The Kiss of Freedom

A few years back, there was outrage in my household when Anti-French sentiment in the U.S. (stoked up by France’s refusal to hop on the Iraq war bandwagon) led some to rename french fries (even though the word “french” here refers a cooking method not a nationality). My Franco-American husband was so put out by the silly-sounding term “Freedom Fries” that he barged down to the local store and purchased a gallon of french vanilla ice cream and brandished it with loud roar of “FRENCH vanilla, it’s FRENCH.” He went to inform his listeners that we would most certainly NOT be renaming our cat Paris. Cashiers at this grocery store are used to the eccentricities of this man to the point that they’ve developed a special “look” and polite snicker in response. It works, in that he always feels vindicated by the routine (“See? THEY agree with me!”). I usually note that the boss probably suggested they do so.

For my part, I wondered aloud what we were to do with the many uses of the term ‘French’ in our language. Did we have to come up with new names for poodles, braids, kissing, and dip? NOTE: ‘Freedom poodles’ sounds like a great name for a teenage girl band.

On a less hilarious note, there were death threats against the cartoonist Garry Trudeau for daring to publish a strip in French. The dark absurdity of such blind venom does not serve as a deterrent for those who would do the worst with it. It’s a slippery slope from “freedom fries” to car bombs.

Luckily for the French folk among us, this chapter in history has melted in the quick-moving stream of American pop culture, just like the long-forgotten similar slur against my German-American ancestors in the early 20th century when “sauerkraut” became “liberty cabbage” and people kicked innocent dogs because their breeds carried German names. Both french fries and sauerkraut survived the assault on their names by a vocal minority that proved to simply not be strong enough to stem the tide. Or rather, most of us are far too lazy to easily change the terms we’ve used so long and we need much better reasons than general hatred of the nationalities suggested by those names. Also, I, for one, feel a bit disturbed by the notion that we should swell with nationalistic pride over a deep-fried scrap of starch. Aren’t there better exemplars?

Take this whole episode as a telling example of how some might seek to manipulate the minds of the public by reprogramming the language used to describe common items and actions (as seen in many science fiction classics). Want some German chocolate cake with that ice cream?



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