Surrender Monkeys? Freedom Fries?

Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse

Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse

At some point in the recent past, Americans have decided that the French were “surrender monkeys” for their lack of interest in acceding to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Around the same time, French Fries were officially renamed Freedom Fries in the U.S. Congressional Cafeteria.

To me, this is very much a “But what have you done for me recently?” type of judgment. We seem to have forgotten that if it weren’t for French help during the American Revolution, we would be calling them Chips instead and revering the memory of King George III. Not only did we have the help of Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau, but a substantial French fleet headed up by Admiral de Grasse (shown above) precipitated Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown.

When the French had their own revolution a few years later, they paid us the supreme compliment of imitating our Constitution.

In the years since those heady times, we have decided that the French don’t like us. In defense, we’ve decided not to like them. Most of our present attitude is a misconception based on the notion that the French pretend not to understand good plain American English and persist in their twonky little European language. (Far be from us to learn another language, especially since we are the world’s only legitimate certified superpower.)

Martine and I have visited France twice (actually, Martine was born there), and we’ve always met with courtesy, even in Paris. Of course, we both speak French after a fashion—ungrammatical, perhaps, but sufficiently clear. We’ve even been praised for our valiant attempts at speaking the language. I suspect the French know that Martine and I like them, and it shows in our demeanor.

I remember one visit to Paris when I decided to risk ordering a tripe dish. After I nibbled away at it for a bit, I simply mentioned to our waiter, “Monsieur, j’étais trop brave.” (“Sir, I was too brave.”) The waitstaff and surrounding diners broke out laughing, and I joined them. Another time, we were at a little brasserie in Montparnasse, and I found I didn’t have enough francs (that was before the euro) for a tip. Instead, I asked our waiter if he would accept Paris Metro tickets as a tip in lieu of cash—since we were headed out to the airport immediately afterwards. He gratefully accepted and wished us a safe journey back.

With the French, I suspect it’s simply a case of showing attitude and getting attitude in return. Best to leave our attitudes behind in the States and enjoy ourselves among an intelligent and courageous people.