Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Ketchup Coalition

One of the most painful things I have had to endure over the course of the last few years is my growing disdain for the French. A healthy disdain for the French is certainly not a unique phenomenon, and If I'm not mistaken it can be traced to the very origins of the French people. There is, indeed, perhaps no greater parallel in all of recorded history. And for each person that has developed a 'French' taste in their mouth, there is a unique and emotional story that details a love gone bad. This...ladies and my story.

I spent about five months completely immersed in French culture in the winter and spring of 1993. It was tres freakin' bien. I loved these people, what with their Saturday night soire's and their sleep-in lifestyle. I was finally at home. The Mrs. and I, our two toddlers, a keyboard player, and a singer and his girlfriend shared a house in Marsangy, a tiny burg about 20 miles from Sens. I spent most of my days with a French band manager named Pierre sampling the regional reds in amounts that rarely failed to crinkle the wife's brow. And everyone, I mean everyone, lived for Saturday.

Saturday meant five course meals, scotch and Perrier, tarry offerings from northern Africa, singing, dancing, conversation to die for, and a very late, very painful Sunday morning. I partied with doctors, mechanics, lesbians, thespians, painters, musicians, the works. Never once, did I ever fail to have an absolutely fabulous time. To this day LeAnn and I miss the friends we made dearly. But...that is not to say that we agreed on everything.

Anti-Americanism was alive and well even back then. It was jocular in nature, and I became accustomed to and even fond of being called a “capitalist pig.” It certainly differentiated me from my band mates, who were more than willing to cannonball into the tepid-on-America pool. It soon became apparent that I would be the lone voice in defense of big, bad, Uncle Sam, and most often as a parry to the thrusts of Marvin. Marvin, or Garlic Drummer (for his attachment to garlic andhis resulting overall odor), was a Canadian expatriate who had been living illegally in L.A. for years, before moving to Villeneuve Sur Yonne to live with his brother, who was incidentally, there illegally.

I endured months of resisting the urge to garrote Garlic Drummer for uttering nonsense like, “America is just full of racist bastards,” and so forth. Of course, every thing he said fit nicely into the pre-conceived notions of Americans held by our French friends. Still, despite their willingness to believe anything negative about America, I loved the French, and had it not been for an ugly ketchup incident, the downward spiral that led to disdain may never have begun.
It was a night like any other; the band hanging out at a familiar Sens brasserie, soft-core porn playing on all the T.V.'s (French custom), and pomme frite (French fries) the only safe thing on the menu. People sat idly, enjoying their beer while their dogs panted softly on the restaurant floor.

Our exceedingly large order of fries arrived with the always-present tin of Dijon and we inquired of garçon as to the presence of ketchup within his fine establishment. Garçon quickly returned with roughly two ounces in a decorative thimble...for the six of us. It was no sooner delivered when it transformed into a request for additional ketchup, upon which another thimble was served, albeit with just a hint of frustration.

With nary a pound of fries yet on their way to our collective digestive tract, and again sans ketchup, we formed a 'ketchup coalition' and politely requested yet another serving of the suddenly precious sauce. Perhaps in addition, we politely pointed out, it would be prudent to serve the condiment in a slightly larger receptacle, if only to free Garçon to provide more personal service to his other charges. No one will ever know for sure if it was simply the repeated requests for ketchup, the fact that we had formed a coalition without consulting garçon, or if it was the insulting demand for a larger bowl that set Garçon off, but off he did set.

Long story short, a shouting match ensued in which we became privy to exactly what the French thought of Americans and exactly where we could stick our ketchup requests. I would have missed most of the litany, which included a lot of stupide's and mairde's and, of course, references to us being American, had I not become so proficient in French.

We never did get any damn ketchup.

The reason I broach the subject of the ketchup incident now, and doubt not that I do so without suffering great personal anguish, is to illustrate an important point that bears reflection when dealing with our cultured allies on a regular basis.

With the French it is always something.

If they are not stealing your coalition-building thunder they are infringing on your God-given right to enjoy ketchup with French fries. It is not that they simply accept our disdain, but rather they actively seek it and wear it as a badge of honor. My point, if there can be one in this long ramble, is that one should not feel poorly about holding a negative opinion of the French. Not only is it inevitable and right that you should do so, the French themselves would have it no other way.

Never was that so accurately illustrated as the time our ketchup coalition found itself betrayed by a French waiter.

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