Originally created 02/23/03

France has given us many things, but not support



Sarcasm is the safe alternative to expressing anger.

- Richard North Patterson

When I traveled to Europe several years ago, an experienced vacationer advised me to drink the water only in France.

When I asked why, he said, "There's a good chance no one's ever bathed in it."

That pretty much sums up the current mood of many Americans toward the country that gave us the Statue of Liberty, but now gives us a lack of support in our current confrontation in the Middle East.

Ah, yes. The French. We stereotype them as stinky, arrogant underachievers who might talk a smooth game, but don't come through when that game is on the line (say, a world war).

The best story making the rounds, as reported by The Washington Post, has Texas Congressman Tom DeLay asking a French diplomat, "Do you speak German?"

When the puzzled Frenchman says no, the American adds, "You're welcome."

Most of us get his point, which is when France gets into trouble, America comes through. But when America could use a hand, we can't get our beret-wearing buddies out of the cabaret.

This is too bad because the French have given Western civilization some of its greatest thinkers: Rousseau, Voltaire and my favorite, Rene Descartes, who came up with the creative speculation that perhaps we don't really exist - maybe we just dream that we exist.

This, of course, took the country by storm and everyone was walking around pinching each other (a practice still common in Paris today) because they weren't sure if they were dreaming or awake.

Finally Descartes settled the whole business by proclaiming that if you think (dreaming or not) you therefore exist.

"Cogito ergo sum," he said in Latin. (I think, therefore I am.)

After this, everyone relaxed and went back to taxing the peasants, who returned the favor by dreaming up the French Revolution.

Two hundred years later, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and African-Americans have all added to the assorted celebrations of American culture. The French, however, disdain such participation.

And that's a shame.

Say what you will, but if not for France's valiant assistance during our own war for independence, we might be speaking English today.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.