HIST 276: France Since 1871

Lecture 20

 - Battles For and Against Americanization


Anti-Americanism in France has historically been directed toward the U.S. government and corporations rather than American citizens. In the wake of World War II, the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe was considered by many to be a form of American imperialism. Along with the establishment of American military bases on French soil, the years after World War II bore witness to a great influx of American products, notably refrigerators and Coca-Cola. French concern over American cultural imports persists today, and has extended to include policies aimed at keeping the French language free of English words.

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France Since 1871

HIST 276 - Lecture 20 - Battles For and Against Americanization

Chapter 1. Current Disputes in the French University System [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: I don’t know if you’ve been following the events in France in the last couple of days. By the way, you could, those of you who know French, you can get TFN and France 2 — I prefer the latter — on your computers, if you want to follow it. Just go to google.affaires, or just go to Google and type in France 2, or type in TFN, and you can get the news from one o’clock, that is treize heures, or from vingt heures, from eight o’clock at night. And my other two universities, Rouen and Lyon II are completely shut down, and Rennes, and Tours, and Toulouse, because this is a law that was — it’s going to come into effect called the Loi Pécresse, after the person who proposed it.

And what it’s going to do is it’s going to, among other things, it’s going to make the budgets of each university kind of independent, and it’s an attempt to — this is a logical transition into our topic today — to Americanize French universities so that in a way the result, which the students don’t like, is you’ll have — you already have sort of a gap between the really good universities like Paris I or Lyon II, and the ones that just sort of struggle along, many of the new ones, like the Pas-de-Calais, that a friend of mine actually set up when he was in the ministry, and the little ones like Chambéry and Besançon and all the others.

And because of the conditions that are so difficult in French universities, which are woefully understaffed, and the ones that were built in the early ’60s and early ’70s, like the infamous Villetaneuse, which is where I’ve given a talk once, which was Paris — I think it’s Paris XIV, and the conditions are just very, very dreadful. So, there’s been a lot of opposition there. And now that Sarkozy is President, that the police — these interventions musclées, or kind of really brutal interventions by the CRS yesterday, and a couple of people hurt at Nanterre, where 1968 began, and in Rennes I think — no in Tours, rather.

So, as a matter of fact when I was teaching in Rouen — I do a course, I’ve done it the last couple of Mays, a course that’s a couple of weeks there, and the first day I was doing it — I’d just only met my students and we went to a demonstration against Sarkozy, in front of the Palace of Justice, and we were outnumbered by the CRS. And they took photos of all us. And I think that one of the things that’s going to happen in the future is that this is going to be a very tense time, I think. Now, the big strikes in Paris now, of course which, comme d’habitude, like all the time, have taken out the trains about, oh, one out of — about fifteen percent of the trains are running and the whole line, if you know Paris, the whole metro, the RER, the whole line B, line B, which goes from Saint-Rêmy-les-Chevreuse all the way to Roissy, to the airport, is completely shut down, and the buses are running at about ten percent.

And, so, it’s just chaos. I remember when everybody was on strike when I was teaching at Lyon. I’d take — the trains weren’t on strike but the buses were and I’d take the train up to Lyon, from where we live or from near where we live, and I’d have to walk to Bron, which is where Lyon II is, and that’s about five miles or six miles, and I mean it’s not a long run or a long walk. But people are very inconvenienced. And the other thing that’s going on, and the reason that the railroads are out, has nothing to do with the Pécresse Law, it has to do with the fact that Sarkozy’s attempt to Americanize France involves sort of withdrawing rights that certain categories of workers received. And there’s a lot of anger now in Paris, well in other cities too, against the strikes.

And most people in France do not approve of the strikes; sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I’ll give you an example, people that work on the metro, who are underground, the drivers of the metro, they’re underground all the time. Imagine working eight hours a day and you’re underground the whole time — they have the right, in principle — is it fifty, does anyone remember if it’s fifty — do you remember if it’s fifty or fifty-five for les chauffeurs de métro? Fifty-five. But there’s some of the TGV drivers — and that’s a big, high stress occupation; it’s not like driving a plane but — you don’t drive a plane, I don’t know, you pilot a plane — but they have the right to retire at fifty.

Now, that seems awfully young, and Sarkozy in his campaign against the ill-fated campaign of Ségolène Royal, said that he “wanted to make the French work again.” He also said a lot of other provocative things, and for a son of immigrants, a fils des immigrés, who seems to hate immigrants, very provocative things. But, anyway, he’s going to carry these policies until the very end, and so this is going to happen quite a lot. I’ve got a sountenance de thèse, a thesis defense at Lyon, a jury I have to participate in, in December, and I’m kind of wondering whether this is going to take place. But you can follow this through the newspapers and through — the other thing, if you read French and want — well, you can follow it through the New York Times online or anything, but you can also get libération.affaires, so you can read Libé every day or you can read Le Monde or whatever, if you want to keep up on this.

I’m going to be, this afternoon, calling my student pals in Rouen and finding out what’s going on with them. One of them, who’s always in every demonstration, he’s always there, and so last time he went out to a demonstration and all these police — and they know him because he’s in all the demonstrations, and this one policeman said to him, he’s got this huge stick and he says to the student, this little teeny guy, and he has this stick and he says, “I’m reserving this for you Sven,” and all of this. And they have a memory too. But, anyway, so ça bouge en France maintenant.

Chapter 2. Anti-americanism in France from 1945: Intellectuals and Communists against Coca-Colonization[00:06:00]

Well, I want to talk — that is, I think, a logical thing to talk about, because I’m going to talk about anti-Americanism in France. And it’s hard to do, to talk about anti-Americanism from 1945 until now in a mere fifty minutes. And let me say at the outset that having spent half my life or half the last thirty years of my life in France — more than that, actually — I’ve never once encountered anti-Americanism, which ça n’a rien à voir avec, it doesn’t matter. But what I am saying is that the anti-Americanism in France has always been against the United States policies and, particularly in the earlier days, the United States’ sort of cultural imperialism, but has had nothing to do with anti-Americanism against American people.

I’ve been introduced in a book, in which I contributed some sort of random musings about living in Ardèche, as a political refugee in France, at various times, and people joke about that. So, I’m differentiating anti-Americanism, like people they don’t like Americans, with anti-U.S. policies and an anti-, what was considered by many people, particularly intellectuals, sort of a cultural arrogance, that risked making France less than what it had always been. And, so, let me talk a little bit about that. And here I’m drawing heavily at the first part of the lecture on my friend Dick Kuisel’s book on anti-Americanism in the early stages; but it’s an interesting story and it’s one that’s worth telling.

Now, when I teach in Rouen I go often to this café that’s near the railroad station there, and it’s a café where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who are well-known to almost everybody, used to go all the time, and it’s kind of fun to be in a café where you imagine that they were. And they were a good example of kind of the intellectual anti-Americanism that emerged after World War Two. Now, why did this kind of philosophical and intellectual anti-Americanism emerge? You have to put it in the context of the ideological controversies that emerged out of World War One; and by that I mean from 1945 well into the mid-1950s. There were dock strikes against the arrival of U.S. military equipment. Remember, the Americans had huge, huge bases in France until the time of de Gaulle.

If you go to the town of Châteauroux — which isn’t a very interesting town and the only great restaurant in it left and moved to Tours — you’d go by these just abandoned airfields that used to just be full of American military, air force equipment, and officers. And, so, you see a lot of these signs. There were angry outbursts even against the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan, as you know from other courses, brought American aid in great quantities to Western Europe, and one of the reasons was to keep Western Europe out of Soviet influence. And this drew predictable attacks from the Parti Communiste, from the Communist Party, because of the obvious ideological division that was the Cold War.

So, and it also was the time when the Rosenbergs, in this country, were executed for allegedly passing nuclear secrets to Soviet agents; and these kinds of executions, as had been the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, who were anarchists who were executed in 1927, these have, with the mass press, although way before Internet, great ramifications. But the French economy grows so rapidly over the next thirty years, thirty glorious years, and part of the rise of consumerism and the consumer culture — in France it was backed by the arrival of such novelties as refrigerators and things like that — was very much identified with U.S. culture and was debated, particularly by intellectuals, rather heatedly.

There were pro-American intellectuals who made the case in the very beginning that the American path was the way to go. The most famous was probably Raymond Aron, a-r-o-n, but there were others like François Mauriac — and I can’t remember if Chip in his book mentions — yes, I’m sure he does. But the Communist intellectuals were adamantly against all things that were American, and of course they were very much over the top. Dick Kuisel quotes the famous Communist poet, Louis Aragon, describing the U.S. as, quote, “a civilization of bathtubs and frigidaires,” in 1951, as if this was a very bad thing; and he did not mean it, as Kuisel says, as a compliment. It was the Parti Communiste, the Communist Party, that coined phrases like the “Coca-Colanization of France.”

And the arrival of Coca Cola in France of course was a terribly important moment — more about that in a minute. At the time of the NATO pact, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in 1949, these kinds of debates hit a boiling point, and in an age of graffiti, the graffiti, “Yankee Go Home,” was a bit everywhere. Now, the U.S. nuclear capacity, which was of course very soon matched by the Soviet nuclear capacity, seemed to raise the cry against the Americans. There was a SACM conference in 1950 against nuclear power. And France is a country that almost leads the world in the percentage of its energy that is drawn from these nuclear plants, of which several are not all that far from us, and there’s a big sort of anti-nuclear reaction now that’s mostly through ecologists and the Greens and folks like that.

But in the beginning, because the Americans are the ones who had used the nuclear bomb — other people have never used a nuclear bomb, never sensed it, have used the nuclear bomb. We live in a world in which Israel has a nuclear bomb, in which Pakistan has a nuclear bomb, in which India has a nuclear bomb, as well as France and Britain, and China as well, I do believe. So, therefore all of this is still very scary. But in the origins this anti-Americanism was increased by the fear that the Americans and their Cold War against the Soviet Union would turn — that the damage would not be done in Mississippi or in Minnesota but would be done in Europe. And, so, intellectuals also accused the Americans of ignoring European culture.

Remember the infamous Donald Rumsfeld referred scathingly to “old Europe,” at a time when the Americans were invading Iraq, as if old Europe with its quaint streets, and old churches, and long cultures were something not worth remembering. But, again, the critics of American culture were over the top. L’Humanité, the Communist newspaper, and still today, said that one could starve even if one owned a telephone; and the telephone, where you can’t even find a fixed phone anymore — I can’t telephone, I can’t even call on a phone when I go back to University of Michigan because there is literally only one fixed phone left on the campus, and I don’t have a cell phone because I don’t like cell phones, I can’t stand them. I agree with those people who said that they had great faith in humanity until the cell phone; and plus my daughter’s lost three of them already.

But the French Minister of Communications, in 1964 — this is the French Minister of Communications, in 1964, avant vous, before you existed, but not before I existed — he called the telephone a gimmick, in 1964. But it wasn’t the telephone that drew heat it was above all — well the refrigerators, you couldn’t tell the average housewife living wherever, in the Morbihan or someplace, in Brittany or wherever, that the refrigerator wasn’t a good deal. But, yet, for the Communist Party a frigo, a refrigerator, a Frigidaire which is a model — I don’t know if it still is — was only good for making ice-cubes for fancy aperitifs where you would drink American or Scottish — American bourbon or Scotch whiskey. So, they — Aragon, this again is the Communist poet — wrote, “a Ford automobile, the civilization of Detroit, the assembly line, the atomic danger, encircled by napalm” — now, he said this early on.

Chapter 3. Perception of American Aggression: The Fear of War [00:15:56]

Remember, it’s the Americans who used napalm in Vietnam, it was the Americans used napalm in Vietnam. “Here is the symbol of the subjugation to the dollar, applauded even in the land of Molière, the Yankee more arrogant than the Nazi holocaust” — this is absurd — “substitutes the machine for the poet, Coca Cola for poetry, the Ford for Victor Hugo.” It degenerated to that extent. A great sociologist called Edgar Morin, who has a brilliant book on a — it’s called The Red and the White, about a Breton village — he called Readers Digest ”a pocketsize stupifier, a drug for little minds,” and he attacked, was one of the earliest to attack Franglais — and more about that in awhile — that is, the absorption of American terms into the French language; toothpaste, for example, instead of dentifrice, flooding the French language.

But, again, you have to put this in the context of the times, and that’s what I guess what historians try to do. Sixty percent of the people in the Communist Party thought the U.S. was readying an aggressive war, and almost ninety-five percent of people in the Communist Party were against the presence of U.S. bases in France. Now, remember, the guy who got rid of the U.S. bases in France was Charles de Gaulle, who was anything but a communist, who was completely opposite of a communist, but his view, as we’ll see, was that France had to maintain its status as a great power, had to have a neutral path and influence in places where French was spoken, particularly in West and North Africa, and in the Middle East in parts, in Lebanon, and things like that.

So, there were some intellectuals who tried to find a third way, who weren’t kind of parroting the Communist Party, or were going to kowtow the way Sarkozy is to America. And Le Monde, for example, which is without question the most reputable newspaper in France, though Libé is quite good too, et c’est plutôt à mon goût, but it took a more neutral position in all of this, because there were many people in France who weren’t Communists that thought that the Marshall Plan was a way of buying off Europe. And I wasn’t — I was vaguely around in those days, but the fear was, after World War One there was the thought that nobody would ever want another war; after World War Two, and after the atomic bomb, and after the horrors of all that had happened, and the Holocaust, people were quite certain that there would be another war.

So, it was a time of great fear, and so these were big issues. In 1952, at the time of the visit of U.S. General Matthew Ridgeway to take control of NATO forces, there were huge demonstrations against the United States. He was called a butcher in the Korean War, which certainly wasn’t true; he was called a war criminal and that wasn’t true either. But this came at a time when it was the government of a guy, who just died only a couple of years ago, lived to be about 130-years-old, called Antoine Pinay, who was from Saint-Chamond, near Saint-Étienne, if I remember correctly, and he had been accused of collaboration during the war, and he was in power.

And he tried to ludicrously enough break the influence of the Parti Communiste. And one of their leaders — I didn’t know about this incident till I read Kuisel — one of the incidents was he accused Jacques Duclos, a name you can forget, but he was an interesting guy who was leader of the Communist Party, of being a spy for the Soviets, and his proof was that they’d found two dead pigeons in the backseat of his car, and an autopsy on the birds, that he thought they were carrier pigeons that were smuggling, going to send secrets off to some Soviet spies, somewhere out of the country. And of course they did an autopsy on these birds and they discovered — I don’t know how you do this, do an autopsy; I didn’t want to be in the room — but they were not carrier pigeons but they were pigeons — people in France eat pigeons,pigeonneau, and that they simply — he had them in his backseat because he was going to take home and cook them, hopefully with lots of garlic, and to eat them.

And Jean-Paul Sartre, he said it at the same time, that if he had to choose sides in the Cold War, he would choose the USSR. Now Sartre, like lots of fellow travelers, were delusional about what had happened in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, who’s terribly important in the rise of feminism, as I’m sure you know, she came to the U.S. in 1947 — she had been in 1947 — and she liked the sort of dynamism of the American economy, and she liked its freedom, but she was immediately suspicious of racism in the United States, in the 1940s and the 1950s, as indeed in our own time, sadly, though not as much, was a time of racism; and she said so, she came right out and said, and that became a part of the anti-American discourse. Because when the Americans would get holier than thou about how people in Europe treated their minorities, all you had to look to the United States, where I can think back to my own childhood when the three freedom workers were so brutally murdered in Mississippi; and they would point to that.

Chapter 4. The Coca-Cola Expansion [00:21:57]

Now, what about the role of Coca-Cola in all of this? I imagine you may have seen Coca-Cola a few times in your lives. It became — it still is so identified with America, and it probably is, I think it’s fair to say, the single item that is most identified in the rest of the world with the United States; that you couldn’t talk to people in France or anywhere else about baseball and you could not talk to them about hotdogs, although this strange thing emerged in the 1960s called le hotdog, which are two sort of miserably, almost frozen frankfurters with some sort of god-awful cheese put on them, and put in what was then the equivalent of a microwave; but it was Coca Cola. And as you know the product was created I think in the late 1880s. It’s very hard to get into the archive, though Kuisel managed to do it, to get into the Coca-Cola archives; afraid you might find that recipe. And of course I think somebody told me that cocaine was put originally into Coke, at the beginning of it all.

Let me give you some examples how Coke and American view of itself and view of the world came to be. “We will see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents wherever he is and whatever it costs,” was what Coca-Cola had to say about the relationship between soldiers if they survived the Bataan death march and whatever, and that was it. Coca-Cola actually sent people as “technical observers,” a phrase they used, to see where bottling plants could, after the fighting ended, be set up in Europe. One U.S. soldier wrote a letter in which he said, “to my mind I am in this damn mess as much to help to keep the custom of drinking Cokes as I am to preserve the million other benefits our country blesses its citizens with.”

Sixty-four bottling plants were set up in Europe after the war, immediately after the war, within a couple of years. They expand to Belgium and Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1947, also to Switzerland and Italy, and then to France in 1949. The Olympics of 1950 were held in Finland, in Helsinki, and there was not yet — had not yet been time to build a Coca-Cola plant. So, what they did is they got a hold of some D-Day landing vessels, filled them with Coca-Cola, and the Coca-Cola Company landed on the shores of Finland, literally, with all these publicity material and with 720,000 bottles of Coca Cola.

Now, the chairman of — I didn’t know this either until I read Kuisel — the chairman of Coca-Cola was James Farley, who was a former aide to Franklin Roosevelt and thus he was very — had good contacts, and he was a militant anti-Communist who identified the drinking of Coca-Cola with democracy. The Soviets and in their satellite states did not drink Coca-Cola but good old Americans drank Coca-Cola. Now, you’re going to run into huge lobbies in these countries. In Belgium you’re going to run into the beer lobby, terribly important. In the Pays-Bas, in the Netherlands, you’re going to run into the beer lobby, and in France you will run head on into that lobby you already know something about, the wine lobby, which in a way is neither Left nor Right, but — it’s neither Left nor Right, it’s a little more complicated than that. And they tried to stir up popular action against Coca-Cola.

A Communist paper in Italy said that drinking Coke would make children’s hair turn white and therefore you shouldn’t do that. In Austria The Communist, the biggest communist newspaper in Vienna, wrote that Coca-Cola plants, by virtue of the machines they used, could be easily transformed into plants capable of turning out nuclear bombs, and so that good Viennese and good Austrians should avoid the “insidious, numbing drink.” Cokes had begun to arrive in France after World War One but only in very small numbers and in extremely fancy cafés. And, so, the Coca-Cola — Kuisel got into the archives to find all this — Coca-Cola marketers divided France into six regions and figured they should anticipate each person drinking six Coca-Colas per year. The problem is that foreign investments, such as building plants, required the permission of the Ministry of Finance; and that all this anxiety comes along.

The Ministry of Finance gets involved in all of this business, the debate reaches the Chamber of Deputies in the 1950s; and also this merges with other fears of other American products. John Deere — some of you may be from Illinois, isn’t that where John Deere is made, the tractors and all that — and that is by far the biggest successful company in marketing machinery that’s been part of the French agricultural revolution since World War Two; but of course the little producers in France were against John Deere as well. It also comes at a time, as you know, of widespread outrage of intellectuals and filmmakers against the Hollywoodization of French movie theaters, and because France, its idea and attitudes towards their own movies has always been that as its attitudes towards almost all industrial production, that France makes these fine little products of quality, and the arrival of, God-forbid, the Charlton Heston’s of the world and John Wayne and all this stuff — so, these debates are going on among intellectuals and film watchers, et cetera.

These debates just go on and on. Radio stations in France now have to play a certain percentage of French music, as opposed to Bruce Springsteen, and the Stones, and whatever; they have to have a certain percentage. And, so, there is still this paranoia that English or French music or other kinds of music coming will wipe out what’s left of the French music industry, and that people won’t play Jacques Brel anymore, or Georges Brassens, or Léo Ferré, or Johnny Hallyday, who anyway who was born Belgian and he has his own problems, so it has nothing to do with it. But, yet, when there are these debates it seemed like the ties between Coke and the U.S. Government were even stronger. Coca-Cola demanded that the U.S. State Department intervene in some way to stop this kind of uprising against the arrival of Coca-Cola.

U.S. papers went wild. “Coca-Cola was not injurious to the health of American soldiers that liberated France from the Nazis, so that Communist deputies could sit in session today,” was one editorial in a U.S. paper. You can’t spread the doctrines of Marx among people who drink Coca-Cola. The dark principles of revolution and a rising proletariat may be expounded over a bottle of vodka on a scarred table, such as in Morry’s or some place like that, or even a bottle of brandy, but it’s utterly fantastic to imagine two men stepping to a soda fountain and ordering a couple of Cokes in which to toast the downfall of their capitalist oppressors. And so it went.

But Coca-Cola arrived in France, it got permission to be produced in France and to be drunk in France, and still is, though often by American tourists in France. I have been on several occasions in really good, and in one case even great — and this is not dissing Americans, forgive me — great restaurants and seeing Americans ordering Coca-Cola with their four or five-course meal. And that does make me sad. Does it make me sound like a snob? I’ve seen people drink milk, too, and things like that. Anyway, what can I say? I shouldn’t get so involved in all this stuff. How did people like Coca-Cola? A poll, a sondage — the French take to American polls, do these polls all the time; sondage is the word for a poll — in 1953 said that only seventeen percent of people who drank it liked it, and sixty percent not at all, and the other ones couldn’t remember because they’d gone on to something else, drinking something else I guess. But the dykes began to break and millions of Cokes are sold every year in France, as everywhere.

Now, this is just an aside but this is the same case as in Africa; the debates have not been the same but one of the interesting things, and I think sad things about the places I know in Africa — which are very few, but I have family members who know Africa pretty well — is that the domination of Coke, particularly in places that are Muslim, in which people don’t drink alcoholic beverages, the domination of Coke, and Fanta, which are very, very expensive, for people who have almost no money, and the Fanta sort of becomes the equivalent of a celebration with champagne in France, or the United States, or some places where people drink. And, so, some of the same issues, some of the same debates are there, and these companies just make zillions off these drinks. And I’m not criticizing these companies, am I? I guess I don’t know. But, anyway —

Chapter 5. Anti-americanism in Architecture: Against Skyscraperization [00:32:39]

Now let’s talk about some of the other aspects of anti-Americanism before I end in fifteen minutes or so with the obvious ones, today. Well, architecture, for example. Many of the debates about preservation, about keeping Paris, Poitiers, anywhere you want to name, the beautiful center of Strasbourg, the way they have always been, have involved fighting against the skyscraperization, if you will, the gratte-cielsles gratte-ciels, the skyscrapers in France. In the late 1960s there was a huge debate over the Tour Montparnasse. And the Tour Montparnasse is right on the — it’s where the Station of Montparnasse is in Paris, it’s right beyond the Boulevard Montparnasse there; was built with the enthusiastic cooperation, if not money in the pockets, of George Pompidou, the President of France, who said, “we must renounce this outmoded aesthetic” — that’s an exact quote.

And, so, the big battle over the Tour Montparnasse which is — here I give my own view but, mon vue — it is a hideous building that is a blight on the skyline of Paris. And it’s said the only thing good about it is you can’t see it when you’re viewing Paris from the top; and they have the elevator that shoots up to the top; and it destroyed — well, anyway, what can one say, it’s an obvious thing. Now, people that defended the Tour Montparnasse, which is identified with Chicago and the skyscrapers, would say, “well, look, well people criticized the Tour d’Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower when it was built in 1888 and 1889”; and Zola was among those who signed saying this is awful, it must go. And it is part of what people go to see. Now, people do not go to see the Tour Montparnasse because the Eiffel Tower represented changes in industry and steel and iron and all this stuff, and the Tour Montparnasse just represents kind of an American approach to architecture that the traditionalists found wanting.

And, so, what they did subsequently is they built La Défense, which is outside of Paris but you can see it if you stand, for example, in the Tuileries, or around there; you can see it beyond the Arc d’Triomphe — and that’s where lots of business is, that’s the kind of Americanization of French architecture and business. But generally the French have been very good of trying to protect Paris from the planners who would destroy the way the place looks with an Americanized kind of architecture. There’ve been other problems too. The constructions at Place d’Italie and the Tour Montparnasse became only the most famous.

And appropriately enough, these kinds of battles to protect Paris against this kind of architecture have involved the far Right, conservative Right; not the faisceaux, the fascist Right, but the far Right, like my late friend Louis Chevalier, a very conservative man, who was the greatest historian in Paris, or my friend François Laurier who’s now head of the committee to preserve old Paris — with people on the Left, like sort of the French equivalent to me, against the Center, against the kind of planners who just want to make money. But other aspects of Americanization — the word pavilion in France — people wanted to have their houses in the prosperous suburbs at best, at Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse, for example, most — or the suburbs, in the time we’re talking about, until 1945, are miserable places, but that people in Saint-Germain en Laye in the west of Paris or Versailles, you know what, they wanted to have their pavilion which was a big kind of modern Americanized house with all these things — cell phones, refrigerators, all this business, swimming pools and lawns.

What could be more American than lawns? Now, the vast majority of the people who live in the Parisian region do not live in houses, they live in apartments, and the vast majority live in buildings that they do not own — or, not the vast majority but the majority do. But that became a big issue. The television, the television — people thought that television would destroy France. I used to say that when Charles de Gaulle died, finally, Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, he died of boredom watching French TV; because French TV, which has some of the best stuff around but also has some of the worst, just talk shows that go on, and on, and on, it’s just numbing. But also they took all these things that I’ve never watched in my life, like Dallas, that used to be a big show and all these things; I have no idea what they are. But people — even our very dear friends, you go there and they’re watching this stuff.

Well, TV’s not just American, but that whole kind of culture was identified with America, and intellectuals didn’t like that very much; people should be reading books — and they should be reading books too, but who am I to say? I watch ESPN hours every day and every game that’s on, so I can’t really say I don’t watch TV. Clothing, it used to be — the first years and years that I was living in France or went to France, you could tell who was an American in about one second by looking at their feet; I don’t spend a lot of time looking at people’s feet but you could tell the way they looked because they wore tennis shoes, and tennis shoes now are called baskets. But now everybody wears them the same way. And jeans the same thing, because there weren’t jeans in France; now everybody wears jeans.

Chapter 6. Americanization and Globalization: From Village Markets to Supermarkets [00:38:19]

I can still tell who’s American and who isn’t, usually. But the clothing that was identified with America was seen as being somehow un-French. And of course there’s the big war between France high couture of French fashion and trying to preserve, as Milan tries to also, and they’ve been very successful at that. But clothing was one thing as well. Euro Disney, what can one say about Euro Disney? Somebody called it a cultural Chernobyl; Chernobyl was the big nuclear plant that blew up in Kiev — and certainly the idea of Mickey Mouse and Goofy and all these people. And you go and you — I’ve never been there, I would never walk in the place; you spend cinquante balles, you’ve spent, what, fifty euros to get in and so your kids can get sick eating American cotton candy. But, again, people go over the top. Or McDonald’s, ha ha. McDonald’s, which started in France really in the ’80s. Burger King tried and failed.

Now, McDonald’s is a big issue, and José Bové, who came to Yale a couple of years ago — José Bové is a guy who now — who became identified with the struggle against McDonald’s. He actually lived two years in L.A., though he speaks English — I wasn’t here when he came, my daughter was a translator for him, and introduced him and all that. But he’s the one who led the struggle to try to first of all to preserve his part of the Aveyron, Larzac, against making it a strafing practice range for the French Air Force, and has gone after McDonald’s, as representing the globalization that’s going to hurt local commerce. Now, McDonald’s has tried to compromise in some ways, and if you go get a McDonald’s — and I won’t go in the place; well, I shouldn’t say that because we’re recording this, but I haven’t been in years in France — but they have these little salads with a few pieces of goat cheese in it, to go along with the two million calorie burger, and all that.

But what José Bové did is that he and his friends went up and broke up — didn’t hurt anybody, but they sort of trashed a McDonald’s in Millau, which is Aveyron, in the south, right near this huge, huge bridge, the biggest span bridge in Europe. And of course he went on trial and he became a presidential candidate, and I guess — my daughter said he was a great guy. But McDonald’s became an issue. And I said, “well, maybe it won’t work.” But McDonald’s, because you can eat cheaply there, because everything’s so expensive in France, so expensive, they’re always just — well you could drive by, there’s one in Auvergnat, there’s one everywhere; they’re always full of people eating whatever it is they eat there. So, it became a symbol more important than the reality, McDo — McDo, comme on dit en français — became a symbol of globalization, first of Americanization and then of globalization.

And then what comes along now but Starbucks. There’s three or four. There’s one in the Marais in Paris, there’s one I saw in — some are on Opéra, and there are a couple of other ones there, and they soon will be everywhere. And evenhyper-marchés, supermarkets; now, people don’t just hate supermarkets anymore, but they used to. The big ones are Leclerc, and Auchan, and Mamouth and all these — Leclerc is probably the biggest, I mean the upscale version, after Marché. Now, I remember in the 1970s that people thought that supermarkets were just terrible things. Why? Because they were going to, and did, destroy local commerce, that most villages now do not have the little épicerie, that grocery store, that made it possible for old ladies just to walk the equivalent of a few hundred meters to buy their milk, and now they can’t do that anymore. Now, it’s more than just the disappearance of a way of buying food, it’s the disappearance of a place where you get together and exchange news in the morning.

Our grocery store disappeared about ten years ago, or about eight years ago, because everybody goes to the super-marchéhyper-marché, super-marché, c’est la même chose. Though the other thing that it could attack, could interfere with, but has not as much as we feared, were markets, the Saturday market, the Wednesday market; the Saturday and Wednesday market, depending on the size of the town, that are all over France. And in fact people still, even young people your age, still have a sense that you’ve got to protect — you’ve got to save the market and you’ve got to — the people that produce there, that bring what they produce in their fields there, buy goats cheese, picodons, whatever, wine from producers directly.

And that’s part of the ambience, that’s what’s great about living in France, or living in Germany, or living in Pays-Bas, or living anywhere, in Belgium. And, so, many people will go and buy the big things of milk and the big items, paper towels and all that, but then they will still go to the market, not just for a trip of nostalgia but because the products, they know they’re buying from people they know and all that; so that fear probably turned out to be less than one had worried about.

Chapter 7. Purity of the French Language: The Threat of Franglais [00:43:28]

And then of course there’s the question of Franglais. Every about, oh, maybe five, or six, or seven years, somebody in one of the ministries gets it into his or her head that Franglais has to disappear from the vocabulary, the official vocabulary, the administrative vocabulary of France. Franglais is the absorption into daily parlance of words that are non-French, of which — the first one that really took over, at least in my memory, was le weekend. And there were attempts, I think under Giscard D’Estaing, and there’s one even more recently under early stages of Jacques Chirac’s presidency, to send stern circulars around saying in a correspondence you shall not use le weekend, but you’d rather use la fin de la semaine, the end of the week. Well, that lasted a matter of days because that’s simply not terribly practical.

English words began to permeate, with a sort of chic sense of being cool, the French language — le drugstore. I can remember around Paris Saint-Germain, at the metro there, en face, right across there was le drugstore; and it was, it was a pharmacy and it had your basic green flashing light saying it’s a pharmacy, but they also sold all sorts of things. It was almost like anticipating a supermarket, and the term was le drugstore. It wasn’t une pharmacie or la pharmacie, it was le drugstore. And people debated that. You could go on and on about this. I’ll just give you a couple of examples; these are obvious ones, I just wrote them down because they’re obvious.

Après les sweaters; a sweater d’hivervoici les fully fashioned des beaux jours; new, c’est smart, s-m-a-r-t — voilà —votre shopping club, le veritable wash and wear, les drinks de gens raffinés, the drink of people who are refined. Now, this had already started to happen in the 1890s with certain terms, as I suggested when I was talking about Émile Henry, that began to — the long drink, for example — that began to infiltrate the French language. The hotdog became thechien chaud, in these times of these various commands. But basically with globalization and with the American cultural dominance, these attempts are basically just putting small fingers in very large dykes.

Why did it matter so much, all of this? It’s because France is no longer a great power, and intellectuals and lots of other people in France, including me, are determined that French culture retain its place in the world. And I am chronically sad to see another supermarket go up where there already have been two of them; it saddens me terribly to see the golden arches almost everywhere now, and Subway, which is a chain I actually happen to like a lot, and those are becoming all over the place. So, we’re fighting against the ways that cannot be halted, but in a way may not be all a very bad thing, so long as a sense of perspective is maintained; and that often was not maintained in the early days of the almost hysterical battle against the mounting empire of Coca-Cola. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation, see you next time, and Go Blue.

[end of transcript]

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