Sadly, they are probably right. In 2003, Americans' popular attitudes toward France were worse than toward any other European country,
including Russia: 60 percent unfavorable and 29 percent favorable.
Those numbers were about on par with U.S. attitudes toward Saudi Arabia,
which many Americans still believe
was responsible for September 11 (there is little to no evidence for
this). France's numbers have improved since then -- 63 percent favorable
and 31 percent unfavorable as of 2010 -- but American unfavorability
toward France still scored higher
than toward, for example, Egypt. This is remarkable for a
country that shares our revolutionary democratic history and has fought
alongside the U.S. in nearly every American war since independence. Of
course, French anti-Americanism has its own long history.
recent low point in U.S.-French relations was in 2003, when the French
government opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But so had Germany,
and no one tried to rename sauerkraut. There was something about
France, and it didn't begin during the Bush administration. In 1945,
when American soldiers flooded liberated France, the U.S. Army was so
worried about the troops' Francophobia that it issued them a pamphlet
encouraging cultural understanding. 112 Gripes About the French listed, and then retorted, the most common American negative stereotypes about France. Yes, there were 112 of them.
The Simpsons crystallized
American Francophobia a decade before the Iraq War with a 1995 show
calling the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," a reference to
their purportedly snobby tastes and weak military. In fact, per capita
cheese consumption is almost exactly the same
in France as it is in the U.S., and the French military managed to
conquer most of Europe, as well as northern and western Africa.
(Americans needed British, Russian, and yes French help to take the same
lands that Napoleon Bonaparte had seized with no major ally.) But the
phrase stuck -- how many other one-off Simpsons jokes made it into the Oxford quotation dictionary twice? -- not because it was factually true but because it perfectly encapsulated the American perception.
Francophobia is so puzzling, so utterly at odds with the historical and
cultural forces that should bring the U.S. and France together, that
there is actually a body of competitive academic literature attempting
to explain it. Some say that Americans more strongly identify with the
UK and Germany -- many more Americans are of British or German heritage
than French -- and thus have subconsciously adopted long-standing
British and German anxieties toward France.
Historian Justin Vaïsse thinks
that the absence of a strong, unified French-American community means
that there is little stigma against expressing Francophobia -- compared
to anti-Japanese or anti-German attitudes, for example -- which over
time has allowed Francophobia to flourish more freely than have other
anti-national attitudes. This is why, if you walk around your office calling Indian or Bolivian or Polish people smelly and dirty, you'll get fired; if you say the same about the French, you'll probably get a few laughs.