Column: The great French fry faux pas

The french fry may soon be an extinct species if Republicans in the House of Representatives have their way. A panel that oversees the House food and dining operations ordered Tuesday that the french fry be renamed the “freedom fry” and french toast “freedom toast.” The House speaker has even suggested a tariff on French goods including Evian water.

But the all-out assault on all things Gaul doesn’t end at the lunch lines of Congress.

At the French embassy, protesters poured wine into the streets of our capital city (designed by a Frenchman) in symbolic protest. In Florida, an 80-year old veteran of the Second World War returned a certificate from the grateful French nation Monday, saying he is unhappy the country he helped liberate now refuses to support a United Nations resolution against Iraq. “Vive la France,” has even become a common chant at U.S. anti-war demonstrators.

There is a certain je ne sais quoi in our love-hate relationship with the French.

After all, we would be flying the Union Jack if not for French aid during the revolution while the Kaiser or the Fuhrer would rule France if not for American blood spilled in this century. Could it be that the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” as Groundskeeper Willy called them, are ungrateful?

Their country was twice liberated at the cost of innumerable American lives, yet we owe them a cultural debt that will probably never be repaid. Americans still harbor a slightly repressed inferiority complex when it comes to the cultured French. So France continues to be the butt of our jokes, in addition to being the fourth most visited nation by American tourists.

Anti-Americanism runs strong in France, if not for our people then for our leaders and companies. A French national hero these days is the rogue sheep farmer Jose Bove, who shot to national prominence when he drove his tractor into a half-constructed McDonald’s in Millau in 1999. A virulent anti-globalization movement in France often targets the fast food chain and other American businesses in demonstrations as the French equivalent of Saturday Night Live gleefully parodies our president with puppets.

Perhaps they are still angry with President Bush for telling British Prime Minister Tony Blair the French economy was stagnant because they lacked a word for “entrepreneur.”

After all, are our two countries that different in national character? Both peoples are arrogant, self-righteous and revile anyone who has not taken the time to learn their language. We share the same national motto of liberty and equality and we all salute the red white and blue.

The threatened veto at the United Nations is a sticky wicket for the French. While the French despise supranational authority in the European Union, they have found their position on the UN Security Council advantageous. After all, the UN was built on the diplomatic model giving the permanent council members the right of veto.

American outrage at the democratic structure of the U.N., (designed to prevent one nation from acting unilaterally) is puzzling. After all, the French diplomats are only exhibiting what President Bush might consider his strongest quality – obstinacy.

When President Bush decides something, he is loath to change his position in the slightest. The Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the International Criminal Court both illustrate the president’s recalcitrance in the face of diplomatic compromise. Why then is he so outraged at the adroit French for playing the same game?

The small fry initiative by the House is intended to invoke the historical legacy of the First World War when the Frankfurter was renamed the hotdog and Sauerkraut “liberty cabbage.” But this is a gauche historical illusion by some lowly representatives looking (successfully) for some CNN exposure. The Germans were the enemy in the Great War, while the French are but conscientious objectors to military action, working within a system we not only designed but approached with an agenda the international body is entitled to reject.

And the French response to the fry faux pas? The embassy’s only comment on the story was that fries actually originated in Belgium. After all, if the price of opposing war is to have a greasy McDonald’s food renamed, while allowing “French kiss” to remain in lexicon, c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?

-The writer is a senior majoring in history.

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