by | Feb 15, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NAGANO, Japan — Ever since this whole Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky thing came out, I’ve had a terrible fear. This is my fear. The French are laughing at us.

I don’t like to be laughed at by the French. Whenever I visit France, I get the feeling they are laughing at me nonstop. If I ask a cab driver to take me to the Eiffel Tower, I am sure, even as he nods, he is thinking, “Eiffel Tower! Eee! Wat a eediot!”

If I order wine in a French restaurant, I am sure the waiter is thinking,
“Hah! This man has ze taste of a small snail! I will serve him grape juice and he weel not know the difference!”

You know that commercial, where the French girl tells the American guy “beau pantalon” and he flips hurriedly through the dictionary until a waiter slaps him with a towel? That’s me. I’m the guy with the dictionary. And France is the towel.

Do I sound paranoid here? Intimidated? Maybe I am. Maybe it’s because most French men wake up in the morning with more sex appeal than I have on my best days. Maybe it’s because most French women are not only beautiful, high-cheekboned supermodels, but they stare at guys like me as if to say,
“Don’t even think about eet, you leeettle cock-a-roach.”

Let’s face it. The French have it all over Americans when it comes to bread, cheese, sauce, wine or the proper way to dangle a cigarette from your lips. We can take solace in a few advantages, such as the ability to blow them up.

Also, they think Jerry Lewis and Mickey Rourke are geniuses. I cannot tell you how much comfort that has given me over the years.

Still, when dealing with the French, the one thing you don’t want to get into a slinging match over is sex. Forget it. It’s like trying to outdunk Michael Jordan. Only a fool would open that can of worms.

Which brings us to our president.

The view of the French

Clinton’s libido, and what he may or may not have done with it, dominates the news in America, which means it dominates CNN, which means it dominates the world airwaves, because most of the planet now gets its information from Ted Turner.

This means, of course, that Monica is now a story in France.

And so I found myself, a few days ago, walking with dread down to a French newspaper office here at the Olympic Games media center. I was facing my fear. I needed to know.

“Excuse me,” I said, upon entering the room, “is there someone here who speaks English?”

“Un peu …a little,” said a gray-haired man named Patrick, one of the eight or nine reporters, all of whom looked at me as if to say, “We are French, we can have any woman we want, haha.”

“Well,” I said, “I was wondering, uh, what your country thought about the scandal facing our president, Bill Clinton.”

Patrick shrugged his shoulders, lifted his eyebrows, and blew a mouthful of air. “What we seeenk? This is what we seeenk. We are raughing.”


“Yes. Raughing. Hahahahahahaha!”

I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!

The view of the Japanese

Dejected, I asked Patrick why he and his country found Interngate so amusing.

“You Americans are so crazy with ze sex, no?” he said. “In France, we had a president, he is dead now, his name was Mitterrand. You ‘ave ‘eard of ‘eem, yes?”

I ‘ave ‘eard of ‘eem, yes.

“He ‘ad many women. Everyone knows and nobody cares. When he dies, he ees buried, weeth his wife on ze one side, and his meestress just behind him, comme ca.”

He marked a distance with his hand that suggested that, if Mitterrand had wanted to continue his affair in the cemetery, he could have.

“But doesn’t it bother you that you’d elect a man to be president, and he might use his position for sexual favors?”

Patrick shrugged again. “Why else would he take ze job?”

Thoroughly depressed, I left the office and wandered down the hall. That is when I encountered a Japanese journalist named Shinya Chuihi. He seemed like an affable fellow and so, through an interpreter, I asked what his country would do if its leader did what Clinton was alleged to have done.

“He would be thrown out!” Shinkya said.

“Really?” I said.

“Yes. This is a terrible thing. The nation would be ashamed.”

I began to feel better. A country with standards. A country with dignity. A country that understood us.

“So Japan thinks an extramarital affair in the White House is disgraceful?” I said.

“No, no!” he said. “Affairs are fine. What is disgraceful is that the girl is so young. A man his age should have an affair with a 40-year-old!”

And he started laughing!

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking of changing my name to Jerry Lewis.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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