French bashing alive and well in parts of America
Two years after relations between the US and France soured over the Iraq war, French-bashing in America appears alive and well in light of a recent ad campaign by a fast-food chain linking France and cowardice.
The ad by the Subway chain touted a cordon bleu chicken sandwich with the words “France and chicken, somehow it just goes together”. A photo of a chicken dressed like Napoleon accompanied the advertisement.
Subway ran the ads in about 10 US states for nearly a month and pulled them in September following an outcry by members of the French expatriate community and other customers offended by the racist undertone.
Mark Bridenbaker, a spokesman for Subway, which has outlets in France, defended the campaign telling AFP it was aimed at lauding French cuisine.
“The perfect match of French cuisine and the Subway chicken... that was the intent of this advertising,” he said. “But once we realized that people were taking offense, we removed everything from stores right away.”
Others, however, say the ads are evidence French bashing has become well-ingrained and perfectly acceptable among a segment of the American population.
They say that though diplomatic relations are on the mend following the spat over Iraq, and French fries, rather than “freedom fries”, are back on restaurant menus, anti-French sentiment still runs high in parts of the country.
“Saying that the French are dirty or cowards is a little bit like saying the sky is blue. Nobody is going to contest it,” said Denis Chazelle, a long-time French resident of the Washington area who created a web site in March to try and dispell misconceptions about his native country and who led the campaign against the Subway ads.
“I think (French bashing) is worse now than it was two years ago because, although it’s not as relentless as it was, it has become a lot more accepted and part of the landscape,” he added.
Chazelle said had Subway run an ad campagin targetting Mexicans, Israelis or Italians, it would have faced a boycott and management heads would have rolled.
“But if it concerns the French, it’s no big deal,” he said. “People here can say they hate the French without blinking an eye or an afterthought.”
Marc Saint-Aubin du Cormier, another French native who created a website to monitor anti-French sentiment in the United States and Canada, agrees.
“There is a kind of anti-French streak in the background of the culture of America,” he told AFP.
He pointed to several recent examples including comments by a talk show host for the Fox news channel who derided French aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Another Fox commentator lamented a day before the July 7 terrorist attacks in London that the International Olympic Committee had “missed a golden opportunity” because, if France had been selected to host the 2012 Olympics, terrorists would “blow up Paris, and who cares?”
Chazelle and Cormier said one reason such comments largely go unnoticed is because the French expatriate community in the United States is fairly small and has no active lobby groups.
They said though they were heartened by the fact their action against the Subway ads paid off, although they believe they face an uphill battle in changing negative public opinion about France.
“I am not very optimistic,” Chazelle said. “I think French bashing is here to stay.” afp