Several years ago, the then French Ambassador to the United States visited New Orleans. One morning, he hosted a breakfast (croissants and coffee) at the French consulate home on Prytania Street. After the ambassador spoke, telling about the commerce between Louisiana and France, he asked for questions from the journalists and Francophiles seated at the tables.

I had a question, which may have been borderline impolite, but I was nevertheless curious:

“Mr. Ambassador,” I asked, “despite the long relationship between our countries, we are often told that the French people don’t like Americans. Is that true? If so, why? Because we are mostly nice people.”

Here I expected a skilled diplomatic dodge from the ambassador, instead, his answer surprised me.

“It is not the French as a whole who do not like Americans,” he responded with that beautiful Franglais accent. “It is the Parisians who do not like Americans.” Then he paused and with a slight smiled added, “but the Parisians do not like anybody.”

“My suggestion is that if you ever visit Paris go in August, when all the Parisians are on holiday.”

That conversation comes to mind in this the week of quatorze juillet (July 14) Bastille Day, the French’s national holiday which, like our July Fourth, was part of a democratic revolution.

If the Parisians are vacationing on the French Riviera, they may be pleased to see hardly any Americans this year because of the COVID-based travel restrictions. One beach where Americans are generally appreciated is along the English Channel. It is called Normandy. Here too the tourist invasion from the states will be curtailed because of the airborne enemy.

Our counties share a circular relationship in their revolutions. France provided military power to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War; the United States’ new republic influenced the French model.

It was good for the ambassador to get away from Washington to visit New Orleans, because one of Franco/America’s most hallowed moments was made official in our city. In 1803, the French flag was lowered at the Place de Armes (Jackson Square) and the American flag raised to signify the completion of the Louisiana Purchase. Napoleon’s decision to sell his country’s sizable North American holding to the fledgling United States was a first step toward America becoming big and powerful. The world map would be much different and more dangerous had the United States not served as a global protector, including for France, in two world wars.

Both countries will have experienced subdued national days this July. There is a war of a different type, and both countries have battlefield experience. Though there will have been a lack of fireworks, may the two countries celebrate the revolutionary flames in their past.





BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.