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March 11, 2003

What Kind of Total Disregard for Humanity Do You Have

It is not entirely clear who broke into the train garage reserved exclusively for lazy comedians and stole the locomotive labelled "Mocking the French." But, whoever it was, they have since pointed that train on a downhill set of rails, making it, effectively, a runaway. Anti-French sentiment seems to be reaching levels previously only reserved for Ishtar. It was clear something was getting a bit out of control when even Andy Rooney got into the mess, by arguing that France has not "earned" the right "to oppose President Bush's plans to attack Iraq." Rooney, as the Daniel O'Connell of France, then added that, "On the other hand, I have."

Have we all, to coin a question, gone mental? Should I be going to Salonica, ordering up a bunch of sides of golden, Belgian, scalloped, deep-fried sticks of potato love, only then to hand them out to passersby on 57th St as No War Care Packages? Rooney is not far from those crackpots suggesting that since France isn't grateful enough for our saving them in World War II, we should start limiting how much French wine we import. And yet, it's not like we've never turned our back on the French. As Simon Schama points out in last week's New Yorker, the French were rather miffed that we blew off the Treaty of Alliance with France of 1778--ratified while the French were, get this, saving our asses--by signing the Jay Treaty of 1794 with the English, who were the enemies of the French at the time. France so far is just making a lot of noise about how they don't like our policies--they have yet to create a military alliance with Iraq.

But in aligning with the English in 1794, we continued the precedent that has led to our taking up an old favorite pastime of Brits: mercilessly bashing the French. Centuries ago, the island folk mocked the fornicating tendencies of their neighbors across la Manche by calling VD "French measles" (which makes one suspect that German measles must be the kind of measles that lusts to take over the body totally). Who hasn't at some point made a crack about the love Jerry Lewis engenders in Paris? Who hasn't gone on derisively about cups of coffee and body odor without invoking our ranivorous sometime allies? Even while the US tried to reinvent the colonial wheel (tragically redoing the work of the French) in Vietnam, 2nd Lt. Steven Hauk scored points with his mincing character "Frenchy."

In full fairness, je m'accuse aussi; in sixth grade, I had to choose between studying Latin or French, and I chose Latin. I remarked to my friends that I had no interest in learning a language that was simply a nasalized collection of noises from le petit mort (though who knows, at age 11, how many orgasms I'd ever heard...). The real reason I chose Latin, actually, was since I figured I could always learn French on a whim à la David Sedaris: by moving to France with a Francophone boyfriend and learning it one word at a time while also publishing funny essays in Esquire and the New Yorker about how difficult it is to speak a language other than English.

So, speaking of orgasms, boyfriends, and the vanillitude of the Brits, are we now going to make the more prurient forms of osculatory embrace (ahem, "french kissing") illegal as well? I'm certain that the scolds who make up the Prod-rock band Johnny Ashcroft and the JD Prudes had been up late at night trying to figure out how we can limit la lucha de las lenguas long before detesting French delights became a cause célèbre. But aren't we, giddy with hate, losing sight of the fact, that, well, french kissing is really kind of fun?

We're all suckers for those soft dry bisous behind the ear, or down the side of the neck--those light poofs of air that signal a bit of coquettish intimacy. But every once in a while things have to heat up a bit and we need tips of tongues touching tenderly. This kind of embrace is the purest form of égalité available. By putting a bit of one person in another and the other way around, there's some delightfully serious sharing going on. Face it: french kissing is the two dots in the yinyang--that little bit of the other inside you that is equally reflected in the other. It's a good place to be, and, frankly, only the kind of anti-France sentiment brought on by the pool of Enforcers of Phallogocentric Normativity from which George Bush picks his advisers would want to make anyone hate on tonsil hockey.

So the next time you get close to your significant other and start in on a little of the good old oral fluid transfer, pause to wonder if, maybe, this anti-French sentiment is a little misplaced. Even if the French didn't invent the kissing that bears their name, it's because of their centuries of sluttiness that we associate the two. Sluttiness isn't all bad, France isn't all bad, and, as long as we lazily pretend either is, we must wonder if we'll deserve having people tell us Americans that, "vous êtes dégueulasses."