Don’t Wine For France

Vive la France! Many Americans would beg to differ, especially these days.

A boycott of all things fran�ais is sweeping the nation in light of France’s refusal to back the United States in the anticipated war against Iraq.

Dubbed the French Backlash, it has some Americans bypassing imported products such as wine and cheese in an effort to send an economic message — American trade with France tops out around $50 billion a year.

Those who are participating in the boycott cite historic evidence that France’s fickleness is a betrayal:

We bailed them out of both World Wars, and 9,400 American soldiers died on the shores of Normandy during the D-Day invasion of World War II.

Sure, they helped us out in the American Revolution, but let’s not forget, France took its cues from America when it came time to launch its own revolt against tyranny.

Then in 1985, the French government would not allow U.S. military aircraft to fly over its airspace on our way to bomb Libya.

Wars aside, France allowed infamous murder fugitive Ira Einhorn to live off the fat of its land while denying U.S. requests to extradite him.

While most Americans taking part in a boycott have only recently jumped on the anti-French bandwagon, Al Seaman is miles ahead of them.

The Vietnam veteran’s disdain for the French is rooted in the war in which he fought.

"Vietnam was a French-[occupied] country. We went in to bail them out and they just took off and left us there. They turned their backs on us. Since then, I have no respect for them and I can’t stand them," Seaman says.

Since Vietnam, the Southwest Philly resident has avoided all things French, including products and restaurants. "I won’t have anything French in my house. Anything made in France, I want none of it," he says.

Now, the European nation’s opposition to a war in Iraq has anti-French sentiment spreading faster than the mold on Beaufort cheese.

French cheese distributor reported U.S. sales dropped 15 percent in the past several weeks. Locally, DiBruno Brothers in the Ninth Street Market hasn’t noticed any fallout from the French Backlash. "It’s too early to gauge. We have not seen any difference yet. It could happen, though," says owner Emilio Mignucci.

DiBruno carries about 500 cheeses on a regular basis and rotates in another 250, Mignucci says. "About half of the 750 are French, a third are Italian and the rest are Spanish or Portuguese."

One day last month, all three of the fromages DiBruno sliced up for customers to sample were French. Coincidence (a French word, by the way) or what?

"Normally, we mix it up. We try to do one French, one Spanish and one Italian," the owner explains.

While his business has not experienced the French Backlash, Mignucci says he understands why some Americans are boycotting French products.

"The reason people are upset is that our government does and does and does to help out other countries. We helped liberate France in World War II and we’re looking for some support back," Mignucci says.

Some U.S. restaurants have stopped offering French wines. In a dramatic show of American patriotism, one Florida restaurateur went so far as to pour his entire stock of French wines down the sewer. While most wine lovers winced in pain and uttered, "Mon Dieu!" the move made national headlines and proved a poignant point.

However, David Ansill, chef and owner of Pif, a French BYOB bistro at 1009 S. Eighth St., says he still sees plenty of French wines on his tables. "My customers include a lot of serious wine collectors who have a lot of French wines in their cellars. They’re going to continue to drink those French wines regardless of their political stand," Ansill says.

Ansill thinks the French backlash is "ridiculous" because it doesn’t help resolve the situation. Instead, it just creates more problems, he contends.

Hours before opening his doors to customers last week, Ansill shrugged his shoulders and said, "I like French things. I have a French restaurant. I like French food, I like French wine. I like my wife — she’s French."

At a local state store, though, a resident from the 2900 block of South Broad Street who declined to give her name says she purchased as a gift a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon over a French selection.

"If they’re against us, I wouldn’t buy their stuff," she said.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board echoed DiBruno Brothers’ report that it’s difficult to tell if the French Backlash is affecting business. "We are monitoring it, but it’s still too early to say. We would have to watch it over several months," says Molly McGowan, spokesperson for the Liquor Control Board.

Meanwhile, Delaware County state Rep. Steven Barrar is so outraged over the French government’s lack of support for the United States that he plans to introduce a resolution asking the Liquor Control Board to remove French wine and spirits from store shelves. According to Barrar, the state spends about $18 million a year buying French wine products.

But it’s not just fromage and Beaujolais in question.

A North Carolina eatery made news when its owner decided to rename french fries "freedom fries." Many restaurants around the country followed suit, although none of the diners the Review visited had made the move.

Seaman, the Vietnam vet, says he feels gratified by the recent boycott.

"I love it. I think they are finally getting what they deserve," he says. "French people treat Americans like they are garbage. Why anybody would want to go over there is beyond me. They can go to England if they want to — that’s a country that backed us all the way."

The French reputation for arrogance has been reinforced by that nation’s reaction to the backlash.

Guillaume Parmentier, head of the French Centre on the United States, told the Canadian news service, "Well, if [Americans] prefer to eat American food, it is entirely their problem."

Boris Marchand-Tonnel of the French-U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Paris told The Guardian, "Maybe in a few New York restaurants, a few clients will refuse to order French wine, but it’s peanuts against the overall picture. It’s really just symbolic."

An attempt to get local reaction was met with a less-than-diplomatic response.

When the Review contacted Alliance Fran�ais, a local organization that promotes French culture through language classes and social events, the director refused to even give her name. Touch�!

"I am not making any statement on this. I really don’t want to get involved. We are not a political organization," she said sharply.

As for the French consulate? Well, the consul to America is away in France — where else? — until next month.

C’est la vie!