The only surprising thing about Carrboro's decision last week to make April "French Trade Month" was that they beat Berkeley, Calif., to the punch. The Carrboro Board of Aldermen passed a resolution encouraging the town's residents to enjoy French wine and cheese, products that people in other parts of the country are boycotting. The move was largely tongue-in-cheek, a response to the growing wave of anti-France sentiment that seems to have as much to do with America's culture war as with the impending war on Iraq.
It's fitting that this battle in the culture war should play out in North Carolina, since it began here last month when a restaurant owner named Neal Rowland announced that the menu had changed and that Cubbie's would serve "freedom fries." (Nevermind that Beaufort is a French name.) That district's Republican congressman, Rep. Walter Jones, followed his constituent's lead with a successful effort to change the congressional cafeteria's menu. "Watching France's self-serving politics of passive aggression in this effort has discouraged me more than I can say," Jones told the Associated Press.
North Carolina has at least two from every walk of life: Bible preachers, intellectuals, peacenik college students, military families, mountain hippies, rich conservatives, Scots and Africans and Latinos--but, tellingly, few French people.
Raleigh restaurant owner Therese Freeman is one of the few. Sixty-nine years old, she has lived in the United States since 1964 and became a citizen 20 years ago. Freeman says business at Jean-Claude's French Café was already suffering because of the economy, and a boycott isn't helping. "I'm sure this will hurt us a little bit," she said. But so far there haven't been any complaints. "My customers know me and they come in and say, 'I support you, I support France.' I don't have anybody who is very negative."
Freeman understands the frustration with her government but is bewildered by the anti-France sentiment sweeping the country. "I think it's ridiculous," she fumes in a thick Gallic accent. "They get mad with France, and I agree with that, but this is ridiculous! No French kiss, no French toast. They say American people put the wine in the toilet. That doesn't make sense! It's so childish!" She thinks the anger is misplaced--as is the gesture. "French fries aren't even French, they're Belgian!"
"I don't support the war," she said, "I support the troops. I'm old enough to remember World War II and I'm not looking forward to another one." But she hopes Americans will realize that this opposition doesn't apply to her adopted country. "French people love America, they love American people, they really do."