Au revoir to the American dream

How Oprah had the French believing anything was possible, until a tire magnate gave the country a wake-up call

Oh, what a week it was here in the land of the Gauls!  It began with a little piece of media magic that can only happen in America. One of world’s richest women tweeted her love for a product of French design and shares of that company (Seb) skyrocketed.  Le coq gaulois, who has been rather quiet of late, began to crow again.

But later that week, the CEO of an American tire company sent a rather insulting letter to the French minister of industrial renewal. Arnaud Montebourg’s last-ditch attempt to find a buyer and stop the imminent closure of a former Goodyear tire plant backfired when the letter was leaked to a major daily and went viral. Titan’s CEO implied that French workers were lazy and you’d have to be plain stupid to invest in France.

“The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three…They told me that’s the French way!”

It was a slap in the face. Une gifle.  And a sign that recent incidents of striking workers clashing with police, burning down factories and taking management hostage have permanently tarnished this country’s reputation at the international level.

The painful truth is that the French have not had much to crow about lately.  They’re lumbering under soaring debt, chronic unemployment and a Generation Y whose highest ambition is a government job. Many voters pinned their hopes for economic recovery on a return of the Socialist party (whose symbol is a rose) in last year’s elections. But with the deadly normal Monsieur Hollande at the helm and former presidential hopeful DSK as international ambassador for romance, the bloom is decidedly off la rose.

Not since last year when “The Artist” swept the Oscars have the French had a real moment of national pride. This year’s awards were a bit of a come down.  France handed out the César for best foreign film to “Argo” just a few days before the Oscars. Ben Affleck was not there to accept. Nor were most of the cast and crew of “Amour,” which won best film, as they were already on their way to Hollywood.  Second gifle.

Despite their love-hate relationship with the American culture, the French are closer to their outre-mer cousins than they like to admit. They are firmly convinced of their own superiority. They love a good show, and are envious of Hollywood’s ability to upstage them.  And somewhere, deep down, they want to believe in the dream.

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