French haughtiness

Posted: Jul 22, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Just when things were going swimmingly for the presumptive Democratic presidential ticket, a cloud appears on the horizon. The French Consulate in New York has tacked onto its front door an announcement reminding Americans once again of French haughtiness ... and of French geopolitical ambitions.

 In sum and in fine, Paris' ambitions for Europe are not unlike Napoleon's. If the French have their way, all Europe will be under the suzerainty of the French croissant, the flaky buttery croissant. Yet, modern France will conquer not with Napoleon's legions but in the modern way, with bureaucrats.

 The message discovered on the front door of the ornate French Consulate and reported very thoughtfully by the enlightened Washington Times huffs: "Visas for France are not a right. Persons applying for visas are requested to show due respect for Consular personnel. Failure to do so will result in the denial of the application and denied entry into any of the EU (European Union) countries."

 Apparently, the French government believes that it now, through its role in the European Union, can exert authority throughout Europe. Legal experts doubt the French interpretation of its role, but that is not the point. This little note reveals the grandiose role France sees for herself in the world. It also reveals French impertinence and hauteur. The controversy cannot help the campaign of Sen. Jean Francois Kerry, the Democrats' touchy Francophile presidential candidate, whose odd behavior is so luminously reflected in this note.

 What supposed rudeness drove the prima donnas in the consulate to issue their message? Did some eye-catching milk-fed maiden from the American Midwest laugh out loud when one of the consulate's young boulevardiers burst into tears while esteeming her beauty? Did some no-nonsense American business type become impatient when a fop from the "consular personnel" filled out his visa document with a government-issued quill? I have never applied for a French visa, finding as I do a two-week stay in France sufficient to admire the ruins; and frankly I cannot imagine many of my fellow Americans wanting to stay in France long enough to necessitate a visa.

 I know that Jean Francois boasts of the long summer vacations he has spent in the land of popinjays and poseurs with cousins and nannies, but this message only serves to remind us of how alien French neurosis is to laid-back America. Kerry in his humorlessness and pretense would be a better candidate for mayor of Paris than president of the United States.

 I do not mean to suggest that Kerry is corrupt in the manner of the usual French politician. I cannot imagine his filching funds from the U.N.'s food for oil scam. Nor can I imagine his receiving campaign donations from Saddam Hussein as President Jacques Chirac allegedly did. Yet, it is increasingly apparent that Kerry has more in common with a Frenchman than an American.

 This can be seen in his proud dilettantism and his vain concern for his hair and his chin. Just the other day, he dragged poor Sen. John Edwards, his running mate, into his hair conceit, bellowing to a crowd of supporters that the two have "better hair" than their Republican opponents.

 Reports of his visits to plastic surgeons continue to circulate, one of the first being a report that he sought the perfect chin from a facial sculpture known to be a plastic surgeon to the stars. More recently, it has been reported by the authoritative "Drudge Report" that the senator's wrinkles are again on the rise. Such concerns have never been manifest by presidential candidates of the genuine American sort -- say, Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson. They let the wrinkles come and the hair depart. Their concern was the national interest ... and a few perks.

 One of the fascinating aspects of French haughtiness is how easily it renders itself to horselaughs. That note tacked on the door of the New York consulate was meant as a gesture of seriousness about proper deportment, and the result was hilaritas. Kerry's stentorian pronouncements about his policies and his noble character are meant to give us goose bumps, but all we get is a tickling of our funny bones. The French nation may not be the great nation it once was, but it certainly is an amusing nation. Vive la France, the comic nation. If it causes Kerry's campaign problems, let him take his complaints to Federal Election Commission.