Germans and French study each other's language---Not!

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Mar 14 19:07:40 UTC 2003

New York Times, March 14, 2003

For France and Germany, Still No Love Lost


    PARIS, March 12 When the Elysee Treaty binding French and German
destinies was signed in 1963, one of its provisions was to spread the
study of French by German schoolchildren and German by the French. If the
Marie Curie Lycee, on a broad avenue leading to Versailles, heavy with
history between the two countries, is any measure, the ideal of
integration through the shaping of young minds has far to go toward
realization. The school boasts a German partner school in Paderborn, and
many of its pupils spend weeks with families across the Rhine in Germany.
Yet only 10 percent of Marie Curie's students take German, while 80
percent take English.

A few hundred miles east, in Hamburg, conditions are much the same at the
Heilwig Gymnasium, a high school north of the German port city's center.
English is the required first foreign language and French is studied by
only a small proportion of the school's 690 pupils. For German high school
students, French is a language of culture and refinement. Of the dozen or
so pupils who chose French this year for special study in their last two
years, almost all were girls. French, said Mareike, 18, "sounds pretty,
it's soft, that's why girls choose it; it's elegant." Janek, 18, the sole
boy in the group, said he risked heckling from other boys, and that some
of them regarded him as a sissy for choosing French.

The choice of languages by French and German schoolchildren, and the views
they have of one another that motivate it, underscores the continuing
division of Europe's two largest nations.  The fact is that France and
Germany do not love each other, even as their politically-willed
solidarity most recently reflected in their oppososition to American
policies toward Iraq has been the basis for the evolution of the European
Union. France and Germany, aided by the United States, arose from wartime
ruin and overcame centuries-old rivalries with a vision of cooperation
that brought prosperity and peace to a Continent plagued by war.

In 1963, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer signed the lyse Treaty. By
the 1990's, France and Germany were so intertwined they were able to join
other European countries in agreeing to abolish francs and marks and adopt
a common currency. Yet not even the advent of the euro has papered over
the fact that French-German integration may have worked at the
institutional level but has scarcely entered the hearts of the two
countries' citizens.

"Talk about French-German relations had become a prayer wheel," said
Brigitte Sauzay, a Frenchwoman who commutes between Paris and Berlin as an
adviser on French affairs to Chancellor Gerhard Schrder. "Always the same
thing: thanks to the French and Germans' stability, prosperity and peace
in Europe." In January, Jacques Chirac, the French president, and Mr.
Schrder celebrated the 40th anniversary of the lyse Treaty by pledging to
pump new life into the relationship. They proposed common cabinet
meetings, joint embassies abroad, a striving for common positions on
defense and foreign policy and even joint citizenship for French and
Germans with a common passport.

Whether such arrangements are workable remains unclear. But beyond the
purely bureaucratic issues, larger matters loom. The German-French
reconciliation was crucial for Europe. Gradually ever larger numbers of
countries united around the two. French-German unity became the magnetic
core around which a 15-member European Union, soon to be expanded,

But the 1990's and the end of the cold war were a difficult decade for
their relations. German reunification created a behemoth at the center of
Europe, a third larger than France. This made French officials uneasy that
France's influence would become more marginal. Still, France and Germany
remain determined to pursue something close to their original vision of a
federal Europe. A European constitution is being drafted at a convention
in Brussels. Yet in many ways their priorities are not those of other
European states.  Central European countries that have emerged from
decades of Soviet dominance, and are to join the union soon, are wary of
centralized authority.

France and Germany have also found that their resistance to war with Iraq
has not been shared by several neighbors, including Britain, Spain, Poland
and Romania. "The temptation is great for the present administration in
Washington to exploit Europe's weakness and to split apart this bothersome
creature, the European Union," former German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt,
said. "I consider the E.U. in its present situation very much endangered."
Washington, he said, could come to regret tampering with these decades of
European achievement.

The dream of a unity that would overcome the wounds of two world wars
began in the early 1950's with the European Coal and Steel Community. In
Saarbrcken on the French-German border, a European university arose. To
enhance cooperation, German cities and schools found partners in France.
Efforts were made to form joint French-German military units. In 1991,
both countries started Arte, a joint satellite television channel
dedicated to deepening each country's familiarity with the music, film and
theater of the other. When Mr. Schrder took office, he hired as an adviser
on France Ms. Sauzay, who had previously helped several French presidents
understand and deal with the Germans.

But the realty is sobering. Arte's audience, after rising rapidly in the
early 1990's, has stagnated at about 13 million viewers. In France, where
it is most popular, with about 9 million viewers, it is identified with
Parisian elites and, as a satellite station, is often not available in
rural areas that lack cable to distribute the satellite feed. In Germany,
where about 4 million people watch it, Arte remains an orphan as a result
of Germany's fragmented cultural politics, in which responsibility for
television lies with the individual states.

Closer military cooperation remains a distant dream, as Germany cuts back
on defense spending and France, under Mr. Chirac, boosts it, though for
projects like a new nuclear aircraft carrier to project French power,
rather than for the joint units closer cooperation would require. But
nowhere is the elusiveness of the dream more evident than in the schools.

While France remains for the German students the font of refinement and
culture, the French pupils still regard Germany for its economic might,
despite Germany's present weakened economy. Asked what came to mind at the
mention of Germany, the French students said economic prowess. "The
biggest trade partner of France," said Vincent, 17, a pupil at Marie
Curie. European integration has always gone ahead under American security
guarantees, and that arrangement holds. In some ways both sides are more
influenced by the United States than by each other.

One of the few animated moments in the discussion with the French students
came when talk turned to rap music. German rap was bad, the French
students agreed, probably because rap was little suited to the guttural
German tongue. "They listen to French rap," said Pierre, 19. Yet both the
French and German students conceded that rap was in origin at least
American. But European patriotism? No thank you. Asked whether they felt
more European, or French or German, the French students replied that they
were French and the Germans German.

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