Web Letters | The Nation

Dear France, We're So Over

La France est une femme

The opinion of the French concerning DSK is not what you are pointing out: you think that the French people are keen to defend DSK, who is offensive to women. On the contrary, the French people condemned DSK and criticize their own justice system.

As a matter of fact, we always criticize. As you know, we are culturally arrogant. We are also, as you know, surrender monkeys. And indeed, the French are always keen to protect the weakest.

Our heroes are losers: Joan of Arc was burnt alive by the English; beloved bicycle champion Poulidor never won the Tour de France; our national symbol is a chicken.

In the DSK case, widespread French public opinion is impressed only by the women crying “Shame on you” at DSK in front of the courthouse.

Indeed, the French used to be sans-culottes fighting the kings.

Please remark that, after we established a Republic (1792), England, Prussia (Germany), Italy, Austria, all attacked the French. Please note that we fought alone. There was not a single American helping us. Exceptionally, because we were arrogant by that time and not able to afford culottes (pants/trousers), we managed to win.

For this reason, what impresses the French is that the poorest women of the richest city are protesting against injustice. The French are not opposed to women. The French are all black women. France is a woman. Sans culotte.

I am very sorry you have bad feelings about French male chauvinism. I do not believe we are really like that. Most of our favorite people are women: besides Joan, we admire Marie Curie in science, Simone Veil in politics, Lady Gaga and Céline Dion in pop music, etc. I hope you will change your mind.

Thierry Vallaud

Fontainebleau, FRANCE

Jan 7 2012 - 10:19am

Dear France, We're So Over

Quelques petites précisions

Katha Pollitt writes that “masses of [French women] are on tranquilizers—twice as many as French men, and one of the highest rates in the world.” Highest rates of tranquilizer consumption? Highest rates of tranquilizer consumption by women?  Interesting info, I hadn't noticed.

I have lived in France for fifty-one years come September, and I certainly do agree, for the most part, with this argument. Frenchmen can be the best sports in the world, and then again... Thank you, Katha Pollitt, for so articulately exposing one of their problems. If you've never taught high school, and haven't developed the kind of glower that would discourage a charging bull, you don't want to live here while female.

Two little things: “mort d'homme” means loss of human life. You don't want to take that too literally, maybe? We still use “mankind,” don't we? And I can assure you that French women eat very well, and still don't get fat. There's a difference between being overserved and trying to finish your plate, and enjoying a delicious meal with friends and/or family, and knowing when to stop. Anne Sinclair is not exactly representative, as you see. But I’d bet a lot she eats well. And a bigger thing. If we did in fact presume innocence, would Mumia, Troy and who knows how many others be on death row for decades, while people fumble around trying to make them prove it?

Eileen Osmond


Jun 10 2011 - 10:17am

Dear France, We're So Over

Adieu, Katha

Madame, Je suis touchée que vous ayez aimé mon pays dans le passé (once upon a time…) et navrée pour vous que vous ne l’aimiez plus. C’est dommage, pour vous uniquement et surtout, car personnellement je continue à penser que c’est le plus beau pays du monde. Bien sûr, tout comme les Etats-Unis et tous les pays du monde, nous avons notre lot de pauvres types, dont ceux que vous avez mentionnés font partie, c’est une évidence et je les méprise autant que vous. Mais il ne faut pas tout confondre et faire des amalgames désastreux, surtout quand on est journaliste et ou écrivain comme vous. De là il n’y a qu’un pas que les gens qui vous lisent et qui pour certains sont moins éduqués que vous franchiront pour se mettre aussi à détester notre pays et revenir aux freedom fries et autres réactions infantiles. C’est dommage, car nous avons été élevés dans l’amour de l’Amérique et la gratitude à son égard… Si vous nous détestez nous serons bien obligés de nous défendre, vous imaginez le désastre! En fait vous aurez mis de l’huile sur le feu pour vous faire un petit—tout petit—plaisir éditorial qui fera beaucoup de tort. Nous nous passerons donc désormais de votre amour et de vos visites, heureusement nous avons beaucoup d’amis américains installés ici qui adorent toujours mon pays et qui s’y sentent bien ! Et nous les apprécions énormément ! Vive la France et vive l’Amérique et notre amitié éternelle, même si c’est sans vous ! Bien à vous,

[Translation: I am touched that you loved my country in the past (once upon a time) and heartbroken for you that you no longer love it. That's too bad, first and above all for yourself, for personally I continue to think that France is the most beautiful country in the world. Certainly, just like the United States and any other country, we have our share of bad apples, including those you have mentioned—that is clear, and I despise them as much as you do. But it is wrong to mix everything up and make disastous amalgams, especially for a journalist or writer like yourself.  It is then all too easy for your readers and especially those less educated than you also to begin to hate our country and return to  "freedom fries" and other infantile reactions. Yes, it's too bad, for we have been raised in the love of, and gratitude toward, America. If you detest us we will still be obliged to defend you—you can imagine the disaster! In fact, you will have put gasoline on the fire in order to obtain a little—very little—editorial amusement that will do much damage. From now on we can live without your love and your visits—fortunately, we have many American friends living here who continue to adore our country and who are quite happy here! And we appreciate them very much! Vive la France, and long live America and our eternal friendship, even if it is without you! Sincerely yours,]


Elisabeth Lando


May 31 2011 - 9:17am

Dear France, We're So Over

Rhetorical non sequiturs

Dear Madame,

I understand your article to be a gloss and for such it is allowed, even required, to be satirical and/or pointed a wee bit over the top. I agree with your criticism regarding perp walks and such, as well as that “creeps” are unbearable and must not be tolerated.

You ask, “What is the point of having all those smart, cultivated, social-democratically inclined secular people if it turns out they are such self-satisfied creeps?” I cannot believe that that question has been seriously meant, but assume it is merely rhetorical and intentionally provocative.

I would volunteer and venture this simple answer:
(i) It is infinitely better to have smart, cultivated and secular (although I am fine with non-secular minded people, provided they realize that the age of Enlightenment actually happened a couple of hundred years ago and do not close their minds to that) people than not. France definitely tries its best to produce such good people.
(ii) Of course, not every male in France is a creep, neither of the elite nor anywhere else. There are bad sheep in any system, no doubt, but judging the whole by a couple of bad examples is not only unfair but entirely beside the point. With that logic you could invalidate every single political or (by extension, at least) any other system.

Allow me to be frank, before you venture comparisons of legal systems even at such an on-the-very-surface level I should like to suggest better research and, even in a gloss, a more measured commentary by a journalist. You form opinions, I hope noone follows yours on that comparison as it is—at most—a sad prejudice unsupported by fact.

The argument in legal science regarding the comparison of procedural systems is a long and old one. Both systems can fail, evidently. Remember, not November in this case, but the Scottsboro Boys case. A hopefully completely in the past example, still a good example of how a justice system with a jury can fail abysmally. A jury (i.e., basically a peer review) is no guarantee for justice but can be misused and will be tactically employed. A non-jury system lacks the “off-the-street”-peer review element, but will not work any less. I do not think that you will find more human rights or fair trial principle breaches in French than in US-American courts. Prove the latter and only then you may have a point there.

Allow me a more even simple conclusion than the one you offer or seem to allude to: For all the possible failings and present pitfalls of any legal system, both the French (as any continental) and the US-American (as any English-based), as indeed any under the rule of law, hence at least any western democratic, are equally suited to deal with legal cases. The techniques may be different, the aim is the same.

I think on the whole you are cutting France unfairly short in your article and give examples to support the arguments in your gloss that are unsupportable.

Even if Strauss-Kahn has done what is alleged (and you rightly point out the good rule of presumption of innocence), and even though there are, you are right there, comments, by late-middle-aged men mostly, in France that are not even medieval, this does not invalidate the French education system. It does not invalidate French culture. It does not invalidate the French legal system or show that any other system is better. It is not a proof of the superiority of the jury system over the non-jury system.

The important question I think is not what happened in that hotel room—that is simple, it is either a crime or not – but how society and the media in France and, indeed, in the United States as well, deals with sexual harassment and the accused.

I think that you—or anyone else—can very well afford to continue to like France (please note that I am neither French nor particularly francophile myself). I will.

PS: Smart, cultivated, etc.—what you meant is good—people should also not be reduced to come from and will not reduce their vision to the social-democratic persuasion but should be tolerant and see that there is value in any non-extremist stance for a society and for democracy to work (be that in France or the US; both are great democracies). I thought that The Nation stood for that. Should I be wrong in my view, I apologize for this post scriptum. Should I not have erred I fear, Madame, that then you have sadly overshot by undue reduction and a show of intolerance.

Hendrik Haerterich

Frankfurt, GERMANY

May 27 2011 - 9:54am

Dear France, We're So Over

Bon travail!

Mme Pollitt, c'est magnifique. L'esprit d'Olympe de Gouges vit encore!


Joanne Callahan

Garland, TX

May 27 2011 - 12:29am

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