Americans Who Eschew Brie and Beaujolais

Boycotts of all things French stem from disputes over Iraq - but have roots in centuries-old cultural tensions.

The way Dan O'Neill sees it, he can at least send a message. His leverage, he knows, is limited. Foie gras is hardly a staple of the American diet. Nor is Camembert cheese in great demand for Chicago Bears tailgaters.

But his Garden Fresh Market in Mundelein, Ill., is one of three stores in a chain that is taking all French products - from Evian to Dijon mustard - off its shelves to protest French opposition to the United States on Iraq.

Never mind that Germany has taken a similar stance, not to mention Russia and China. No one is urging a ban of BMWs or kung pao chicken. The beret nation, however, is spared no slight. One North Carolina restaurant has famously renamed French fries "freedom fries," and disc jockeys in Las Vegas recently crushed baguettes and pictures of the French president with an armored vehicle.

Part of it, of course, is politics, as France relishes its usual role as a speed bump to America's global policy. Yet for many, the boycotts touch a deeper cultural chord, as well - one that has more to do with stereotyped images of French effrontery than Saddam Hussein or Gulf geopolitics.

They are a backlash against surly waiters, condescending cuisine, and the perceived ingratitude of France's unwillingness to help America after America helped France during World War I and II.

Customer Linda Cichowski smiles as she considers the boycott at Garden Fresh: "Good for them," she says. "The French are always picking on us, so why not?"

So it is for many Americans. For them, this is not a bill of divorce. Flights to Paris aren't likely to go empty. Rather, it is simply the latest spat between an international odd couple long bound by equal parts admiration and exasperation.

Ken Wagner understands the exasperation part. Last month, after France opposed a NATO plan to protect Turkey in case of war, the owner of Roxy's restaurant in West Palm Beach, Fla., dumped all his French drinks into the street. With TV cameras there to catch the moment, he became an instant celebrity.

That suits him fine.

"I felt frustrated," says Mr. Wagner, suggesting that the allies need to keep a united front if they are to have any chance of convincing Hussein to disarm. "If I dump out these wines, it might not be much, but it's a statement."

Others, like Garden Fresh, have been searching for how to make similar statements - from wine dumps to congressional pleas for the US to boycott the Paris Air Show in June.

As for Wagner, business is up since his Palm Beach Tea Party, and while he insists his protest is political, he acknowledges it also has other undertones.

"We've all thought about the way France seems to snub her nose at us despite the fact that we've freed her two times," Wagner says. "How quickly they forget."

By Mark Sappenfield and Terry Costlow Christian Science Monitor

The given article is published within the framework of the agreement on cooperation between PRAVDA.Ru and Christian Science Monitor

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Author`s name: Editorial Team