The French are hands down my favorite people and culture of the European countries. In college, I met a French girl and it turned into a serious relationship. So much so that after my first degree I moved to a city in the south of France called Toulouse to be with her for almost a year. We got “PAXed” thinking it would help me get my carte de sejour (long term visa) but after almost a year I still didn’t have one and I ended up returning to the U.S. to continue school. It was the first time I’d lived in a completely different culture and I hope my new French friends and especially my girlfriend’s family were as amused by me sometimes as I was by them.
I returned years later to live in France again as I was (and still do) work remotely, this time in Paris for a little over a year. The Charlie Hedbo attacks occurred during this time and the surging immigration crisis made it difficult for me to just slip in and out of France as they began electronically tracking your coming and goings. Americans can stay in the country for three months in and then three months out - and after getting being pulled aside by immigration as I was leaving for the U.S. I had to feign ignorance of the rule. I was told I would be fined or worse if I overstayed my visa again so that ended my long term stays.
After that, the Lib of the House and I got serious and eventually we got married but over the years we’ve still gone back to France each year for three months. We did two consecutive years in Toulouse followed by a stint in a little mountain village of Montolieu (population 800), and finally last time before covid was in a little post-industrial town of Sete on the Mediterranean. The point of all that is I’ve lived in the big cities as well as the small villages and I’ve gotten to know the French fairly well. I’ve given some fist pumps to the Yellow Vests while driving as they camp out on the traffic circle centers. I’ve had eggs thrown at the cab I was in when the driver didn’t realize he was entering a picketing area. They’re an amusing people.
They are also very nationalistic and even somewhat conservative when you get outside of the pro-E.U. cosmopolitan centers of Paris and Toulouse. The Lib and I always rent a car so we can visit all the small towns and villages around where we’re staying. We love the flea markets and small restaurants and they’re usually surprised to have two Americans visiting their tiny village that doesn’t have much going in the way of tourism. There will be Frexit posters in most of these villages and towns and you’ll even occasionally get the French person that would admit quietly that “Trump is not so bad”.
They’re also a very proud people and this goes for both people in the big cities or out in the country. One of the things I’ve always respected about the French is that they’re proud of being French and they’re proud of the role they’ve helped play in both the Western world and the global world, too. So it wasn’t really all that surprising to me when the New York Times published a story about French elites and their opposition to American “wokeness” with its desire to vilify a country’s history and diminish all of its social institutions and customs as racist and evil.
From the article: “The threat? ‘Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States,’’ said President Emmanuel Macron. French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. ‘There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister.”
This push back against identitarian politics really isn’t that surprising. Unlike American wokeness that tells immigrants they don’t need to assimilate and should keep their language and customs without integrating into American culture, France has been solidly focused on the opposite goal for twenty years now as it has struggled to integrate their large Muslim population deeper into French society by embracing French values and customs. Burkas are not allowed and full length swimming suits are not allowed. Possibly a bit heavy-handed but surely a push to make the large Muslim population more in line with the broader native French population.
Also, nationalism and pride in country is something that seems to be taking a broader grasp in Europe recently. The extremely populist government in Hungary was a first push back against the E.U. trying to override the laws of individual countries and the wishes of the citizens. Poland was the second big push back. Of course, with the recent departure of Britain from the E.U. one wonders if this trend is intensifying. Another possible reason for this push back from the French is there has always a bit of Anti-American sentiment anyways because how does such an uncouth culture became the world’s greatest superpower? The French have always been a little bit snobby.
It should be pointed out that France strikes a proper balance in admitting that some of its past history was not up to our common day standards without letting those past errors take away from the culture as it currently exists. Citizen’s of France are not going to tear down Napoleon’s tomb or begin renaming public squares like the madness you see over here. At least, let’s hope not. If France breaks that barrier there then the rest of the Western world isn’t that far away from the madness that comes from embracing the Far Left.