Vive la difference, sort ofPardon my French, but the brouhaha at the United Nations between the Americans and the French is really starting to gall me. The Americans say that the Iraqi dictator is deceiving UN inspectors, and it’s time to go and stop him. France says au contraire, and that Greenpeace and Big Macs are the real problems.
And just the other day, a TV talk-show host in New York, Regis Philbin, crossed the line when he took a shot at America’s ostensible allies: When asked if the French would ever agree to military action in Iraq, Mr. Philbin said, “The only time the French want us to go to war is when the German Army is sitting in Paris drinking coffee.”
Being one-eighth German, I decided to go for coffee at the closest thing to Paris Itaewon has, the Le Saint Ex restaurant. Actually, the French call this type of restaurant a “brasserie,” and without even snickering. Le Saint Ex is just off the main road on a quiet alley behind the Hamilton Hotel. It’s small, cozy and amiable. It’s usually packed with diners of all stripes ― it’s a regular UN, but without the dictator-hugging and the sex-for-food scandals.
Once safely in, seated and sipping an espresso, I took aim for a real live French person to talk to. In the corner was a young homme with his nose in a French magazine. Perfect. I went over and introduced myself.
Lucky for me, he was glad to parlez-vous some anglais. His name was Jean-Marc, he said, and he is a businessman here. I asked him how it felt to be a French expatriate in an area teeming with unsophisticated U.S. soldiers.
He said that while he had no problems with the GIs, he and his amis feel a bit tense when juxtaposed with them, and eagerly surrender any bar territory at the first sign of a crew cut or a cowboy hat. “For example,” he said, “if I’m in the Seoul Pub, quoi, with my French friends, quoi, and some noisy GIs come into the bar, we will probably leave.”
I asked Jean-Marc if he had ever met a GI.
“Not really,” he said. “But there’s one place here in Itaewon that I love, and GIs are always there ― All That Jazz.”
It figures. Apart from Jerry Lewis, jazz is the only American thing the French admit they like.
“The first time I went there I was with my girlfriend,” Jean-Marc said. “I was really impressed by the band and I remarked to her that it was so strange because they looked like American GIs.”
She told him, of course, that the musicians indeed were GIs.
“Until that time the only image I had of American soldiers was them holding rifles and wearing night-vision goggles,” he said. “Now I was watching big GIs making great music, the piano, drums, bass.”
Last week the American secretary of state, Colin Powell, gave evidence to the UN that Iraq’s dictator was hiding his weapons of mass destruction, and said it was time to do something. Now the French say we should put in more inspectors, and maybe a few of those blue-helmeted genocide observers.
A suggestion for Mr. Powell: Next time you address the United Nations, bring Bill Clinton along to play the saxophone, put on some shades and sing your speech.
by Mike Ferrin