April 30, 2001

France: An American Touristís Guide

Note: Iíve been on holiday recently. I had two choices. Either I could follow up my investigative piece two weeks ago on the two British airmen killed "accidentally" on the Macedonian border, with a piece noting the strange co-incidence of another British soldier killed in the same area, this time by a landmine. I could marvel at the fact that this mine – attributed to the Yugoslav army – had been unexploded for at least two years before the border patrols designed to stop the KLA smuggling arms to Macedonia. I could also talk about the reports about the KLA – this time in southern Serbia – shooting down an unmanned NATO spy plane.

On the other hand I could post an offensive joke about the French and American cultures, that youíve probably already been sent by e-mail. And get into trouble with my editorial director for sounding too much like Jonah Goldberg. Why not, itís less work:


France is a medium-sized foreign country situated in the continent of Europe. It is an important member of the world community, though not nearly as important as it thinks. It is bounded by Germany, Spain, Switzerland and some smaller nations of no particular importance and with not very good shopping. France is a very old country with many treasures, such as the Louvre and Eurodisney. Among its contributions to western civilization are champagne, Camembert cheese and the guillotine. Although France likes to think of itself as a modern nation, air conditioning is little used and it is next to impossible for Americans to get decent Mexican food. One continuing exasperation for American visitors is that local people insist on speaking in French, though many will speak English if shouted at. Watch your money at all times.


France has a population of 57 million people. 52 million of these drink and smoke (the other 5 million are small children). All French people drive like lunatics, are dangerously oversexed, and have no concept of standing patiently on line. The French people are in general gloomy, temperamental, proud, arrogant, aloof and disciplined; those are their good points. Most French citizens are Roman Catholic, though you would hardly guess it from their behavior. Many people are communists. Men sometimes have girlsí names like Marie or Michel, and they kiss each other when they meet. American travelers are advised to travel in groups and wear baseball caps and colorful trousers for easier recognition.


In general, France is a safe destination, although travelers must be aware that from time to time it is invaded by Germany. Traditionally, the French surrender immediately and, apart from a temporary shortage of Scotch whisky and increased difficulty in getting baseball scores and stock market prices, life for the American visitor generally goes on much as before. A tunnel connecting France to Britain beneath the English channel has been opened in recent years to make it easier for the French government to flee to London during future German invasions.

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France was discovered by Charlemagne in the Dark Ages. Other important historical figures are Louis XIV, the Huguenots, Joan of Arc, Jacques Cousteau and Charles de Gaulle, who was President for many years and is now an airport.


The French form of government is democratic but noisy. Elections are held more or less continuously and always result in a draw. The French love administration so for government purposes the country is divided into regions, departments, districts, municipalities, towns, communes, villages, cafes, and telephone kiosks. Each of these has its own government and elections. Parliament consists of two chambers, the Upper and Lower, though confusingly they are both on the ground floor, and whose members are either Gaullists or Communists, neither of whom should be trusted by the traveler. Parliamentís principal occupation is setting off atomic bombs in the south Pacific and acting indignant and surprised when other countries complain. According to the most current American state department intelligence, the President is now someone named Jacques. Further information is not available at this time.


The French pride themselves on their culture, though it is not easy to see why. All their music sounds the same and they have never made a movie that you would want to watch for anything but the nude scenes.


Letís face it, no matter how much garlic you put on it, a snail is just a slug with a shell on its back. Croissants on the other hand, are excellent, although it is impossible for most Americans to pronounce this word. In general, travelers are advised to stick to cheeseburgers.


France has a large and diversified economy, second only to Germanyís in Europe, which is surprising because the French hardly work at all. If they are not spending four hours dawdling over lunch, they are on strike and blocking the roads with their trucks and tractors. Franceís principal exports, in order of importance to the economy, are wine, nuclear weapons, perfume, guided missiles, champagne, guns, grenade launchers, land mines, tanks, attack aircraft, miscellaneous armaments and cheese.


France has more holidays than any other nation in the world. Among its 361 national holidays are: 197 Saintsí days, 37 National Liberation Days, 16 Declaration of Republic Days, 54 Return of Charles de Gaulle in triumph as if he won the war single-handed Days, 18 Napoleon sent into Exile Days, 17 Napoleon Called Back from Exile Days, and 2 "France is Great and the Rest of the World Sucks" Days.


At least itís not Germany.

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