The New York Times takes the opportunity to examine French identity and culture amidst the Dominique Strauss-Kahn controversy by talking with French residents of New York and other France experts.
The episode has forced many native French people to tease out what part of them has evolved into an American and what part has never left France, which coined the word ‘chauvinism’ in the patriotic sense. (Nicolas Chauvin was a soldier fanatically loyal to Napoleon.)
The media has largely recognized the French and American opinions on Strauss-Kahn’s behavior and have drawn a distinction between the two approaches, which have made many French-Americans question their identity.
…French-Americans believe the case has ‘tarnished our image,’ said Marie-Monique Steckel, president of the French Institute Alliance Française, which promotes French culture and language. When she heard news of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, she said, she found herself ‘extremely emotional,’ adding, ‘My Frenchness came to the fore with more force than I would have thought.’
And although some French-Americans may think Americans react too prudishly to the sex scandals of their leaders, Ms. Steckel said, ‘There is a difference between a womanizer and rape.’
From a cross-cultural perspective, this also brings to mind the importance of appreciating the difference in definition of sexual harassment between US and European workplaces. It also points out how important it is for businesspeople working globally to have an understanding of what constitutes appropriate workplace behavior.
The “perp walk” Strauss-Kahn took was another salient issue the French community raised because it’s illegal in France and considered an unnecessary form of humiliation. What is your view? The notion that you are innocent until proven guilty, concerned about individual rights, but we don’t think it’s bad to do the perp walk.
Various issues of French-American identity add to the conversation regarding the French penchant for conspiracy theories:
French people who have lived in New York for a long time, she said, have moved beyond seeing the world in such a conspiratorial fashion. ‘The French adore the idea of plots,’ [Steckel] said. ‘They see plots everywhere. French-Americans become more factual.’
To our French and French-American readers, do these comments resonate with your cultural values? What is your take on bi-cultural identity?
To the rest of our readers, how does the question of (dual) cultural identity inform your opinions on the way justice systems prosecute and/or defend highly visible officials such as Strauss-Kahn?
We look forward to your comments.