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Americanization is Back (Is It Gone?)

The ghost of Americanization is back in France again. As Disneyland Paris celebrates its thirtieth birthday, the gates flooded with embarrassment and complaining have opened again. Critics sharpen their knives and tongues (if not their intellects) and complain that France is selling its soul, its culture – even its food (obviously, Chocolate Chip Mickey Waffles is a thing) – for in a riot of sanitized American pottage. Of course, barbs aren’t just aimed at Disney, because the criticism is more about the colonized than it is about the colonizer.

Readers of this publication are more aware than most that the relationship between the U.S. and its oldest ally is often, let’s say, complicated. In particular, the idea that the depravity of American materialism bulldozes France’s superior cultural heritage is an honored trope that nonetheless ignores a two-way process. In 1930, for example, after a visit to the United States, author Georges Duhamel complained that America had occupied the Old World, but he added that “although some people regard the incident with distrust and sadly, there will be a thousand shouting it. ” While praising the strength and invention of America, Duhamel was amazed at what he called soulless materialism and puritanism in its society.His writing, Scenes from future lifepraised by anti-American critics (“This little book on a thin yellow cover stands the great weight of gold and steel that hides America’s wealth and egotism”) and was later translated into English has a challenging title. America, the threat: Scenes from the Future Life.

The author’s criticisms are embedded in a broader debate of the relative flaws and merits of American exceptionalism, in which a relentless encouragement for efficiency is constantly compared and contrasted with a gentler, more circular – and may be less efficient – existing in France. The mismatch between straight lines and curved trajectories is memorable as described by Jacques Tati in his 1949 film The Great Day, in which a country mailman bumpkin is turned on by a documentary about the impressive productive U.S. Postal Service, but never manages to fix his unhurried ways. The message in each case is that Americans live to work, while the French work to survive. And yet, yankees always attracted and feared to the same extent.

Most observers agree that a sea change in Franco-American relations took place after World War II. Until then, the two countries were culturally distant: Charles de Gaulle once said that if Great Britain was an island and France was the tip of a continent, America was a whole world. But in the 1950s, ordinary French people instead of urban intellectuals came into direct contact with popular American culture and its symbols, including hot dogs, nylon stockings, jazz, and Coca-Cola. However, the feelings are mixed. As the young French embraced what they called the way of life of Americanstheir elders remained vigilant. The world, the relentless newspaper with a record, warns that the country’s cultural landscape is under threat from “coca-colonization,” shorthand of everything American. Yet the rush towards a U.S. -style consumer society, where the desire for individual happiness overrides the collective good, is not limited to France.

Across Europe, the fruits of consumerism have penetrated homes, kitchens, and garages – and, for Communist bloc countries, they have become symbols of communism’s inability (blue is such an expensive product that must be imported satisfy young Polo, Czech, and Russian). Over time, the likelihood of blaming America for what was ultimately a global process has diminished almost everywhere. But it remains – and continues – in France, where the threat to national identity still appears to be real. America is an easy scapegoat because America is, well, American and materialistic, while France is the home of civilization, which, according to American historian Richard Kuisel, defines the distance between two societies.

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