Hey, fellas, the “garage”? Well, la di da, Mr. French Man!

Another not so substantive post…perhaps two quasi-posts equal one decent one? Probably not. But I wanted to share the following anyway, not because of its political content. I’m going to do my level best to steer clear of modern American politics where I can. But this bothers me, on many levels, and it ties in to an earlier post ( “Victory? What the hell is that? We don’t even have a word for it!” ). And yes, I do know it’s not all that current. Over a week old, in fact. It’s still awful. Newt Gingrich revealing that … oh Lord … Mitt Romney has a vague familiarity with spoken French! Perhaps the flipside of the time-honored and completely wrongheaded “France-as-perpetual-loser” in warfare — France as the most effete of all European states (and they’re all pretty effete, by this line of reasoning), and any familiarity with French culture is, for an American (and American males in particular), a sign of weakness and elitism. Probably a sign of being just a tad un-American, too. Nothing’s more un-American than someone puttin’ on airs and thinkin’ he’s better’n us. And nothing says that like Mitt Romney clumsily / dutifully reciting “Bonjour, je m’appelle Mitt Romney.” [Of course Gingrich was offended; Romney sounded like a native, didn’t he? I almost expected him to continue in singsong: “Où est la gare? La gare est en face de la pharmacie!”] Ah, partial mastery of first-year high-school French — truly the most damning affectation a candidate for president could sport.

It’s funny, given how once Americans admired everything French — and uncritically so, too — that our francophobia is now so deep-rooted that some of us automatically distrust anyone who shows anything resembling familiarity with French culture. It’s hardly a new thing — witness Frederick the Great’s affinity for French music, language, and literature, and how his father, King Frederick William I of Prussia, regarded that taste. [In a nutshell, not well at all.] Oh well. C’est la vie.

Oops.

About Paul Lockhart

I'm a history professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio...and I write books about history.
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4 Responses to Hey, fellas, the “garage”? Well, la di da, Mr. French Man!

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  2. Kate says:

    Didn’t Gingrich write his dissertation on something to do with Belgium? Wouldn’t mastery of French be, like, the bare minimum a person would have to demonstrate for a respectable university to hand over a doctorate in Belgian history? Mind-boggling.

  3. Yup…”Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960″ or something similar. So, I would consider it not at all unfair to assume that Gingrich has a considerably better command of French than Romney does. Or at least of Walloon, so maybe it doesn’t count. But then maybe it does. Americans have heard of French; not many have any idea what Walloon is. Anyway, here’s an interesting tidbit on Gingrich’s dissertation, albeit from a not-especially-friendly source (the economist Robert Paul Wolff; click here to read the original in its entirety):
    “Although the dissertation is written entirely in English, the footnotes give evidence that Gingrich had a quite adequate command of written French. [The only word in the entire dissertation not in English or French is misspelled — Weltanschauung with only one “u” — page 205, line 2] Gingrich relies heavily on secondary sources, with especial attention to the work of Ruth Slade and Roger Anstey. However, he has clearly made extensive use of Belgian public documents, including reports of Parliamentary debates. There is no evidence in the text that he traveled either to Belgium or to the Congo, and he seems not to have interviewed any of the principal actors, Belgian or Congolese, even though the dissertation was written only a handful of years after the departure of the Belgians from the Congo.”
    Interesting, huh?

  4. Pingback: I eat babies! « Paul Lockhart: Past in the Present

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