The United States and France: Vive la Difference?

It wasn't that long ago that the relationship between France and the United States was, to say the least, a bit chilly. This was the era of "Freedom Fries" and calls to boycott anything that was French. For many Americans, the enemy was the rhyming two-headed monster of Chirac and Iraq. Now the two countries are friends again. Times have changed. France has a president with an extremely low popularity rating, they have huge economic problems, and... no wonder we're getting along so well.

I went out on the not particularly mean streets of Paris and the Dordogne area to ask the French people some questions. I thought my survey might help us better understand the French and learn what the French people think of us. Interestingly, I found no difference in the opinions of those who live in rural France and those who live in Paris.

My first question was: Who do you think will be the next president of the United States: Hillary Clinton? Barack Obama? Or John McCain?

Only 7% thought that John McCain will be our next president. Hillary Clinton was second with 38%, and Barack Obama was the "winner" with 54%. Because of this outcome, I assume that Hillary Clinton will vow to continue to campaign until I question every person in France.

I should point out that before our last presidential election, according to my French survey at the time, almost no one in France predicted that George Bush would win a second term.

Next question: Despite the unpopularity of both countries' current presidents within their own country, 100 percent of those surveyed felt that the president of France was a better president than President Bush. In sports parlance, they'd "rather have their bum than our bum."

When asked if they thought the war in Iraq would be over soon, about 11%, said, "oui." In some ways, the French are more optimistic than we are.

When I asked, "Who's your favorite American actor " every person gave me a different answer. Some of them were: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood, Samuel Jackson, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Tyrone Power. Tyrone Power? I guess France really is an old-fashioned country.

I asked, "Which of the following foods do you prefer to eat: pizza, hamburger, or foie gras?" Nobody chose pizza, and while 80% preferred foie gras, perhaps the 20% who like hamburgers indicates a bond they have with Americans. Or it just shows that even in France, there are people who don't know good food when they eat it.

100% of the people interviewed said they would like to visit the United States someday. Let's just hope it's not all on the same day, or we'll really have an immigration nightmare.

When asked what is there about France that is better than the United States, the answers included food, history, and a slower –- and therefore, better -- pace of life. When asked what the United States has that they wished they had, answers included a positive frame of mind, more possibilities of advancing at work, and cheaper gasoline. That's right. Even if you adjust for the euro/dollar difference, gasoline is much more expensive in France. So we have that to look forward to.

The French are notorious cigarette smokers. However, a law was recently passed that prohibits smoking in restaurants and cafes. When asked if they were happy about the new law, 100% said they were. This even included people who were smoking while they answered my questions.

I got some interesting answers when I asked which country they thought was the strongest country in the world today. Nobody chose the United States or France. Understandably, China was one of the answers. However, so was Norway. Norway?! And no, this wasn't from the guy whose favorite actor is Tyrone Power.

I asked which government they thought was more dishonest, that of the United States or that of France. By only one vote, the United States edged out France. It's nice to be No. 1 in something, isn't it?

The preceding is by no means a scientific survey. Because of my selection methods and the fact that I asked the questions in French -- my French -- the margin of error might very well be in the neighborhood of 90 to 100 percent. But in France, that's still a charming neighborhood.