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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Plus ca change in Franco-US ties

By Hugh Schofield
Paris

Nos Amis Les Francais
Funny how times change...
The French are corrupt, lazy and hypocritical. They run away at the first sign of danger and eat revolting cheese.

They are unscrupulous cheats and bad drivers; their women are immoral; and they smell.

At a time when Franco-American relations have reached rock-bottom over the war on Iraq, it is interesting to recall a previous outbreak of mutual loathing that took place nearly 60 years ago.

Why, GIs wanted to know, are French houses not equipped with proper plumbing?
Though the term "cheese-eating surrender-monkeys" had not yet been coined, the thought was certainly there.

The occasion was the end of the World War II, and the evidence is contained in a remarkable American document recently rediscovered and translated in France, where this summer it has sold out three print-runs.

Gripes

Originally named 112 gripes about the French - and re-titled today Nos Amis Les Francais (Our Friends the French) - it was a handbook issued by the US military authorities to GIs arriving in France after the liberation.

Gripe 6: We spend our time getting the French out of scrapes. Have they ever done anything for us?
By the end of 1945 the joy of victory had long since faded.

Instead there was mounting hostility between proud, poor, resentful "Froggies" and swaggering, dollar-happy "Yanks".

Brawls were increasingly common, and concern about a complete breakdown in relations had gone up to government-level.

The handbook for GIs was devised in order to defuse the tension.

Set out in a question-and-answer format, it posed a series of well-rehearsed complaints about the French and then to each provided a common-sense rejoinder - the aim of the high-minded authors being to bring Private Joe Shmoe to a rounder understanding of his hosts.

Prostitutes

Thus gripe number 6 is the classic: We spend our time getting the French out of scrapes. Have they ever done anything for us?

To which the answer from the hats in central command comes: "Of course they have. They helped us out of an even worse scrape. During the American revolution, when nearly the whole world was against us or indifferent, France came to our aid and was our greatest benefactor."

Gripe 48: I would like the French better if they were cleaner
Gripe number 71 shows how within months of the war's ending many American soldiers were comparing the French unfavourably with the defeated Germans: "We can get on much easier with the Germans because the Germans obey the law."

The answer: "Yes, the Germans obey the law - even when the law is barbarous. They obey their rulers - even when their rulers are corrupt, savage and obscene. They obeyed Bismarck, Kaiser William and Hitler. Would the French have obeyed such men?"

Away from the big issues, the handbook addresses more commonplace grievances such as resentment at the black market, French drinking habits, the cost of prostitutes and - several on this one - hygiene.

Garlic and perfume

Why, GIs wanted to know, are French houses not equipped with proper plumbing?

Answer to gripe 48: That is perfectly understandable
"The toilets are lamentable," goes gripe 42.

"In the metro it stinks of garlic, sweat and perfume," says gripe 46.

"Why are the attendants at public urinals always women?" goes number 63.

"I would like the French better if they were cleaner," says gripe 48, to which the authors can only reply: "That is perfectly understandable."

The section on politics also has a certain resonance today.

"All French politicians are corrupt," goes complaint 108.

The same view gets a regular airing in the US press today, but in 1945 the answer came back: "Saying that is as stupid as saying all American politicians take bribes. Some politicians - French and American - are corrupt."

Francophilia

Indeed a liberal view of the French informs the whole of the "official" part of the handbook.

While the grunts moan about the smells, the perfidy and the laziness, the authors betray a Francophile instinct that would sit ill in Washington today.

"Why should we care about the French? They have no weight in the post-war world," reads gripe 21.

The reply: "Beyond questions of honour and simple decency, it would be diplomatically and politically stupid to cut ourselves off from a nation of 40 million allies. One day or another, we may need their help again."


SEE ALSO:
French confront US 'smears'
16 May 03  |  Europe
Woody Allen promotes France
11 Jun 03  |  Entertainment



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