Not as much as you might think, argues The Economist in a long, Christmas-special piece about French anti-Americanism (article freely available to non-subscribers) :
In one 2004 poll, 72% of the French had a favourable view of Americans, more even than in Britain (62%) or Spain (47%). Some 68% of those questioned in another poll the same year said that what unites France and America was more important than what separates them. During the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2004, politicians were frosty, but the people at large showed an outpouring of gratitude to American veterans.
It’s true that there is a big gap between the view of the U.S. (pretty bad) and the view of the American people (quite good) in France, a sure sign that a substantial part of what is regarded as anti-Americanism is mainly driven by anti-Bushism.
One would have thought that the reelection of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have led French people to adjust their view of Americans downwards. But no: French opinion about the American people have improved between 2004 (53% favorable) and 2005, (64%) according to a Pew Global Attitudes survey released in June 2005.
The Pew survey contains other interesting findings, such as the fact that the European country in which the popular view of both the U.S. and the American people is the worst is Spain, and not France (maybe Edward will clue us in about why this is so). Also the astonishing finding that the French are the least inclined to think that Americans are “greedy” (only 31%, compared with 78% in… the United States) – although maybe this is due to a translation glitch, the appropriate French equivalents (such as “avide” or “cupide”) being somewhat dated words.
So strike one for the Economist: yes, French anti-Americanism is not as clear-cut as most people think it is (the reverse is also true, by the way). And yes, “France quarrels with America not because the pair are so different but because they are so alike“, each country being convinced of the universality of its national model. And yet the article is mildly infuriating, as only Economist articles can be.
First, I really would like to know in which French McDonald’s one can find a menu called “Le road to America“. From what I gather, it seems that there is a place in France where people use a peculiar language in which “pure” English words (i.e. never used in everyday French) are invariably preceded by “le”. Trouble is, only American journalists seem to be able to access it.
Second, and more substantially, the author falls in the common Economist trap of ascribing all that is bad (i.e. not as The Economist would like it to be) in any given country to the fecklessness of an out-of-touch elite:
Scratch the surface of the denunciations from on high, however, and French anti-Americanism is not quite what it seems. First, because it is an elite doctrine that is often not shared by ordinary people. Second, because it is used by the political class more as a scapegoat for its own troubles than as a reasoned response to real threats.
That’s a stretch, to say the least. On the one hand, the same kind of love-hate attitude towards America that is common among “ordinary” French people is also frequent among cultural and political elites. The same haughty French intellectuals that sneer at those gun-toting, bloodthirsty, materialistic Yankees are also avid consumers of American cultural products. Ask any journalist at the highbrow Cahiers du CinÃ©ma about his (rarely her) favorite filmmakers and chances are that a good number of Americans will be on the list. And not just David Lynch or Woody Allen, but also Hollywood insiders such as Steven Spielberg.
On the other hand, the idea that the belief in multi-polarism and the need to counterbalance American dominance is only shared by a small coterie located around the Quay d’Orsay is just plain nonsense. In fact; if the Pew survey is to be believed, common French people have been greedily drinking the Gaullist Kool-Aid as well (pdf) :
Fully 73% of the French want Western Europe to take a more independent approach from the
U.S. on diplomatic and security affairs than it has in the past.
85% of French respondents believe it would be better if the EU or another country emerged as a military rival of the U.S. â€“ more than any nation surveyed.
Amazingly (and somewhat disturbingly, considering the great success of French diplomacy in, say, Sudan), 64% of French respondents also trust “their own country” to stop genocide, the most in any country surveyed except the United States.
The distinct French view of the world, and of France’s role in it, that so annoys The Economist is thus not the preserve of a dying breed of Gaullist politicians. It is rather widely shared, for better or worse, by a vast majority of the French people. Not even the rise of a new, supposedly more pro-American, guard (i.e. Nicolas Sarkozy and its followers) would change that overnight.