Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A French Perspective, of sorts

The French grumpily regard the American president as in some unfortunate sense also their own, but they see the campaign through their own cultural lens.

These two surprises, one after the other, have refreshed clichés retailed under President Bush, confirming the deeply held belief of the French that the United States remains the frontier, led by impenetrably smug and incurious upstarts who have little history, experience or wisdom.

The surprises are Palin and the financial meltdown.

Even worse, from the French perspective, Americans are reckless optimists, incurably blind to the tragedy of life, to the weary convolutions of history and thus to the need for lengthy August vacations and financial regulations.

They do have a point.

The French know exactly what to make of her, said Frédéric Rouvillois, and that is the problem. Ms. Palin may be an American dream but she is a French nightmare, said Mr. Rouvillois, a lawyer and social historian who has just written a book titled “The History of Snobbery.”

I'd like to see that book.

Mr. Rouvillois, the expert on snobbery, said there was a general acceptance in France that the American president, in general, was not particularly interested in Europe or France. “People have always said that American presidents didn’t know exactly where France was,” he said.

And as for moose-hunting, he said, it is no worse than what French women used to do long before there was a Louis Vuitton. “When women of Louis XV’s court would hunt wild boars with their knives, it wasn’t less violent or bloody than killing a moose with a scope-mounted rifle,” he said.


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