What it means to be French....
What does it mean to be French?
An overwhelming majority of the French believe their language is the greatest symbol of their nation. (in two different polls 80% here and here). This is uniquely French and certainly a major difference with what the Americans (or the British) might answer. (after all, contrary to France, the US has no official national language).
This has also interesting implications. It may for instance explain why the French are so reluctant to learn foreign languages (and particularly English of course).
The Republic came second with 92%. Public services came third with 91%. The Tricolor flag made (surprisingly) 88% and the Laicité (the French version of secularism) came next with 85 percent, followed for 77% by the Marseillaise national anthem.
Why these polls?
But no one is fool enough to miss the political timing of this initiative which is probably why it has sparked controversy. It is easy to see it as an attempt to divert attention from the recent polemics over Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand's past as a sex tourist in Asia, and over the president’s attempt of nepotism.
Sarkozy has also been accused of trying to woo the far right voters with the coming regional elections in mind, as the debate has come in the midst of the government’s talk to ban the full-body Islamic veil and implement a tougher approach to immigration.
What I find particularly it disturbing is that a debate on French identity should be so intimately linked to the immigration question. Just as disturbing to the left is that it comes from Eric Besson whom they see (rightfully) as a traitor and an opportunist. Divide to conquer is certainly what Sarkozy must have in mind (but division on this question also appears in his own camp).
Besson said he wants every young French citizen to sing the Marseillaise once a year, following a course on the theme of the national hymn. (Personally, I think the lyrics - here in French and here in English - are horribly gory and violent. My suggestion would be to change them, or find another song altogether. Unfortunately, given the recent polls, I’m afraid not many French people would agree with me.).
Forcing kids to sing the national anthem would be nothing more than a useless gimmick. Paradoxically, Besson seems to find the inspiration for this overt form of patriotism in… the American model (including with regard to immigration). He doesn't seem to see that what works in a country may not work in another! That is simply not the way the French do it.
"It is clear that Asterix was made with the image of the French," says Uderzo. "We took the tics and the manners of the French" – but that it relies so heavily on ingenious wordplay and puns for its humour.
Uderzo told French radio that Astérix was born when the owner of a French magazine called Pilote wanted a comic strip his kids could read that represented French culture. The creators settled on Gaulles as their characters, because he said, nothing is more French than the Gaulles. (VOA)