Businesses Confront American Anger
By Pierre-Yves Dugua
Probably most of the French businesses operating in the United
States have nothing to be afraid concerning the deterioration of
diplomatic relationships between Paris and Washington. Small and
medium enterprises and large firms like Alcatel or Lafarge are embedded
in the American economical fabric. Their customers and their employees
are rarely conscious of their French identity.
The economic services of the French Embassy in Washington estimate
that 430,000 Americans work for firms with a French person as the
principal shareholder. Out of 1,200 of these corporations, 240 are
small or medium sized. Half are in the top technological equipment
sector, such as information or aeronautical equipment.
With few exceptions, the marketing of these corporations in the
United States doesnt show any French identity. The American
who goes to the movies to see 8 Mile has no idea that this movie
is a production of Vivendi Universal. Even if he knows, there are
few possibilities that he will be conscious that Vivendi Universal
is a French firm. The doctor in Kansas City who prescribes the medicine
Allegra to his patient is not concerned with the fact that Aventis
(the owner of Allegra) is located in Strasburg. The resident of
San Francisco who has a checking account in the Bank of the West
has no reason to know that his bank is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas.
On the other hand, in certain sectors like the wine, fashion and
tourism, the French identity counts. But during the last months,
the French diplomacy gave the United States a bad image of the country,
which created some commercial hits.
For several weeks, the American press created an echo of the initiatives
boycotting French products. Certain restaurant owners talk about
not using French wines. The Sofitel hotel of the group Accor in
New York took down its French flag in order not to offend the American
majority of his clientele.
Popular radio shows are also encouraging these initiatives. The
cafeterias of the Congress do not serve French fries anymore but
freedom fries. Naturally, these potatoes have nothing French. But
its the symbol that counts...
French opposition to the American policy toward Iraq would have
been better understood by the American opinion if it had been perceived
as less aggressive. But, the press conferences in English of French
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin showed Americans an aggressive
September 11, 2001 deeply changed the manner in which the Americans
see the world and analyze the risks. Washington does not perceive
the same change in the spirit of the French people.
The very visible profile of French diplomacy in the Iraqi crisis
contrasted with the discretion of German, Russians and Chinese authorities.
Nevertheless, they are also opposed to Washington.
Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state under President Richard
Nixon, summarized the opinion of Bush administration and the majority
of the Congress: The behavior of France has not been the one
of an allied country. Colin Powell, the most popular political
man in the United States, considers that Paris has deliberately
President George W. Bush himself is deeply hurt by the politics
of the French government. For him, President Jacques Chirac, by
his desire to mark down the United States, indirectly encouraged
Saddam Hussein not to subject himself to United Nations resolution
1441, and this fact made the war inevitable.
This feeling is divided between many Democrats and Republicans,
inevitably affecting the climate of the economic relations between
France and the United States.
Translated from the French by Elias Saber
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