This column means a great deal to me, and so do its readers. With that in mind, it was not so difficult for me to make somewhat of a sacrifice last week: I went to Paris. I figured that would be the best way to find out the answer to the question, What Do The French Really Think Of Us?
Like all my previous surveys, the science of statistics did not get in my way. If you want to read a legitimate survey, check out a CBS News Poll. They're done by hard-working, serious experts who actually did well in math. If you just want to be entertained, continue to read.
My methodology consisted of writing questionnaires in French, then giving out as many of them as possible. I stopped people on the street, in the metro, and in cafes. Most were happy to answer the questions. Those who were too busy or didn't feel like it apologized profusely. Where were the French who are notoriously hateful and rude to Americans? I didn't find any.
The attitude of the French people toward President Bush was not nearly as negative as some would guess, either. In fact, only 58 percent actually feel that George W. Bush is more dangerous to the world than Osama bin Laden.
Seventy-one percent think that John Kerry will win the election, but a staggering 99 percent hope that Kerry will win. In fact, out of all the people surveyed, only one Frenchman said he hoped Mr. Bush would win. Curiously, that same person felt that President Bush is more dangerous than Osama bin Laden. Apparently this guy believes the most important features in a leader are being strong and feared, and not caring what the rest of the world thinks. (I know I've seen that attitude elsewhere, but I just can't remember where.)
In terms of what might help U.S.-French relations, many of the people suggested logical, but dull, things such as encouraging visits and teaching people about each other's culture. But 20 percent thought it would be a good idea for Presidents Bush and Chirac to switch jobs and countries for a couple of months. I'm sure both of them would be greeted with flowers and parades.
They like that American tourists have a sense of humor, a "good attitude," and that we love to eat French food. The thing they dislike most about American tourists is not our "arrogance" (29 percent), not our language (21 percent), but our opposition to smoking (50 percent). This is from a people who go directly from the teething ring to the cigarette.
American food is only a favorite among only 6 percent, but 94 percent like American movies, television, and — again — our "attitude towards life."
You know the way many Americans say, "Everyone in Paris speaks English. Some of them just pretend they don't know how?" Well, turning that cliché on its head, a surprising 27 percent thought that American tourists pretend to know less French than they let on. (I'm definitely not one of those American pretenders.)
For those of you who are shy about trying out your high school French in Paris, 72 percent prefer it when tourists try to speak French even when it's not very good. That makes sense. Most of us probably prefer it when people come up to us on the street and speak English, rather than babbling in some language that they assume we know. So, go ahead and try out your Francais avec, uh, avec them.
One hundred percent of those responding to the survey said they would like to visit the United States. I hope that if they do, we'll be just as hospitable to them. And I hope they'll get used to our food.
No survey about the French would be complete without going into the most important French art — sex. When asked the question, "Who is more obsessed with sex?" 50 percent said, "the French," while only 29 percent said "Americans." The other 21 percent? That group was, "People who take surveys and polls." They might have underestimated that last statistic.
P.S. Those of you who are interested in women's fashion should know that the color brown and very pointy shoes are in this year.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
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