Great things have come from France. For example, we have Pierre L’Enfant, who died in time to let Benjamin Banneker take the lead on Washington, DC. This is the same L’Enfant who was fired from the planning of Paterson, NJ (not good enough for Paterson, but perfect for the nation’s capital? err?). We also have my personal favorite, French fries. Apparently they actually started in Belgium, but the French win the gold ribbon for taking credit and running with it this long. And last, but not least, Parisians gave us Christian Louboutin. I’m a huge fan of any man who can tickle me pink, while I paint the town red. He truly is the elixir whenever I’m poutin. So, with so much admiration from afar, why is it that we just can’t seem to get along?
Well, I decided to go to Paris to get to the bottom of this Atlantic Ocean east coast, west coast rivalry. I consulted all the experts – the taxi drivers and hoteliers, the Christians and the Muslims, the academics and the free lancers. And I came up with just a short list.
Americans hate because:
- There’s no way to make English sound sexy. Not an Aussie or a Brit, a New Zealander or an American can purse their lips to make the mundane sound as if you’re just repeating the words “Zsa Zsa Gabor” with varied tone and inflection. I personally am not a huge fan of the French language, but I will say that whatever they say sounds important, pressing and sensual. I’m sure the taxi guy was just telling me to fly a kite, but it’s cool – just keep talking Frenchie.
- The French protest because they want to work less. Americans protest because they want to work more. (Read: The French come off as lucky, whiny ingrates.) Dare I say, the French approach is downright against American values. It’s one thing to camp out on a well trafficked bridge or in a homeless camp because you can’t work—but the French take to the streets, because their secure government jobs make them show up to work… and expect that they produce… something… anything. There is a lot of jealousy raging here. What government employee doesn’t want to take to the streets on a work day to demand more benefits? The French are ballsy. We talk about it, they be about it. Ain’t that ‘bout a [je ne sais quoi]?
French hate because:
- The French language stopped being politically relevant about the time the Princesses Nubiennes album dropped. (Read: Before the turn of the only century that counts – this one!) In diplomacy, English reigns supreme. In second grade classrooms the world over, the new second language is Spanish. The French are proud of their culture enough to take this as a personal slight. Oh well… having to close your nose, talk through your teeth and spit on your peers – is nobody’s idea of fun. At least they have the majority of Africa and some Caribbean islands still hot on their heels.
- The jury is still out on whether or not quality of life is better between the two countries. So, barring a clear French victory, that’s a U.S. win by default. While the mid – late 20th century Black emigration of greats like Nina Simone and James Baldwin counts for something, it’s hard to find any one in Paris who thinks that life in the 21st century is better there than in any major American city – say, New York or Los Angeles. Some doubt that in the U.S. the French Elle article “Black Fashion Power,” would ever have been printed. This gives cause to re-examine French superiority. It could have happened in the U.S., but the very thought that it might not have… keeps the French hating on the greener grass of Black American pastures.
With that said, it’s hard to see what the beef’s about. Perhaps, we’re just both chicken- coo cooing about cultural vulnerabilities that have evolved over time to become whatever our imaginations will allow. Paris has an allure that looms larger than the Eiffel Tower. (And as it turns out, when I finally saw it up close – I was not all that impressed.) As my grandma so eloquently put it, “Paris is like Newark.” She really said that – and while it still makes 99.999% of no sense whatsoever to me, that remaining smidge holds true.
When I broke bread with other ninjas in Paris and swapped stories, I think we both gained some insight into the experience of the other half…The homeless and the rude, the pushy and the unfriendly, the smiles of no substance – they are what major cities are made of; and the personalities of major cities are what national imaginations are made of. But once you break it all down, we’re more similar than we think and that’s probably why we hate so hard from a far. Opposites attract, not kinda similarly passive aggressive personalities.
I’m pretty sure that by the end of dinner on Place du Docteur Félix Lobligeois, we all left with a mutual understanding of each others’ experiences and an even more grounded appreciation of our own countries. Just the thought of living in Paris had me mumbling “that sh*t cray” into my Moët.