Building Global Partnerships: 112 Gripes about the French Revisited
“You ride on the subway, and the smell almost knocks you out, garlic, sweat—and perfume!” Anyone who has ever ridden on the metro in Paris on a hot summer day can likely relate to this “gripe,” in this case expressed by American servicemen posted in France after the end of World War II in 1945. Although a severe shortage of soap caused by four years of German occupation made the odor on the metro worse, a crowded metro is still not a pleasant place to be.
Since President Charles de Gaulle’s decision in 1966 to withdraw
from the integrated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command structure and to expel American bases from France, no widescale interaction has occurred between American and French airmen. For many American Airmen, their direct impressions of France and the French likely depend upon what they retain from a weekend visit to Paris or Euro Disneyland from their bases in Germany. Without any other references, Airmen may have picked up opinions and stereotypes unwittingly from pop culture, from other Airmen, from their families, and so forth. Insidiously, they become part of an Airman’s mind-set. Although complaints about the smell on the French metro may seem innocuous, other commonly held stereotypes reflect underlying misunderstandings and prejudices against the French. At a time in which the Department of Defense (DOD) has identified “building partnerships” as one of its essential core competencies and the Air Force has embarked on an ambitious “Global Partnership Strategy,” these prejudices are counterproductive, impeding the very partnership the service seeks with the Armée de l’Air (French air force). These partnerships become crucial as the DOD reduces its size and looks to cut costs whenever possible, thus leveraging off the strength of partnerships.