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Thread: Do the French deserve their reputation as weak-kneed?

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    Question Do the French deserve their reputation as weak-kneed?



    In the U.S. the French are the butt of jokes. Often they are depicted as just simply the weakest or most cowardly in the world. I am not saying that is an accurate description or that it is even deserved. I am just stating that as how they are depicted in U.S. popular culture -- especially in humor.

    One joke that has been going the rounds and sticks in my mind is about the recent opinion that some think the world has now entered the beginnings of a World War -- i.e. WWIII. However, the humorous reply to that is,

    "Nonsense! It isn`t a World War until the French surrender."

    I am particularly interested in the views of other Europeans. Do the French have the same reputation as being weak amongst other countries in Europe, too?

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    I think that the French are only depicted as "weak" or "coward" in the USA. This is probably some state propaganda to divert the attention from internal problems by criticising another country. Now that you mention it, it reminds me of the way the Japanese like to make fun of, or criticise China. In both cases it is due to a more or less unconscious complex of inferiority (at least one that people are not ready to admit).

    I don't see how France could be seen as "weak" when it is the most politically dominant country within the European Union. Even Germany, that has a bigger population and economy, usually binds to French decisions (well, maybe French politicians are smooth talkers ).

    Yesterday again we saw France take command of the UN troops in Lebanon. Bush was grateful for that, as he knew his budget couldn't afford to deploy more troops there for the moment. Most of the time France is clearly more active and influential on the international scene than bigger countries like Japan, China, India, Russia or Brazil. I don't know how that fits in the American view of "just simply the weakest or most cowardly in the world", when it is rather one of the most powerful nation on earth. Contrarily to Britain, Germany, Italy or Japan, France is the only major power allied to the USA who is not afraid of harshly criticising US policies when they disagree. Maybe that explains the anti-French propaganda in the US. There is maybe only one other country in the world that can tell the US to f*ck off : China. Let me remind you that France's population and economy is 5x smaller than the US... France appears as disproportionately strong for its size.

    France also had the 2nd largest empire ever (after Britain) in world history, and I believe that the "oh so powerful" USA nowadays still envy that title to France (if not ordinary folks, at least some imperialist or militarist politicians). France has not had a reputation for being "soft" on the colonised populations in the late 19th and 20th century (before that it was better than other European colonial power). Just look at the way they massacred Algerian separatists in the 1960's. The UK was generally much less violent in its late colonial approach.

    But maybe Americans see the French as cowards because they expected them to do all the job in fighting the Brits during the American war of independence, or because Napoleon just sold off 1/3 of the present USA to the young and weak American government, when reason would have commanded to use this as a base to reconquer the former British colonies instead of attacking Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain (each more populous and much more militarily powerful than the USA at the time) all at the same time !

    I know that many Americans like to make fun of France for its momentarily weakness in WWII. But you have to understand that Europe was devasted by WWI and people just didn't want to pointlessly fight anymore (as WWI was all about pointlessly dying for your country, without anything to gain but some vague "glory"). France was actually quite clever not to resist to Hitler's troops because the government knew they were not prepared and would loose anyway. They avoided unnecessary casualties. But France was far from the only one to give up without much fighting. All of Europe did (well, the half that wasn't allied to Nazi Germany) except Britain and communist Russia. As a result both countries suffered much more material damage and casulaties. I think American just do not realise how powerful Nazi Germany was. After all they fought against half of Europe, including what was still the world7s two biggest empires (Uk and France), against the USSR and the USA. The USA didn't even manage to fight the USSR properly during the Cold War. If Hitler was powerful enough to give serious problems to the USSR, USA and UK combined, how could neighbouring France, just across the Rhine, recovering from WWI and disabused by war, do anything ? Nevertheless the Gernan occupation of France was only partial (about half of the country) and French people suffered much much less than Eastern Europeans, because the Germans were attracted (if not fascinated) by France. I believe that the French chose wisely to let German troops in after 18 days of fighting, as they preserved the country's historic heritage and many lives. Taking that decsion would have taken much more courage than one would think.

    One joke that has been going the rounds and sticks in my mind is about the recent opinion that some think the world has now entered the beginnings of a World War -- i.e. WWIII. However, the humorous reply to that is,

    "Nonsense! It isn`t a World War until the French surrender."
    I am appalled by so much ignorance. The French won WWI without ever surrendering. Most of the fighting of WWI took place in France, and more French people died than any other Entente country. Talk about cowards, the Americans didn't even join the war until it was almost finished. If you look at WWI casualties you will see that France has lost 1,415,800 people (+ 4,266,000 wounded) in the war against 126,000 (+234,300 wounded) for the USA. Almost laughable contribution of the US, thank you. Romania and Serbia lost respectively 3 and 4 times more men in WWI than the USA.

    It is only once you understand that about a third of the male population of France under 50 years old was either killed or wounded in WWI that it becomes clear why the French people didn't want the same to happen all over again 20 years later.

    Yet France did suffer more casualties (including civilians) in WWII than the so proud USA, who again came when the enemy was very weakened (by the USSR and internal revolts within occupied Europe). Again, who are the cowards who always show up when they are sure to win. The USA has always chosen to participate in wars in which they were sure to win, either because the enemy was exhausted, or because the enemy was so much smaller and weaker militarily (e.g. Panama, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq...). The only exception is Japan (well it was only half the size of the US population-wise and less advanced technologically...), but that was because they were attacked.


    That is by hearing such "American jokes" about France that Europeans have such a low opinion of Americans (especially their knowledge of history).

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    Sometimes in the UK they are referred to as "Garlic eating surrender monkeys", but most of the British humour towards a 'coward' nation goes to Italy not France. The British do, however, take the piss out of the French whenever possible, but when you consider that the two countries have been at war at one time or another for almost 800 years then a little friction still remains. During then Crimean war a British General kept refering to the Russian enemy as the French, despite being allied to them.
    Just as a side note I did hear a joke about the French and their updating of their terror alert. It has been upgraded to Run Away. They do have two higher grades: Surrender and Collaborate
    I have found, though, that Americans are more touchy when a joke is made about them rather than other nationalities. Germans normally take things in good humour (I know, shocking, Germans with a sense of humour) as my grandfather found out while a POW during the war. Again Americans were the butt of German jokes. One he told me from his imprisonment was "We (the Germans) come over to Britain and bomb your towns and you all duck. Then you come over to Germany and we all duck. Now the Americans have come over, everybody ducks"

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    I agree with just about everything you wrote, Maciamo. Personally, I don`t view the French as cowards. I view them with gratitude for their help with our independence. And, I think it was childish of parts of America that renamed "French Fries" to "Freedom Fries."

    My point in innitiating the thread was to see how other Europeans view them -- and if other Europeans use them as the butt of jokes with "coward" as the theme. Mycernius confirmed that Brits do. But, if some more mainland Europeans could vouch for the view that you have of them, then at least I would know that as far as Europe is concerned, only Brits have the same view as many in America do -- well at least that of the comedians and some political pundits -- which seem to have large access to the popular political culture.

    Perhaps RockLee or some other Europeans would proffer their view on the French as to how they are seen in humor by the majority of thier countrymen.

    Replying to Mycernius: I always enjoy harsh socio/political humor at America`s expense. But, I know what you mean -- there are those flag waving Americans who just can`t laugh at themselves or their country.

    Maybe someone has a good joke where a French man and an American go to heaven and ... well... you know how those kinds of jokes go...then we can laugh at both together.

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    The views expressed above are as "neutral" as possible. I am not French, and just being a French speakers does not make me feel more French than an American would feel British or Australian or the other way round. There are in facts many jokes about the French made by French-speaking Belgians and many jokes about Belgians (in general, as many French have problems understanding the linguistic situation of Belgium) made by the French. But it is true of every neighbouring countries in Europe (e.g. between Scandinavians), and even within a same country (Flemish vs Walloons in Belgium, Catalans or Basque vs other Spaniards, etc.). These jokes are usually light-hearted, work both ways (just change the names), and rather childish (I heard them mostly in primary school). I have never heard any joke making fun of another country for being "cowards". Like Mycernius, my image of the most cowardly European nation would rather go to Italy (switching sides in both world wide when the tide changed, and never really contributing to the combats), or maybe Switzerland (never joined a war in many centuries) because of their motto "Vivons heureux, vivons cachés" (let's live happy, let's live hidden). But there are also many reasons to believe they are no more cowards than others (just more careful).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    or maybe Switzerland (never joined a war in many centuries) because of their motto "Vivons heureux, vivons cachés" (let's live happy, let's live hidden). But there are also many reasons to believe they are no more cowards than others (just more careful).
    Would you go to war against a country that has all your money?
    Quote Originally Posted by strongvoicesforward
    then at least I would know that as far as Europe is concerned, only Brits have the same view as many in America do
    In some ways the British and the Americans do share the same views about certain issues, but the US was a British colony and despite independance from the UK it still had a lot of influence over US growth and development.
    If I were to sterotype other European countries into personality types they would more likely be:
    French - Arrogant. Think they are superior but everyone else knows they aren't. Sneer at anything that is not French
    Irish - Stupid and naive. They are always the butt of English jokes if you want the idiot character
    Germans - Very precise and unable to deviate from a set of instructions, MIT NO SENSE OF HUMOUR UND SHOUT A LOT (Sorry, couldn't resist) A bad habit of starting land wars in Europe.
    Italians - Run away if you shout the word bang behind them. Argumentative
    The Spanish - Lazy. Always asleep
    Sweden - Obessessed about sex and freedom of having sex. Anything to do with sex
    The Dutch - Stoned with relaxed attitude to same sex relationships
    The Swiss - Boring. Analy retentive Germans who like cuckoo clocks
    Greeks - Greasy, slimy and untrustworthy
    Russians - Drunk on cheap Vodka. Immune to the cold. Infact they like the cold
    Beligians - Unable to drive a car around a corner. Too busy hating each other. Love chocolate
    Portugal - Maniac drivers. Sometimes mistaken for the Spanish
    Romanians - Thieving Gypsies or blood drinking vampires (I do not drink....vine)
    Norwegians - All wear viking helmets with horns on
    Austrians - They're Germans, aren't they? Seem to be very successful in getting the world to believe Hitler was German, not Austrian
    and my own people, The British - Stubborn, hate anything that is not British and love anything that comes from the age of steam (I don't like this French, metric rubbish. Give me miles, feet and inches any day of the week). Rude and offensive
    But the British can be sub-divided into the English, Scottish and Welsh
    English - Either working class from Yorkshire or upper class twits that have managed to spend the family fortune on pointless sports and pastimes. Very awkard with women. Retiscent to the point of appearing to be cold and aloof
    Scottish - Misers, all wear kilts, who hate the English. Infact every problem in Scotland has been caused by the English. The only good thing about England is that it seperates them from the Welsh (A Scotsman once told me this)
    The Welsh - Singing miners or inbreds that prefer a relationship with a sheep rather than a woman. Hate the English (For the reason see Scottish)

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    LOL! Oh, Myc, too many funny things above to quote and comment on.

    Btw, did you purposely leave out the Poles? I guess that brings me to another image/view of stereotypes wondering if Europeans view Poles as stupid or idiots like the butt of many jokes in the U.S. portray them to be??? I see that Myc listed the Irish as a "stupid" stereotype, so perhaps Europeans do not view Poles with the same humor as Americans (I have a good clean joke about an American, Frenchman and Pole running away from German Nazis if it is ok to post it [not sure because the rules don`t mention jokes based on nationalities. Let me know. Till then, I am holding off])

    Would you go to war against a country that has all your money?
    lol. Classic. But, perhaps I would if they froze my account.

    But it is true of every neighbouring countries in Europe (e.g. between Scandinavians), and even within a same country (Flemish vs Walloons in Belgium, Catalans or Basque vs other Spaniards, etc.). These jokes are usually light-hearted, work both ways (just change the names), and rather childish (I heard them mostly in primary school).
    In the U.S. there are the ongoing jokes about incest between Kentuckyans, Virginians, etc...(usually southern regions due to their past culture of marriages between cousins). In some aspects this stereotype may be justified in a general sense due past and some current culture.

    Like Mycernius, my image of the most cowardly European nation would rather go to Italy (switching sides in both world wide when the tide changed,
    Agreed. However, some may say that may make them the most practical or ... eeeerrr ... Machiavelon (best interests for yourself above all other principals -- bravery and cowardice be damned and not enter into the picture on decision making)[Yes, I know I have skewed the true meaning of the word Machiavelan a little].

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    The Poles have never really been sterotyped in the UK. As you might see that a lot of Eastern European countries aren't mentioned probably because of the years they spent behind the Iron Curtain and got lumped in with a general view of being Russians, but from other countries. Romanians are the exception because everyone associates Romania with Dracula.
    I'm not sure how other Europeans sterotype other countries, but I do know Germans do view the Austrians as inbreds and rednecks and the Austrians view the Germans as stiff necked and bureaucratic. I got drunk with some Austrians once and the only German with us got the piss taken out of her.

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    My American friends do send me jokes about the French now and then, and I don't like one of them. they are all very condescending.
    America was furious when France refused to send troops to Iraq, when France refused to blame Iraq as the cause on the drame in New York on the 11th of September 2001. The French were called cowards for not sending troops to Iraq, but the French government was absolutely right, the Iraqi had nothing to do with the attack on New York.

    I was not proud of our Dutch PM and his cabinet who has send our Dutch troops to Iraq to help America and England.
    Like France and Belgium, the Netherlands has to learn to give the U.S.A. a NO as a clear answer now and then.

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    I think it is quite a cheek for the US to have a go at the French and regard them as cowards. The US owes a lot to France, mainly its independance. I don't know how far their grasp for independance would have gone if they had not be supported by the French. They supplied arms, trained people, blockaded ports and gave the English another enemy to worry about.

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    I agree Elizabeth. America needs to be told "no" much more often.

    And Myc, everything you said is right, too. That is why I have trouble understanding why so many comedians and pundits in the U.S. target France as being cowards -- hence my reason for starting this thread to see if this was just a view held by Americans.

    -------------

    Got to go. Wife is making a new recipe and it smells wonderful. Think I saw some French bread on the counter about to be served up with it.

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    I think that France's cheap sale of its North American colonies (about 1/3 of the current land area of the USA) is as much for the Americans to be thankful for that the help France gave them to get their independence and be recognised as a sovereign country.

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    Yes Maciamo, I fully agree with you. And the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France as a seal for the American liberty.

    I always tell my American friends; "Tell as many jokes about the French as you wish, but don't forward them to me, I can't appreciate them".

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    I also get annoyed when I see france/the french depicted as sissies or what hav e you by the American media. In movies how many times do we see these stereotypes. Historically speaking france has alawys been a military force in europe and the world...let's not forget the 100 year war with Britain...the conquest of Europe by Napelon and furthemore. Today france has one of the best armies in Europe and even produces some of its own arsenal. Whilst the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany all collaborated to create the Euro fighter, France made its own fighter...raphael. The french arms industry is not to underrated and neither are their armed forces. They have a proud military history and is simply ignorance to consider them otherwise

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    I would like to weight in my 2 Euros.

    It's true,Americans are quick to jump on the French not any other European nationalities whenever France or any French is in disagreement with US foreign policy.I've read Richard Nixon name calling former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau as " bastard " for not going along with US in Asia affairs.

    To this day,I do suspect this baseless puzzling anti-French sentiment is rooted in America's ruling establishment has always been in the hands of Anglo-Saxon stock ( mainly UK descendants ).

    I've had little chat with an Eurasian girl on this issue,she wanted to understand on how I came to that conclusion and my answer was " blood-line ".

    The French is perceived as a challenge to " English " domination.
    Last edited by ricecake; 29-08-06 at 12:36.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ricecake
    It's true,Americans are quick to jump on the French not any other European nationalities whenever France or any French is in disagreement with US foreign policy.I've read Richard Nixon name calling former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau as " bastard " for not going along with US in Asia affairs.
    Are you talking about the French or the Canadians ? I don't think the Americans have problems with all French-speaking countries (Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, half of Africa...), but especially France.
    To this day,I do suspect this baseless puzzling anti-French sentiment is rooted in America's ruling establishment has always been in the hands of Anglo-Saxon stock ( mainly UK descendants ).
    Hard to believe when you see that more Americans are of German or Irish descent than British or "Anglo-saxon" (i.e. English). => see map
    The French is perceived as a challenge to " English " domination.
    That's probably a more valid reason. France is one of the rare countries in the world that can and has challenged the USA and/or UK.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo

    (1) Are you talking about the French or the Canadians ?

    (2 That's probably a more valid reason. France is one of the rare countries in the world that can and has challenged the USA and/or UK.
    (1) France's native Francois and Canada's Quebecois ( they're French ancestry ),America or American public generally don't have issues with other European nationalities somewhere it's always the French can rattle their nerves.I've seen one TV news clip with seated Ronald Rumsfeld at presence of German's FM Frisch on camera blasting US on Iraq military campaign,no one in America took offensive.

    (2) Good,we both agreed on this.Charles De Gaule challenged US currency world domination in early 1960's led to US Mint end circulation of silver coins in US society.

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    I have seen very rude comments made about French in websites; there is even a **** french.com!!!

    Quote:Would you go to war against a country that has all your money?
    lol. Classic. But, perhaps I would if they froze my account.
    Well, the Swiss can relax and never worry about terrorism conducted in their country since they have a lot of the money the terrorist organisations keep in secret.

    How about Finland, no Finn jokes?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ricecake
    (1) France's native Francois and Canada's Quebecois ( they're French ancestry ),America or American public generally don't have issues with other European nationalities somewhere it's always the French can rattle their nerves.
    Frankly, I do not see such a close link (genetic or cultural) between the "Quebecois" and the "Francais" (not "Francois", that's a given name). Language-wise Canadian French is so different from European French that it is sometimes unintelligible for Europeans.

    Culturally, Canadians are Canadians, be them from Quebec or not (I have friends from Quebec and I have been to Quebec, but their way of thinking is probably as different from the French as Americans are from the Brits).

    Even physically, it seemed to me when I was in Quebec that most of the Quebecois do not look French (and I am good at telling nationalities apart within Europe).

    Finally, there are more Americans of French descent than Canadians of French descent (not proportionally, but the US's population being 10x bigger...).

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    This thread is interesting and funny, too!
    I think it is wrong of the US to stereotype France as being a 'cowardly' country... Maciamo has already given a plenty good enough argument. Of course, every country has jokes about other countries like the stereotypes Mycernus posted ( ) which is only normal... most people know these are just a joke and don't take it serious at all. But to actually seriously try and persuade people to regard France as a cowardly nation is a bit ridiculous and stupid, it seems to me.

    In England people take the p!ss out of France and the French, but I think I've always regarded that as just a surface thing which is not meant as serious at all but happens because we're next neighbours, so... it would be pretty surprising if we got on well, don't you think?

    I think we are in fact developing a stereotype about Poles - we are beginning to think they are all plumbers. I lose count of the times I have heard people say "Polish plumbers" as a catch-all phrase for 'Eastern European immigrant workers'. I came across an interesting piece of stereotyping the other week, I was sitting at a dinner table across from this woman and we were talking and all of a sudden she says, "The Poles are ok, but those Bulgarians are pickpockets".

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    How about we make the point between the USA and France on who won and lost more wars ?

    USA

    Major wars won mostly alone

    - Mexican–American War of 1846-48
    - Spanish-American War of 1898
    - WWII in the Pacific
    - Gulf War of 1991

    Major wars won in coalition

    - US war of independence (won with France)
    - WWI (the US didn't actually do much compared to France and Britain)
    - WWII in Europe (the USSR did probably more than the US in defeating Hitler)

    Major wars lost

    - Civil War (cannot be considered as "won" with so many casualties)
    - Vietnam War (the longest war waged by the US)
    - Iraq War (the latest war waged by the US)


    France

    Major wars won mostly alone

    - Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)
    - War of Spanish Succession by Louis XIV (1701–1714 - alone against Europe)
    - French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802 - annexed the Benelux and Northern Italy, defeated the Austrian Empire)
    - Napoleonic Wars (1804-1814 - alone against Europe again)


    Major wars won in coalition

    - US war of independence
    - WWI

    Major wars lost

    - 1870 Franco-German War
    - WWII (although ultimately won thanks to allied supoport)


    Conclusion

    In coalition, the US and France won mostly the same wars, some mostly won by the US with some French support (US independence), and others won mostly by France with some US support (WWI).

    The US only managed to win a war alone against developing countries much smaller than itself (Mexico, Panama, Iraq, Japan in the 1940's). France regularily won against the strongest European powers of the time for many centuries. France also won against small developing countries, during the colonial period, and had much more colonies than the US ever had, even in the 20th century.

    The US was defeated by developing nations (Vietnam, Iraq) and by itself. France only lost twice, both to Germany, a more populous country of the same level of development.

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    Didn`t the French lose in Vietnam, too, prior to U.S. involvement?

    The battle of Dien Bien Phu and their defeat there decisively ended France`s colonialism, or their attempt at reimposing colonialism on their claims in Indo-China.

    In addition France lost Algeria in a devastating guerilla war of insurgency.

    Therefore, France has lost to developing nations as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by strongvoicesforward View Post
    Didn`t the French lose in Vietnam, too, prior to U.S. involvement?
    The battle of Dien Bien Phu and their defeat there decisively ended France`s colonialism, or their attempt at reimposing colonialism on their claims in Indo-China.
    In addition France lost Algeria in a devastating guerilla war of insurgency.
    Therefore, France has lost to developing nations as well.
    I didn't really count colonial wars, as they were all won (and kept for decades or centuries) before eventually being lost, so the score is kind of even.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I didn't really count colonial wars, as they were all won (and kept for decades or centuries) before eventually being lost, so the score is kind of even.
    The key word here is "won." For if the land was innitially colonized without a war, then it is a bit misleading to say they were won in a war (being "kept" is not "winning"; it is just a state of ownership). But yes, perhaps the score is even on this point. Or perhaps not -- if we throw in the defeat of the French by the slaves of Haiti.

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    Quote Originally Posted by strongvoicesforward View Post
    The key word here is "won." For if the land was innitially colonized without a war, then it is a bit misleading to say they were won in a war (being "kept" is not "winning"; it is just a state of ownership). But yes, perhaps the score is even on this point. Or perhaps not -- if we throw in the defeat of the French by the slaves of Haiti.
    The US has never managed to keep its "colonial" possessions for very long, be it in Central America (Panama, Nicaragua...) or in Asia (Philippines).

    The USA was already a major world power in the late 19th and early 20th century, during which time France built most of its colonial empire in Africa and Indochina. In fact, the USA was already more populous than France from the early 1870's. France's later colonial possessions were only acquired after the founding of the Third Republic in 1871. By 1910, the US population was over twice that of France.

    In conclusion, even so the USA had a bigger population and more natural resources than France, its military power and political influence was much weaker than France's between 1870 and 1918 (or even until 1945).

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