Robert Zaretsky: France, the U.S. and Liberté or Liberty?

Robert Zaretsky teaches French history at the University of Houston and is coauthor of France and its Empire Since 1870.

France will celebrate Bastille Day on Saturday. Like its sister republic on this side of the Atlantic, the French Republic will mark its liberation from the yoke of monarchical rule. But despite the shower of fireworks, parades and speeches in praise of liberty, don't be deceived. Just as America's red, white and blue is the mirror image of France's blue, white and red, liberté isn't quite the same as liberty, especially in the 21st century.
We have long known that France is, well, a foreign country. Take the bidet — which most Americans do, as a cooler for Coke, not a spritz for their private parts. (Our national soft drink, on the other hand, was quite literally seen by the postwar French as an American plot to "coca-colonize" their nation.)
No less particular, and even more peculiar, is the ascenseur à cornichons, or cornichon elevator, the green mesh platform with which one raises those glistening and petite pickles to the jar's lip. The elevator is as graceful for the French as it is meaningless for Americans, for whom cornichons are little more than failed pickles. (Besides, what's wrong with a fork?)..

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