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EDITIONS
Monday, 28 October, 2002, 12:24 GMT
Anti Americanism
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In the UN Security Council negotiations over a new resolution to deal with Iraq, the Americans have barely been able to hide their pent up frustration towards the French - who first opposed attacking Saddam and then irritatingly put forward a plan for two resolutions, thus trying to put a brake on President Bush.

But this isn't one way traffic. Jon Sopel reported on the growing anti Americanism seeping through France.

JON SOPEL:
These American ladies in Paris are at the Table de Francoise, a cookery course to give them that certain "je ne sais quoi" in the kitchen. They love Paris, and they love France.

UNNAMED WOMAN:
It's fabulous. There are so many things here that are better. I love it here.

JON SOPEL:
But it's not an affection that is always reciprocated.

UNNAMED MAN:
There is a general tendency to think that Americans are dumb, they have culture because they are a "young" country.

JON SOPEL:
This is a much smaller version of the Statue of Liberty, a scaled-down copy of what the French people gave the Americans to mark 100 years of US independence, but also to mark US-French friendship. The two countries went through revolution at roughly the same period, and would appear to have much in common. But the relationship has always been marked by mistrust, resentment and paranoia.

NEWSREEL:
Here are more Americans on their way in. Fierce fighting lay ahead of them beyond the beaches...

JON SOPEL:
The two countries have a deeply interwoven history, and it was the Americans, with the help of the British, who saved the French from Nazism in 1944. Thousands of Americans died during D-Day and the battles which led to liberation. Historically, you would imagine the French might feel they owe the US a huge debt. Instead, they feel a burning resentment that France, once a superpower, is not what it used to be.

DOMINIQUE MOISI:
(French Institute for International Relations)

When France was a great power, America was a nascent power. When America became a superpower, we became a middle-size power. And today, America is the hyperpower and we're not in the same league. So, at the same time, we feel the competition for universalism is still going on, except they've won the battle for power and language.

JON SOPEL:
Anti-Americanism has never been so rife or fashionable. Three of France's top-selling books today dwell on one theme - French animosity towards America.

PHILIPPE ROGER:
(Author, 'The American Family')

Whatever the presidency, whatever the political events, whatever the particular state of affairs between France and America at the given time, you would always find the same basic reaction against everything American. Everything coming from America, in terms of foreign policy or at the cultural level, would be taken very suspiciously.

JON SOPEL:
The man tasked with waving the stars and stripes of the US in France is Howard H Leach. The Ambassador thinks anti-Americanism is much exaggerated.

HOWARD H LEACH:
(US Ambassador to France)

What is it we mean by "anti-Americanism"? Does it mean that we as people don't like each other? I don't think that's true at all. Does it mean that we don't agree on some issues from time to time? Of course we don't always agree on issues. Both France and the US are leading countries of the world. We're involved with many things on a global basis. On some of those issues, France and the US are going to take different positions.

JON SOPEL:
After September 11, this area outside the US embassy was carpeted in flowers. But the grief wasn't universal. I saw two old ladies holding up a banner saying, "The French will never forget what you did for us during the Second World War." But there were younger people saying the Americans got what they deserve. They were also wearing Nike trainers, Levi jeans and Gap tops.

And then there's that most ubiquitous of American brands, McDonald's. When a band of anti-globalisation protesters smashed up a burger bar under construction a couple of years back in the south of France, they became overnight folk heroes.

The leader of the Peasants' Alliance, Jose Bove, was sent to prison. This is how he presented himself at the prison gates. He now faces another stretch inside, after destroying a field of genetically modified crops.

JOSE BOVE:
(Leader, Peasants' Confederation)

People are angry now about the power of the US Government and angry against the power of the big corporate companies, because they understand that what's happening with those two powers is globalisation. Economic globalisation and military globalisation. This can break everything. People could be put out of their work and the country could be put in a war that people don't want.

JON SOPEL:
And what these French students at the Sorbonne really can't stand is the assumption that they must all learn English while no-one bothers to learn their language.

When you were in Washington, did you find anyone who spoke French?

UNNAMED WOMAN 2:
Yes, a French person who lived close to me.

JON SOPEL:
Any Americans?

UNNAMED WOMAN 2:
No. The wife of this French person - that's all!

HOWARD H LEACH:
I wish I could speak their beautiful language, but I can communicate well with the people.

JON SOPEL:
Not even the US Ambassador to Paris speaks a word of French. So much for the lingua franca. And this was George Bush's reaction when a US journalist did his best to ask President Chirac a question in French at a joint news conference.

JOURNALIST:
(HE ASKS A QUESTION IN FRENCH)

GEORGE W BUSH:
(President of the United States)

Wait a minute! That's very good. The guy memorises four words and he plays like he's intercontinental! I am impressed. Que bueno! Now I'm literate in two languages!

JON SOPEL:
But for many in France, there are wider concerns about George Bush.

JOSE BOVE:
When we see the Kyoto agreement, they don't want to go with him. Inside of the WTO, the United States says, "OK, we agree with what's happening, but if it goes against our interests, we get out." On each problem, they do the same thing.

JON SOPEL:
The American ladies have now finished their cookery lesson and it's time to sit down to lunch. Time too, to discuss some of the shortcomings of the French.

UNNAMED WOMAN 3:
It is difficult to get a French person to understand that you need a little bit of extra service, or that there's a problem. It's usually the French person telling you that, "You've got the problem. It's not my problem."

JON SOPEL:
But for all the problems of getting decent service in a shop or restaurant, these Americans are struck by the richness of France's history.

So, does this angst-ridden relationship simply boil down to a French superiority complex based on centuries of culture, literature and art? Or an inferiority complex, that where once the French cockerel strutted, it's now the American eagle soaring high?

HOWARD H LEACH:
I would never accuse the French of having an inferiority complex, because they are very proud of their culture, history, their beautiful language. Because of this pride, they view themselves, correctly, as one of the world powers today. They clearly are a world power.

DOMINIQUE MOISI:
They are superior in terms of power, but we are superior in terms of essence. They do more, but we ARE more. And, of course, there is an element of wish in that statement.

JON SOPEL:
Even in Parisian street names, US influence can be felt. It's something, however unpalatable, the French are going to have to learn to live with. The Eiffel Tower may still dominate the skyline, but America dominates practically everything else.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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Jon Sopel
"Anti-Americanism has never been so rife or fashionable"
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