the French female (au contraire!) and only fond memories of the stout, pleasant folk of the French countryside who often treat us with kindness and generosity when we vacation among them.
The French Male
We detest only a certain breed of French male, particularly the French male who lives in or near Paris and who realized, at a sickeningly young age, that the way to get ahead was inside the incestuous and corrupt French political system. Were the coalition forces to make a brief detour through France on their way home from Iraq, this character would be their legitimate target.
But of course no one any longer will think to invade France, however reasonable and painless it might seem (think of all the collaborators!). We must acknowledge that shock and awe is unlikely to resolve our French problem. We civilians must grapple with it, with wit and diplomacy.
But this presents a troubling prospect. The French are wittier than us. Better diplomats, too.
Our political leaders are never at their best when they seek to make their displeasure known to some foreign nation. In the late 1980s, upset by Japan's trade practices, they gathered on the steps of the Capitol and smashed a Toshiba boom box to bits with sledgehammers. A few weeks ago, upset by France's refusal to endorse our war, they changed, on the menus of Congressional restaurants, ``french fries'' to ``freedom fries'' and ``french toast'' to ``freedom toast.''
The net effect of this moronic symbolic act is to make it ever so slightly more difficult to get what you want in the government cafeteria, and to give pleasure and solace to exactly those people it seeks to disturb.
If we accept that the world would be a better place without French political influence in it, we must ask: How do we isolate that influence, cut it off, and kill it? The answer is not freedom fries.
The American politician has made a solipsistic error: He assumes that his French counterpart wishes to be liked. He believes that the mere act of letting him know that he is disliked is enough to cow him into submission.
But the important French male does not wish to be liked. He does not wish even to be respected. He wishes to be noticed -- and in such a way that the people who do the noticing cannot help but also notice he is looking down on them.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is a case in point. De Villepin is the fellow who announced, haughtily, France's intention to veto Britain's plan for tests of Iraqi disarmament before Saddam Hussein was given a chance to consider it. In doing so, he sabotaged any last hope of a peaceful solution in Iraq, and alienated even many Americans who might have agreed with his aims.
But what of it? He attracted our attention. To himself! To France! And when we all looked over to see what these funny little people were up to, we discovered that they were looking down at us.
Who among us in America was not a tad shocked when a poll found that a third of French people surveyed were rooting for Saddam Hussein to win the war? Millions of Frenchmen, if the poll's sample was representative, appear to believe that it would be better for a murderous, unstable dictator to remain in power than for the coalition to achieve victory. What could explain such monstrous views?
Minister of Importance
It isn't because the French wish to preserve their valuable commercial ties to the regime. It is because they fear that if we win, it will be more difficult for them to get our attention. De Villepin did not want peace. He wanted importance, or its illusion, and the way to create the illusion of importance was to oppose the war.
Since the war has started we have heard two main responses from de Villepin. One is his steady stream of disapproving remarks which can serve only to prolong the war, by encouraging the Iraqi opposition. The other is his demand that French companies be invited to make profits cleaning up postwar Iraq, which provoked, as he no doubt hoped it would, the indignation of the White House.
Americans have long suspected that they don't actually like the French but it isn't until this war that those suspicions have been confirmed. Now they must learn how to express that dislike.
I have spent only a bit of time among the French and cannot offer the most expert advice. But I would say this: To wound an important French male with words, you must choose them carefully. Taking the French out of fries will do nothing but reaffirm his view that he is your natural superior.
Jed Babbin, a former U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense, spoke well when he said that ``going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion.'' In a sentence he isolated and insulted the vanity of the powerful French male while at the same time conveying an admirable air of indifference toward him.
Those of us who cannot summon such wit would do better to remain silent, and pretend that the important French male does not exist. Otherwise we risk giving him exactly what he wants.