By Patrick F. Cannon
Have you noticed the paucity of French names among your fellow citizens? We have numerous examples from Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Mexico, China, India – well, you name it, we have it.
But why no DeGaulles, Rollands, Petains, Chiracs, Foches, or de Lattre de Tassignys, for that matter? I have long puzzled over this, but in a flash of enlightenment (just in time for this article), the answer became clear. It’s simply this: the typical French person would chafe (is that a French word?) under the reasonable restrictions we place upon ourselves.
Of course, on our own continent we have the French speakers in Quebec. Notice that many of them refuse to speak English to their fellow Canadians (or is it Canadiens?), and have on several occasions tried to secede from Canada itself. Although you may catch sight of a Quebecer wintering in Florida, one suspects it’s only because they can’t afford Martinique.
I have been to France several times; indeed, I once spent a year there, courtesy of the United States Army. One thing I noticed almost immediately is that the average French person walks along with his or her head down, while tourists are looking up to gawk at the Eifel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. One reason, of course, is that they’ve seen this famous landmarks many times. But the main reason they look down is to avoid stepping on doggy doo, whose volume increases as the day goes on.
Now, to their credit the French are dog lovers, but the thought of bending over and picking up their poop would be anathema to them. This is the job for the municipal authorities, who hose down the streets and sidewalks early every morning, thus providing a clean canvas for little Fifi and her friends. No doubt also that there is the inevitable French union to make sure no one takes jobs away from the Pooperintendants.
As to smoking (who can forget film actor Jean Paul Belmondo with a fag dangling from his lip) the French have among the toughest smoking bans in the world, which apparently is routinely and increasingly flouted.
Here’s an example closer to home. Several years ago, my friend Jerry McManus was giving an architectural walking tour in Oak Park to a group from France. Not everyone spoke English, so they had an interpreter with them. As was customary, Jerry began with a list of simple rules (don’t walk on the grass, don’t look in people’s windows, etc,) before he started the tour. He noticed that the interpreter wasn’t passing these simple and sensible rules along to the group. When he asked why, he was told: “You don’t tell adults what to do!”
Now, we pride ourselves on our individual freedoms, but the French tend toward anarchy. They also tend to believe themselves far superior to other beings, although they don’t mind us as much as the English. They are willing to be among the barbarians for short visits, but the thought of actually immigrating to the outer world must fill them with dread. So, we can continue to stride confidently along our own sidewalks without fear (except perhaps near the French consulate or the Alliance Francais).
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon