Tuesday 4 October 2016

A Pocket Guide to France (1944)

I- Why you're going to France
YOU are about to play a personal part in pushing the Germans out of France. Whatever part you take - rifleman, hospital orderly, mechanic, pilot, clerk, gunner, truck driver - you will be an essential factor in a great effort which will have two results: first, France will be liberated from the Nazi mob and the Allied armies will be that much nearer to Victory, and second, the enemy will be deprived of coal, steel, manpower, machinery, food, bases, seacost and a long list of other essentials which have enabled him to carry on the war at the expense of the French. (...)

II - The United States soldier in France
MANY of you are no doubt wondering what kind of people the French are. You will soon see for yourselves. You will find that aside from the fact that they speak another (and very musical) language, they are very much like a lot of the people you knew back home. Here are a few facts about them which apply generally, but you must remember that each of them is individual, and that Pierre Ducrot is as different from Paul Boucher as you are from Joe Jones.
Frenchmen are much like us in one particular respect - they are all Frenchmen together and are as intensely proud of the fact as we are of being Americans. Yet we have many kinds of Americans - Southerners, Yankees, hoosiers, Native Sons - to name a few. (...) It's the same with France; you will find many accents and dialects among Bretons, Alsatians, Normans, Basques, Catalans and Provencals - the Southerners of France. But these people are Frenchmen all, and proud of it.
You will soon discover for yourself that the French have what might be called a national character. It is made up of half dozen outstanding characteristics:
(1) The French are mentally quick.
(2) Rich or poor, they are economical. Ever since the Nazis took over and French business came to a standstill, thousands of French families have kept themselves alive on their modest savings.
(3) The French are what they themselves call realistic. It's what we call having a hard common sense. (...) the Nazis have called the French cynical. Even in defeat the French can't be easily fooled.
(4) The French of all classes have respect for the traditionally important values in the life of civilized man. They have respect for religion and for artistic ideas. They have an extreme respect for property, whether public or private. (...) Respect for work is a profound principle in France. (...) Above all, the French respect the family circle as the natural center of social and economic life. (...) There is very little divorce in France. (...)
(5) The French are individualists. (...)
(6) The French are good talkers and magnificent cooks - if there sitll is anything left to put in the pot. French talk and French food have contributed more than anything else to the French reputation for gayety. (...)

The French also shake hands on greeting each other and on saying goodbye. They are not back-slappers. It's not their way.
In the larger cities you'll find shop-keepers who speak English (...). Many of the younger French generation (...) have picked up a smattering of English, plus slang, from the American movies, which were their favorites till the Nazis prohibited them. (...)

Security and Health
Health conditions of France closely resemble those you know in the United States except for a somewhat lower sanitary standard. Water supplies in the rural areas are more likely to be polluted but those of the large cities were generally safe before the war. Milk is not safe to drink unless boiled. (...)
Flies, lice and fleas are more common than with us, and less is done about them. (...) For your own sake keep them away. (...)

You Are a Guest of France
(...) Mostly, the French think Americans always act square, always give the little fellow a helping hand and are good-natured, big-hearted and kind. They look up to the United States as the friend of the oppressed and the liberator of the enslaved. (...)

France has been represented too often in fiction as a frivolous nation where sly winks and coy pats on the rear are the accepted form of address. You'd better get rid of such notions right now if you are going to keep out of trouble. A great many young French girls never go out without a chaperone, day or night. It will certainly bring trouble if you base your conduct on any false assumptions.
France is full of decent women and strict women. Most French girls have less freedom than girls back home. If you get a date don't be surprised if her parents want to meet you first, to size you up. (...)
Should you find some girl whose charms induce thoughts of marriage, here are a few points to think over: In your present status as a soldier, marriage to a foreign girl has many complications. (...)

Throughout the history of France, the Church has filled a very real compartment in the lives of Frenchmen. In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, the superb craftmanship and the sincere religious feeling of the French combined to erect some of the most magnificent monuments to God ever created. (...)

V - In parting
We are friends of the French and they are friends of ours.
The Germans are our enemies and we are theirs. Some of the secret agents who have been syping on the French will no doubt remain to spy on you. Keep a close mouth. No bragging about anything. (...)
You are a member of the best dressed, best fed, best equipped liberating Army now on earth. You are going in among the people of a former Ally of your country. They are still your kind of people who happen to speak democracy in a different language. Americans among Frenchmen, let us remember our likeness, not our differences. The Nazi slogan for destroying us both was "Divide and Conquer". Our American answer is "In Union Is Strength".

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