- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

French opposition to the U.S. war against Iraq is giving momentum to calls for boycotting products from France.

The economic backlash includes a Cincinnati restaurateur who banned French wines and cheeses from his menu, a Chicago grocery-store chain that refuses to sell Evian water and Dijon mustard, and members of Congress who have renamed french fries "freedom fries."

"We feel that the French aren't supporting our government, so why give them money for their country and their products?" asked Rory Hancock, manager of the Garden Fresh Market in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling.

A group of restaurants in Atlanta removed French wines and liquors from their menus this week. On Monday, the restaurant owners, staff and customers dumped the French alcohol into local rivers.

So far, antagonism against the French is limited to isolated incidents and harsh words. No decrease has been detected in the $28 billion of annual French exports to the United States.

Although members of Congress say there is no chance of a trade war with France, the rhetoric of war with Iraq is creating jitters in international markets.

On Monday, shares of the French catering firm Sodexho Alliance fell 14 percent in early trading after an inaccurate Paris radio report that the company lost a $1 billion contract with the U.S. Marines. The stock value returned to normal levels by the end of the day after Sodexho and the Marines quickly denied the report.

The only political antagonism American subsidiary Sodexho USA officials say they have seen was an e-mail message from a Midwestern college president. He reported a student complaint about Sodexho managing the college's food service.

Sodexho provides food service at 6,000 locations nationwide.

Officials at the Gaithersburg company said their business services are not related to politics.

"The linkage is just not fair," spokeswoman Leslie Aun said.

Other French-owned or -associated businesses in the Washington area report few if any incidents that could hurt their bottom line.

"Not at all," said Tom Cannon, manager of the Capitol Hill restaurant La Brasserie. "Anything that has been said has been on a favorable side."

But Marius Orsolini, the owner of the Rue de Provence restaurant in Mountain Brook, Ala., said business has fallen off.

Air France reported a drop in reservations but could not determine whether it resulted from disagreements with France.

"There's really no way to tell one way or the other," spokesman Jim Faulkner said.

Nevertheless, hotel conglomerate Accor has taken down French flags at most of its 10 Sofitel hotels in the United States.

Touring companies are concerned that some of the 3 million American visitors to France each year will find other vacation spots this spring and summer.

A survey of eight typical tour companies by the U.S. Tour Operators Association showed that bookings to France were "down somewhat," said Linda Kundell, the group's spokeswoman. The biggest drop is in group tours.

The opposite movement is occurring for Britain, which supports the U.S. military effort in Iraq.

"People are saying Britain and Ireland are up slightly," Miss Kundell said.

French diplomats are concerned about "French-bashing" reported in the media.

"There have been no significant economic consequences from this movement of anger that is widely reported by the press," said Nathalie Loiseau, spokeswoman for the French Embassy. "It doesn't mean we don't care about it."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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