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The French Way

The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power

Richard F. Kuisel
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    The French Way
    Book Description:

    There are over 1,000 McDonald's on French soil. Two Disney theme parks have opened near Paris in the last two decades. And American-inspired vocabulary such as "le weekend" has been absorbed into the French language. But as former French president Jacques Chirac put it: "The U.S. finds France unbearably pretentious. And we find the U.S. unbearably hegemonic." Are the French fascinated or threatened by America? They Americanize yet are notorious for expressions of anti-Americanism. From McDonald's and Coca-Cola to free markets and foreign policy, this book looks closely at the conflicts and contradictions of France's relationship to American politics and culture. Richard Kuisel shows how the French have used America as both yardstick and foil to measure their own distinct national identity. They ask: how can we be modern like the Americans without becoming like them?

    France has charted its own path: it has welcomed America's products but rejected American policies; assailed America's "jungle capitalism" while liberalizing its own economy; attacked "Reaganomics'" while defending French social security; and protected French cinema, television, food, and language even while ingesting American pop culture. Kuisel examines France's role as an independent ally of the United States--in the reunification of Germany and in military involvement in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia--but he also considers the country's failures in influencing the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. Whether investigating France's successful information technology sector or its spurning of American expertise during the AIDS epidemic, Kuisel asks if this insistence on a French way represents a growing distance between Europe and the United States or a reaction to American globalization.

    Exploring cultural trends, values, public opinion, and political reality,The French Waydelves into the complex relationship between two modern nations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3997-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  7. 1 America à la Mode: The 1980s
    (pp. 1-44)

    America, and much that was associated with America, was in vogue in France during the 1980s. Ralph Lauren fashions, California wines, Hollywood blockbuster movies, and venture capitalists were all chic. One Parisian couturier served McDonald’s hamburgers at the opening of his fashion show. The socialist president of France, François Mitterrand, paid a visit to California’s Silicon Valley and also admitted that he was a fan of the television showDallas. U.S. president Ronald Reagan, after initially facing a cool reception, became so popular that many French wanted him reelected in 1984. President George H. W. Bush, especially after the success...

  8. 2 Anti-Americanism in Retreat: Jack Lang, Cultural Imperialism, and the Anti-Anti-Americans
    (pp. 45-98)

    First came the snub; then the broadside; then the programs. That is how France’s new socialist minister of culture, Jack Lang, went on the attack against American popular culture. He refused to attend the American film festival at Deauville in September 1981; several months later he gave a notorious address denouncing American cultural imperialism at a UNESCO conference in Mexico City; and then he tried to organize a global “crusade” to combat cultural imports from the United States. Lang, the key actor in this story, was a flamboyant young politician whose movie-star good looks, iconic pink jacket, dramatic initiatives, and...

  9. 3 Reverie and Rivalry: Mitterrand and Reagan-Bush
    (pp. 99-150)

    According to Evan Galbraith, the American ambassador in Paris, Franco-American affairs in the early 1980s were “probably the best they had been since 1918.”¹ Many contemporary observers viewed relations as a kind of reverie. François Mitterrand and Ronald Reagan, even if the two presidents were a study in contrasts, were usually congenial, while Mitterrand and George H. W. Bush respected each other and enjoyed what might, with only slight exaggeration, be termed friendship. Transatlantic relations were arguably better in this decade than at any time since the end of the Second World War. They were surely more relaxed than in...

  10. 4 The Adventures of Mickey Mouse, Big Mac, and Coke in the Land of the Gauls
    (pp. 151-208)

    When President Bill Clinton visited Lyons for a G7 meeting in 1996, local schoolchildren designed posters presenting their impressions of America. Their drawings featured Mickey Mouse, McDonald’s Golden Arches, Coca-Cola bottles, and the World Trade Center. American businesses—in particular, Disney, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola—functioned as private ambassadors of the United States. One way to understand how America functioned in France at the fin de siècle is to examine the experience of these companies looking closely at the selling of American forms of entertainment, food, and drink.

    The setting of this narrative is the final two decades of the twentieth...

  11. 5 Taming the Hyperpower: The 1990s
    (pp. 209-270)

    Jacques Chirac once observed that relations between France and the United States “have been, are, and will always be conflictive and excellent. It’s in the nature of things. . . . The U.S. finds France unbearably pretentious. And we find the U.S. unbearably hegemonic. There will always be sparks, but not fire. . . .”¹ The president of France thus tidily enunciated the essence of the friendly, yet testy, relations between the two countries during the 1990s. Understanding French perceptions of America must begin with their basis in international affairs.

    The end of the Cold War made the United States...

  12. 6 The French Way: Economy, Society, and Culture in the 1990s
    (pp. 271-328)

    When the G7 gathered in Denver, Colorado, in June 1997, President Bill Clinton, in an exuberant mood, invited Jacques Chirac, Helmut Kohl and other world leaders to don cowboy outfits. But the French president and the German chancellor declined the invitation; they refused to wear Western hats and boots. The Europeans held back in both dress and spirit. They were mildly offended at the way Clinton’s economic advisers extolled America’s success and lectured them about how they could profit from the new global economy. When reporters asked Chirac whether or not Europeans should adopt American recipes, he shot back, “Naturally...

  13. 7 The Paradox of the Fin de Siècle: Anti-Americanism and Americanization
    (pp. 329-376)

    As the twentieth century drew to a close, Americanization was transforming how the French ate, entertained themselves, conducted business, and even communicated. Yet the fin de siècle also witnessed the strongest expression of anti-Americanism since the 1960s. It was visible in opinion polls, newspapers, books, television, and politicians’ pronouncements. It is this paradox, this tension between a society seemingly immersed in America and one that posed America as “the other,” that merits attention.

    A decade after the war in the Persian Gulf, Uncle Sam had fallen off his pedestal. Parisians hunting for books on America could find titles likeLe...

    (pp. 377-390)

    Following an international conference sponsored by the United States advancing worldwide democracy, Madeleine Albright sparred with Hubert Védrine. Only France had refused to sign the manifesto. The U.S. secretary of state admonished the French foreign minister for failing to lead an effort at improving solidarity among democracies, reminding him that France had sent the Marquis de Lafayette to assist America’s fight for freedom. Védrine supposedly smiled and replied, “Ah, but you seechèreMadeleine, Lafayette did not go to help the Americans, he went to defeat the British.”¹ Franco-American misunderstandings have a long history, and it is the purpose of...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 391-472)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 473-487)