Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
FRANCE, APRIL FOOL’S AND LOUISIANA
After a week in Paris, four things are quite apparent. The French despise George Bush, really like Barack Obama, love Louisiana, and delight in playing April fool’s jokes. Seriousness was put aside yesterday as the French continued the traditional they believe they started with a whole array of practical jokes.
One of their weirder April First traditions is pining a fish to each others’ backs. In fact, many Gaullists call this first day of the month Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. The tradition’s origin? Some say it’s the start of spring when many new creatures are born, including fish. Others say it’s because this date comes under the star sign of Pisces.
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly was snookered last year by falling for an April First tongue in cheek news report from The Paris Business Review that American boycotts of French goods had cost the French “billions of dollars.” O’Reilly fell for the gag hook, line and sinker and ranted on about how “there will be more boycotts of France that will hurt the country enormously.” Many think O’Reilly never caught on, or was too pompous to admit he had been taken.
This year’s April First focus pranked the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who remains popular along with his new willowy ex-model wife Carla Bruni. She is taller (and much younger), than the French leader, so headlines have blared “Docs to Stretch Sarkozy in Pioneering Surgery “in an all out effort to make him taller. Newspapers even printed photos of “How it Works” graphics showing a man on a torture-style stretching bed, and listing the official government spokesman as one “Luc Bigger.”
Besides their propensity for spring humor, virtually every French citizen I encountered had strong opinions on the economy and their feelings towards the U.S. I talked with cab drivers, restaurant waiters, hotel general managers, shop owners and a cross section of business men and women. They were generally in agreement on the following views:
They like the new President, and have high hopes that he can clean up the mess they attribute to former President George Bush. The French never warmed to Bush. He was considered arrogant, and they felt bulled his way into Iraq sucking the French in to a war thought they had no desire to do so. :”You Americans think we have to follow you in lockstep and you always throw World War II in our face. But that was 65 years ago, and you don’t live under the threats we face today. But you continually demand allegiance.” This was a refrain I heard continually.
And we are still the butt of french-fry jokes. “I hear you now have ‘freedom fries’ in the U.S. So, do you eat our French bread, or that stale white sliced stuff that has no taste? And did you give up French kissing?”
When I mention Louisiana, there is always affection and concern. Every Frenchman either has been to New Orleans, or seems anxious to visit. Katrina always comes up, and the French cannot understand how, in their opinion, Louisiana received so little rebuilding help from the government. “How could Bush and Washington abandon you in Louisiana like they did?” It was hard for me to explain.
President Obama began a six day series of meeting throughout Europe yesterday, and even the average Frenchman is aware of his presence and his star power. There are high hopes, like the Kennedy days or the best times of Bill Clinton. “It’s a big job to clean up everything that Bush did,” said Nayla Morin, a 52-year-old psychologist from Paris. “He is a good man and he has star quality. The French people love him. He will be very welcome here.”
Obama goes into this week with a good hand to play. As a French lawyer told me: “America is the key to straightening out this economic mess, because what America says matters.” There is a strong feeling that Obama needs to spearhead a global response to the economic crisis. “He comes to the table with an untarnished reputation as the new leader of the world’s largest economy. We have hopes and we expect for him and the U.S. to take the lead.”
The last time the new president was in Europe, he was a candidate and was accused of being a celebrity-politician. He still is, but the stakes are much higher today . It’s a good time to be an observer here now. Springtime, April in Paris and all that, along with a chance to gage the European response to the economic crisis at hand. No Poisson d’Avril yesterday, but Dover sole and other prime choices for lunch each day. Barcelona for a few days, then back to Louisiana. I’ll be ready for some crawfish.
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” —President George W. Bush, Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State ofLouisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. .Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) fromNew Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.