Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hate us, we're French 

Why be hard on the Americans for disliking the French, if all their continental neighbors seem hardly more charitable? From the latest opinion survey (hat tip: Dan Foty and Joe G.):
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Britons described [the French] as "chauvinists, stubborn, nannied and humourless". However, the French may be more shocked by the views of other nations.

For the Germans, the French are "pretentious, offhand and frivolous". The Dutch describe them as "agitated, talkative and shallow." The Spanish see them as "cold, distant, vain and impolite" and the Portuguese as "preaching". In Italy they comes across as "snobs, arrogant, flesh-loving, righteous and self-obsessed" and the Greeks find them "not very with it, egocentric bons vivants".

Interestingly, the Swedes consider them "disobedient, immoral, disorganised, neo-colonialist and dirty".
The article notes that "the knockout punch to French pride came in the way the poll was conducted. People were not asked what they hated in the French, just what they thought of them. 'Interviewees were simply asked an open question - what five adjectives sum up the French,' said Olivier Clodong, one of the study's two authors and a professor of social and political communication at the Ecole Superieur de Commerce, in Paris. 'The answers were overwhelmingly negative'."

Europeans are hardly one big happy family, with plenty of negative stereotypes to go around, but even so, the results of this survey are surprising with the apparent inability of fellow Europeans to say anything nice about their French brothers and sisters. There is probably a political aspect to all this dislike; just as America and the Americans generate a lot of negative emotions on the account of their prominence in world affairs, so the French, who style themselves as the leaders of Europe, cannot help but to attract resentment from others.

But I have a feeling that there is a lot more to the survey results than just politics. After all, when America is concerned, most foreigners are still at pains to distinguish between the government, which they hate, and the people, to whom they supposedly still (albeit increasingly less so) have a much more positive attitude. The fact that France's neighbors get so personal would suggest to me that politics or no politics, this is what happened when you have to share a crowded continent with others for century after century. Familiarity, clearly, breeds contempt.


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