The French aren't all terrible. I have to keep reminding myself. After all, Voltaire, Toulouse-Lautrec and Claude Debussy, were French. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Les Miserables" were written by a Frenchman. A Frenchman designed and built the Statue of Liberty. Louis Pasteur was French and so was Hilaire Degas. The truth, however, is that they all lived a very long time ago. The closer one comes to recent times, the harder it is to find a good one.
What makes the French so appalling isn't that they haven't turned out a Victor Hugo in a couple of hundred years. Who has? What makes them so insufferable is their constant air of superiority. They keep posturing as if they wrote the book on ethics, values and culture, when all they've really been churning out are cream sauces, red wine and over-priced frocks.
Much has been made of the French fondness for Jerry Lewis movies. What they love about them is that they think his loud, brash, dull-witted simpletons are realistic portrayals of the typical American. We in America like to think guys like Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks are us, but the French know better. But, then, they always do.
Sometimes, I think the French were put on earth for no other reason than to give Germany an over-inflated sense of their military prowess. Other times, I can't come up with any reason at all.
France's idea of military leaders have been Napoleon, who, like Hitler, couldn't defeat the Russians or the English; the anti-Semitic generals who framed Capt. Dreyfus for treason; Marshal Henri Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis; and Gen. Charles de Gaulle, whose army was routed by the Huns in about a week. It's odd the way people always make fun of the Italian army, and pretend the French are born warriors. In a war between the two, the Italians would clobber them in a day and a half, and then write a very nice opera about it.
Culturally speaking, France's major contributions during the past century were a couple of asterisks named Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. They promoted a French item called Existentialism. It was less a philosophy than a fad. Think of it as EST with a side order of escargots. Its main tenet was that life is pointless. Actually, it was Existentialism that was pointless. But it provided French guys, who wore black turtlenecks and smoked cheap cigarettes in Parisian cafes, with world-weary pick-up lines to use on girls from Kansas.
Existentialism was the philosophical equivalent of auteurism -- that silly critical con game propagated by Cahiers du Cinema. Its disciples would go so far as to insist, for instance, that "The Crimson Kimono" and "The Magnificent Matador" were better movies than "It's a Wonderful Life" and "On the Waterfront" because Sam Fuller and Budd Boetticher were auteurs while Frank Capra and Elia Kazan were merely directors.
During a heat wave a while back, over 12,000 elderly people died in France. What does that tell us? For one thing, it confirms that France is a third world nation. How else to explain their lack of air conditioning in the 21st century? Believe me, a country that likes to smoke, but not to bathe, is not a country that should turn its collective back on air conditioning.
What else does the death of those 12,000 old people tell us? Well, obviously -- and as usual -- it tells us that the French can not take the heat.
As for their own reaction to the enormous tragedy, it seems that the Frogs, a notoriously unsentimental people, have chosen to look upon it as merely the thinning of le herd.