- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Woody just wants America to say oui again. Or at least a little oo-la-la.

Comedian Woody Allen, that is. He hopes everyone will forgive France, which is tres, tres sorry they offended all the Yankees and earned the moniker “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” during the Iraq war.

The 67-year-old actor and director has signed on with the French Government Tourist Office to pitch the glories of France to those still irked by the country’s hostile responses to U.S. military action to disarm Iraq in March.

In a new promotional video, Mr. Allen visualizes a brave new world where neither country is “petty,” and urges both to “build on what has been a great, great friendship … let’s pull together now.”

It will yield a grand cultural moment, Mr. Allen said.

“And I will not have to refer to my french-fried potatoes as ‘freedom fries,’ and I will not have to ‘freedom kiss’ my wife when all I want to do is French kiss her,” he said.

Whether this logic — and this image — helps France regain its lost tourist trade remains to be seen.

But it is a serious matter. France reportedly has lost up to $500 million, and tourists’ visits to the country are down 15 percent after months of ill will, American boycotts of French products and late-night-TV jokes about the “axis of weasels.”

French fries became known as “freedom fries” in February after a North Carolina restaurant rechristened the side dish in the name of patriotism. The U.S. Congress followed suit.

The French initially reacted with acrimony, accusing the United States of a news media “smear campaign.” There has been a recent attitude adjustment, though. France has sent its U.S. ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, scurrying from one American city to another on goodwill tours meant to bolster the French image.

“We have difficulty in Europe understanding that America is really at war,” Mr. Levitte told a Chamber of Commerce audience in Florida recently, explaining the war on terrorism on his own soil is “low-intensity.”

He continues, “In Europe we didn’t suffer the huge shock that 9/11 represents for the American people,” calling the United States a “great democracy” and asking both countries to “build together a common future. And let’s not forget our friendship is a treasure.”

The French Embassy means business, though, issuing a point-by-point statement yesterday about the benefits of cordial Franco-American relations.

“France is not a ‘pacifist’ country. More than 11,000 of its soldiers are deployed abroad in various operations,” they said, adding that France has provided military assistance to the United States in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Africa and Asia; and has shared intelligence information about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

The statement also lists the United States as the second largest foreign investor in France, and the French as the fifth largest investor in the United States, employing some 650,000 Americans.

“The disagreement between France and the United States over the war in Iraq is in the past,” they proclaim.

The French tourist office also has issued a statement assuring American travelers they will not experience anti-Americanism during their visit and even referring people to the Web site of Public Broadcasting Service travel show star Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) for testimonials.

The online reviews, however, are mixed. Some travelers indeed made their way through France without incident; others had a rude awakening.

“Just back from the French Open,” noted one writer. “Talk about rude, the French take the cake. Openly booing any American just because they are American. We were treated very rudely and snubbed. It was the worst vacation in my life.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Allen — who lent his services for free — has company in the French tourism video, which was ironically shot in New York City, according to the New York Post. Musician Wynton Marsalis and actor and writer George Plimpton also appear in the promotion.

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