The Ugly American In France
The following advisory for American travellers heading for France was
compiled from information provided by the US State Department, the
Central Intelligence Agency, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Food and
Drug Administration, the Centres for Disease Control, and some very
expensive spy satellites that the French don’t know about. It is
intended as a guide for American travellers only.
NO GUARANTEE OF ACCURACY IS ENSURED OR INTENDED.
France is a medium-sized foreign country situated in
the continent of Europe. It is an important member of the world
community, though not nearly as important as it thinks. It is bounded
by Germany, Spain, Switzerland and some smaller nations of no
particular consequence and with not very good shopping.
France is a very old country with many treasures, such as the Louvre and
EuroDisney. Among its contributions to western civilisation are
champagne, Camembert cheese and the guillotine.
Although France likes to think of itself as a modern nation, air
conditioning is little used and it is next to impossible to get decent
Mexican food. One continuing exasperation for American visitors is that
the people wilfully persist in speaking French, though many will speak
English if shouted at. As in any foreign country, watch your change at
France has a population of 54 million people, most of whom
drink and smoke a great deal, drive like lunatics, are dangerously
oversexed, and have no concept of standing patiently in line. The French
people are in general gloomy, temperamental, proud, arrogant, aloof, and
undisciplined; and those are their good points.
Most French citizens are Roman Catholic, though you would hardly guess
it from their behaviour. Many people are communists, and topless
sunbathing is common. Men sometimes have girls’ names like Marie, and
they kiss each other when they hand out medals.
American travellers are advised to travel in groups and to wear
baseball caps and colourful trousers for easier mutual recognition.
In general, France is a safe destination, though travellers are
advised that, from time to time, it is invaded by Germany. By tradition,
the French surrender more or less at once and, apart from a temporary
shortage of Scotch whisky and increased difficulty in getting baseball
scores and stock market prices, life for the visitor generally goes on
much as before.
A tunnel connecting France to Britain beneath the English Channel has
been opened in recent years to make it easier for the Government to flee
France was discovered by Charlemagne in the Dark Ages. Other
important historical figures are Louis XIV, the Huguenots, Joan of Arc,
Jacques Cousteau and Charles de Gaulle, who was President for many years
and is now an airport.
The French form of government is democratic but noisy.
Elections are held more or less continuously, and always result in a
run-off. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into
regions, departments, districts’ municipalities, cantons, communes,
villages, cafes, booths and floor tiles. Parliament consists of two
chambers, the Upper and Lower (though, confusingly, they are both on the
ground floor), whose members are either Gaullists or communists, neither
of whom is to be trusted, frankly.
Parliament’s principal preoccupations are setting off atomic bombs in
the South Pacific, and acting indignant when anyone complains. According
to the most current State Department intelligence, the President now is
someone named Jacques. Further information is not available at this time.
The French pride themselves on their culture, though it is not
easy to see why. All their songs sound the same, and they have hardly
ever made a movie that you would want to watch for anything but the nude
scenes. And nothing, of course, is more boring than a French novel.
Let’s face it, no matter how much garlic you put on it, a snail
is just a slug with a shell on its back. Croissants, on the other hand,
are excellent, though it is impossible for most Americans to pronounce
this word. In general, travellers are advised to stick to cheeseburgers
at leading hotels such as Sheraton and Holiday Inn.
France has a large and diversified economy, second only to
Germany’s in Europe, which is surprising because people hardly work at
all. If they are not spending four hours dawdling over lunch, they are
on strike and blocking the roads with their lorries and tractors.
France’s principal exports, in order of importance to the economy, are
wine, nuclear weapons, perfume, guided missiles, champagne, high-calibre
weaponry, grenade launchers, landmines, tanks, attack aircraft,
miscellaneous armaments and cheese.
France has more holidays than any other nation in the
world. Among its 361 national holidays are 197 saints’ days, 37 National
Liberation Days, 16 Declaration of Republic Days, 54 Return of Charles
de Gaulle in Triumph as if he Won the War Single-Handed Days, 18
Napoleon Sent into Exile Days, 17 Napoleon Called Back from Exile Days,
and 112 France is Great and the Rest of the World is Rubbish Days. Other
important holidays are National Nuclear Bomb Day (January 12), the Feast
of St Brigitte Bardot Day (March 1), and National Guillotine Day
France enjoys a rich history, a picturesque and varied
landscape, and a temperate climate. In short, it would be a very nice
country if it weren’t inhabited by French people. The best thing that
can be said for it is that it is not Germany.
A word of warning:
The consular services of the United States government
are intended solely for the promotion of the interests of American
businesses such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and the Coca-Cola Corporation.
In the event that you are the victim of a crime or serious injury
involving at least the loss of a limb, report to the American Embassy
between the hours of 5.l5 am and 5.20 am on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and
a consular official who is supremely indifferent to your plight will
give you a list of qualified dentists or something similarly useless.
Remember, no one ordered you to go abroad. Personally, we always take
our holidays at Miami Beach, and you are advised to as well. Thank you
and good luck.
This page was last updated September 1, 1998.