Most people have a low opinion of the French especially when it comes to matter military…there is even a website dedicated to French Military Victories (there aren’t many). But how did this state of affairs come about…an attitude where even The Simpsons mocks the Frogs as Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys.
The Simpsons crystallized American Francophobia a decade before the Iraq War with a 1995 show calling the French “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” a reference to their purportedly snobby tastes and weak military. In fact, per capita cheese consumption is almost exactly the same in France as it is in the U.S., and the French military managed to conquer most of Europe, as well as northern and western Africa. (Americans needed British, Russian, and yes French help to take the same lands that Napoleon Bonaparte had seized with no major ally.) But the phrase stuck — how many other one-off Simpsons jokes made it into the Oxford quotation dictionary twice? — not because it was factually true but because it perfectly encapsulated the American perception.
There are however two main theories, even if they are untested:
I also learned, when I asked about this phenomenon on Twitter, that everyone — everyone — has a theory. The armchair theories tend to fall into two categories: the “thankless French” argument that Americans resent France for being insufficiently deferential or grateful for U.S. assistance in Vietnam and both world wars, and the “American inferiority” theory that we are intimidated by France’s superior politics, culture, and health care.
Both of those popular answers are really about how Americans views themselves; the former says we are better than the world gives us credit for, the latter says we’re not as great as we think. Either theory could be applied to American attitudes toward any wealthy country — it doesn’t even have to be European. But neither really tells us about the particular U.S. attitudes toward France. Maybe that’s the most revealing thing. France and America are possibly the only two countries in the world that truly believe it’s all about us, that assume our own greatness, either as something to be respected or perfected. That kind of attitude doesn’t really accept peers; there can’t be two pinnacles of Western social development. It’s one of the many traits we share and one of the many things keeping us apart.