It's off to France, where rudeness is a martial art

April 15, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

In a few days I will be in France and in prison.

I will be in France as part of an annual exchange program:

Every year, millions of French tourists come to America looking for culture, high fashion and a decent meal.

In return, millions of Americans go to France to be insulted.

I am not sure why we do this. If we wanted to be insulted, we could just as easily stay at work.

But we go and pay to experience pain. How much pain? Listen to James Rhodes of Yuma, Ariz., who wrote to USA Today when it asked readers for their travel experiences.

"My worst memory," Rhodes wrote, "is of being in Nice, France, at a cafe on the Rue Jean Medicine constantly being insulted by a French waiter."

Rhodes said the insults stopped only at "the point where I stood up (I'm 6-foot-1, 220 pounds), seized him by the throat and forced him against a wall where I informed him that I would choke the life out of him if he did not start treating us like human beings."

Here is the lesson that many drew from this story: We all share one planet and should strive to understand people of different cultures.

Here is the lesson I drew from this story: The French will stop insulting you only when you seize them by the throat, force them up against a wall and threaten to choke the life out of them.

You might wonder how Rhodes knew what that French waiter was saying about him. Did Rhodes speak French?

He didn't have to. And that's because everyone in France now speaks English.

I am not kidding you. On March 15, the New York Times began a story: "Paris -- The French official, elegant as always, walked into the Foreign Ministry salon, bowed slightly and began, 'Le briefing est off the record.' "

Did you understand him? Of course, you did.

Just as you understand the following words, which are used in everyday conversation by the French: airbag, bestseller, brunch, cookie, camera, cockpit, databank, fast food, jumbo jet, marketing, parking, popcorn, prime time, talk show, cool, and disque-jockey.

There is no longer any real language called French. There was, once upon a time, but as soon as the French heard English -- mainly through Jerry Lewis movies -- they adopted our language because they realized it was better.

Are there any French words that we have taken into English?

Exactly two: French fries and French kissing, both of which, science has shown, we would be better off without.

Clearly, in the battle of the languages, English has won.

There are still cultural differences between us and the French -- such as bathing -- and this can lead to trouble.

At least it did for me. If you want an example, just follow along from the police transcript of my last trip to Paris, officially known as Criminal Case 82-0937, Monsieur Jacques LeFrog vs. Roger Simon:

M. LeFrog: If you zay that again, I will eet you!

M. Simon: Eet me?

M. LeFrog: I will eet you with my feest!

M. Simon: All I said was that we bailed your butts out of two World Wars and don't expect us to do it again.

M. LeFrog: You are without cult-aire. You have only le Mickee Mice cultaire.

M. Simon: Yeah, well let me tell you something, pal, Mickey Mouse is twice the man you are.

M. LeFrog: I speet on your Mickee Mice!

M. Simon: Say that again.

M. LeFrog: I speet on Mickee! Speet! Speet!

M. Simon: Say that about the Little Mermaid and I'll smack that silly beret off your head.

M. LeFrog: I speet on the Leetle Mermaid!

Me: That's it! [Sound of silly beret being smacked off a head.]

M. LeFrog: Gendarme! Gendarme! [Sound of American being seized and taken to the airport and told not to come back to France until he has learned to behave.]

Today, I would not react in the same manner. Knocking someone's hat off just because you disagree with him is rude and juvenile.

Today, I would throw him up against a wall and threaten to choke him.

Nobody insults the Little Mermaid when I'm around.

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