Two posts ago I posed a question or two, about what I perceive to be some conflicting data coming from three different sources of information, on France. And I have to say I got some lengthy responses that (predictably) differed, with some of the material that was presented. Rather than type out long individual responses in the comment section; I figured that by the time I was done, I'd end up with enough for another post. So, here it is.
While I think all of the commenters raise some interesting points, in their analyses, I think some may have missed the broader point I was getting at. Maybe I failed to make it clear. If so, that's my fault. And I apologize, if that is the case.
Let's look at the word perception for a moment.
Despite the fact that the Pew poll was favorable to the French and their attitudes towards Jews, there still is a perception that the French are biased against the U.S. and Israel. I showed some examples of the French media and their perceptions toward Israel and the U.S., as well as some instances documented by, and commented on, from a writer that some very much disagreed with. I countered it with the Pew poll.
One of the points I was trying to subtlely make was, despite the polls that showed otherwise, there were some instances that gave the perception that the French government and the French media were at very least, biased against Israel and the U.S. And I noticed in the responses, most responders that were critical of the article, spent much more time and effort trying to refute its contents, than trying to address the media quotes.
The French media (as well as the French government) are the mouthpieces of the French people. And in many instances that is all many people have to look to and consider, when trying to form an opinion on the situation. I do not think it matters much that one of the publications was/is owned by an American company, or not. They are French papers, printed and circulated primarily for French people. Anyone that can read French can read and understand them, but the people that do not speak French are at the mercies of the translators. So, regardless of ownership, they are French.
When they are negative towards Israel or the U.S., it doesn't matter who owns them. If they print anything negative, many in the world will interpret that as indicative of current values. I don't, because I know that the media is very often biased and very often does not reflect a true picture. (And I say that from personal experience with my own media.)
But many people do. Their perception is based on what they read.
Many French people have attitudes based on the very same principle, as what I described. They read the negative French press. They read the American versions that sometimes contradict the French version, many times by being counter-critical towards the French. And then they form their opinions based on that.
Why am I saying all of this?
The broader point (I think) is that instead of trying to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to argue and tear down the arguments of the other, the key to understanding and bridging the gaps between us, is understanding the differing perceptions, and why they are so.
Now, I have some thoughts on why I think their is a gap of misunderstanding between some people. If you think back in history, you will note that the US and France have always had a healthy rivalry and some level of competition. For as long as I have been alive, this has been the case. Go back to WWII and you can understand why we are at the point we are at, today. We have bickered and argued, but when the chips have been down we have been there for each other. Today is no exception.
Let's try something here that illustrates what I am saying.
Perception: Americans thought that DeGaulle's efforts to be less dependent on America after the war, were acts of ungratefulness.
Was that so? No. At least, I don't see it that way.
I think that he never wanted to allow France to get into a position it was in, ever again. Can't blame him for that. But I didn't just get my ass shot at for 2-3 years in a foreign land, trying to liberate people I didn't know, losing many friends in the process. A lot of the people that did, developed their attitudes based on their perceptions, at that time. They then passed those same values on to their children. Right or wrong, that was the reality of the situation.
Perception: America wanted to drive the train and be the hero, not giving any credit to the contributions made by the brave men and women of France.
That's also not true. While many were angry that DeGaulle kicked American forces out of the country (while still owing money to the U.S.), many of those same veterans (that got their asses shot at in France), told me of the stories of the French resistance. They also said that without the help of these brave men and women, we would have likely lost many more lives, had they not softened up the enemy before our arrival and during our advance.
So, while it is important to refute the myths, the misinformation, the exaggerations, and in some cases the outright malicious lies that are present between our nations, the first step in that process is to broaden our vision to see the bigger picture. We need to understand why these things exist and why the perception is so very different from opposite sides of the pond.
Many French that have stereotypical views of Americans have never been to America. The only contact they have with them, is the tourists. And tourists are not a good picture of average Americans. Many Americans that are hypercritical of France, have never been there either. Their only frames of reference are the French media, the French government, and the handful of French people they encounter throughout their lives.
Both sides can get defensive, when their perceptions are challenged and dig themselves into a foxhole. Both sides have people that are extremely stubborn, in that respect. But both sides also have a story to tell, if the other side would only listen.
I have said before and I will say again, the media and the government stance on issues is never a full and complete indicator of what individual citizens think. However there is one area that I do believe Americans have been deficient in their understanding. I believe that France (and to some degree, Germany) openly criticize the U.S. and Israel as a smokescreen. They must publicly take certain stands because it is expedient to do so. But covertly, they have provided more assistance, support, and cooperation than they are willing to reveal.
And that's okay.
But when the choice is made to do this out of public view and to do it while appearing to be critical, the perception that France works against the US and Israel will always be there.