As French as Apple Pie

Greg Gnall
3 min readDec 18, 2023

“France is a paradise inhabited by people who think they‘re in hell”
-Sylvain Tesson

There is no country that takes greater pride in its language, arts and culture than France. The French are particularly protective of their language and do their best to insulate it from the slang and bastardizations that infect every language in our social media-satuated world.

The Académie française was established in 1635 to act as the official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language, and to publish an official dictionary of its tongue. Despite these official efforts, the French language is under assault around the world not least by the trends in its former colonies in Africa to throw off the shackles of their colonial past and adapt every day language that integrates the latest hip words and phrases into official French.

Even in Quebec, which the French have not ruled since losing on the Plains of Abraham to the English in 1759, although the official language remains French, they are so protective of the vernacular that a native Frenchwoman was denied a certificate of permanent residency for not being sufficiently proficient in the language for the sin of publishing a chapter of her doctoral thesis in English.

But language is only one part of France’s insular view of its culture. The country has long protected its cinema by imposing quotas on the showing of American-made films and has long subsidized its own movie industry even when the product is less than stellar.

But it is probably French pride in its cuisine that sets them furthest apart and confident of its superiority. From Jacques Pepin to Paul Bocuse to Alain Decasse, French chefs have long ruled the culinary world. Even on the humble, every day level, the baguette has been named by UNESCO, the United Nations heritage agency, as something worthy of humanity’s preservation, adding it to its exalted “intangible cultural heritage” list. However, even this recognition of the qualities of a simple loaf of bread has not been enough to stave off the threats to the future of the French baguette as inflation, the decline of rural life and even foreign intrusions into bakery ownership have sent many traditional bakers to the sidelines.

So what is behind these powerful assaults on all things French? Many French claim that the invasion of American pop culture and “wokeism” is to blame. English has long been recognized as the predominant global language and the invasion of American cinema and TV have eviscerated the appeal of home-grown entertainment. But it is probably the attack on its cuisine that hurts the most. And the rise of the ubiquitous American donut behemoth Krispy Kreme in Paris may be the final straw.

Although the French have long ago become infatuated with American fast food (McDonald’s has more restaurants in France than any other country in Europe), the donut represents everything that is wrong with American pop culture. But are they being hypocritical? After all, if you want a piece of fried dough, you can always get a beignet. Somehow the French think they are superior for using a more elegant name for essentially the same unhealthy product. Maybe they should drop the pretense and accept reality as in the famous dialogue between Jules and Vincent in the American classic Pulp Fiction:

Vincent:
And you know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules:
They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?

Vincent:
No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the f*** a Quarter Pounder is.

Jules:
Then what do they call it?

Vincent:
They call it a Royale with cheese.

Jules:
A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?

Vincent:
Well, a Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac.

Jules:
Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper?

Vincent:
I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King.

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