"Kid, why does the Associated Press hate the French?" my friend, Karl, asked. We were at Frère Jacques', our favorite French-themed bar, watching a qualifying match for the French women's pétanque championship. It seemed a bit on the nose for us, but it was the only place to watch the matches.
What are you talking about? I said. Nobody hates the French.
"Are you kidding? A lot of people hate the French. Especially the Associated Press."
Well, I don't. I have a very good friend from France, and he's just delightful. What did the AP do?
"They tweeted something last month that labeled the French as dehumanizing."
I pulled out my phone and did a quick search. Found it, I said. It looks like the AP Stylebook tweeted, 'We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing "the" labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated.' Yeah, I see why they would be upset.
"I don't. What's the problem with saying 'the' with anything?"
They're saying don't do that because it's dehumanizing.
"But we've been saying 'the' French" repeatedly since you got here."
Because there's nothing wrong with saying 'the French.' That's why French people got so upset.
No, because it's OK to say 'the French.' The French, the French, the French. See? Nothing bad happened. Colette agrees with me, don't you? I said to our bartender.
Colette swore at me and made a rude gesture before stalking off to the kitchen.
"She's still mad you didn't tip her last time," said Karl.
I'm sorry, I'll make it up this time! I called after her. I turned back to my phone. Then they deleted the old tweet and replaced it with one that says, 'the poor, the mentally ill, the disabled, the college-educated.' They say we should instead use phrases like 'people with mental illnesses.'
"So they left the thing about the college-educated in there? What's so bad about having a college education?" Karl asked.
Nothing, I said. They probably kept it in because no one complained.
"Seriously? No one complained about that at all? The college-educated never said a word, but the French got their culottes in a twist?" Karl said, using the French word for "panties." Karl had lived in Paris for six months and still reminded people of it 27 years later.
He plonked his beer mug down and looked around for Colette. "Two more La Cagoles, please, Colette?" he called as she peeked out from the kitchen at us.
"Him, too?" she called back, pointing at me.
Yes, I'll tip you this time, I promise. Double, even.
Colette emerged from the door and stepped tentatively toward us like we were trying to lure a woodland creature with promises of food.
I thought for a moment. Wait a minute, last time we were here, I was supposed to buy lunch, and you were going to pay the tip, Karl. Did you not pay the tip?
"Oops!" said Karl.
"Imbécile!" shouted Colette.
"It was an accident!" protested Karl. "I went to the bathroom and thought the Kid paid the whole bill while I was gone."
The Kid? I said. Way to dehumanize me, Karl.
"All this time I have been blaming him, when you clearly are un radin," said Colette, using the French word for cheapskate.
"That's what I don't understand. Why is this even an issue?" Karl said, ignoring her. "How is 'the' dehumanizing to anyone?"
Think of it this way. How would you like one trait to be the thing we identified you by?
"Like what?" he demanded.
"Like 'le connard,'" huffed Colette.
"A duck? Why would you call me a duck?"
"That's canard," said Colette. "You are an—"
We'll just let people Google that one, I said. Karl, let's say you had diabetes. Would you rather say you're 'a diabetic' or that you 'have diabetes?'
"What's the difference?"
The second way means you have it, but you're not defined by it. You still get to be you, but it's not your whole identity. I wouldn't introduce you as Diabetic Karl or my friend Karl the Diabetic, as if that's all you were.
"Oh, I see. So you shouldn't say someone 'is disabled,' but that they 'have a disability?'"
Exactly. That's not their defining factor in the same way it is to be an American or French, or a father or mother, or—
"Or a connard," interrupted Colette.
"You're just not going to let that go, are you?" said Karl.
Colette, how about Karl pays the bill and the tip, plus what he forgot? Would that make you happy?
"Beaucoup," she said. "Very much."
Karl reached into his wallet and pulled out enough cash to cover the bill, plus another 50 percent for the tip.
"Mon frère!" shouted Colette, throwing her arms open wide in a welcoming gesture. "Vous êtes l'homme généreux! You are the generous man!"
"See, Kid? Vive les français. Long live the French!"
Photo credit: Taxiarchos228 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)
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