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La France dans le regard des États-Unis

Frédéric Monneyron
Martine Xiberras

Manuels scolaires et internet

9- France as Seen in Beginning Language Textbooks at the University Level

Nicole Fouletier-Smith


Pour la majorité des étudiants américains qui ne font pas d’études spécialisées en français, deux ou trois semestres de cours obligatoires doivent leur fournir ce qu’ils se rappelleront de la France et des Français durant le reste de leur vie, tant au point de vue linguistique que culturel.

Si l’analyse des manuels d’apprentissage du français continue à refléter une image très traditionnelle de la France, elle montre aussi les efforts en cours pour la dépoussiérer. En plus d’initiatives ponctuelles, deux stratégies privilégiées s’appuient sur des valeurs à la mode chez les Américains: la célébration de la diversité et la globalisation. La France reste au cœur des études françaises mais n’en est plus le seul but. L’étude de la francophonie, à la fois ouverture culturelle et préoccupation utilitaire visant à enrayer le déclin des inscriptions en français, semble prouver que c’est l’image du français plutôt que l’image de la France qui est en hausse dans les méthodes d’apprentissage du français aux États-Unis.

Texte intégral

1First, I would like to offer a few remarks on foreign language education in the United States. In spite of much goodwill and considerable effort, not all middle and high schools are able to offer language courses, often for budgetary reasons. Foreign language study is no longer considered as essential to national security as it was in the early 1960’s, after Sputnik was launched. Funding has been replaced with noble proclamations, which are a lot less expensive! For example, the U. S. Senate proclaimed the year 2005 as the « Year of Languages » (Senate Resolution 170) to encourage more Americans to study foreign languages and to emphasize the academic, social, political and economic benefits foreign language study procures.

2Unlike most European universities, where departments of foreign languages and literatures mainly receive students who have attained high levels of language proficiency, most American university students have not studied a foreign language at all or have done so for only one or two semesters in high school. These students must overcome what is considered a deficiency and are thus required to take more hours of foreign language courses. Many have to start from scratch when their experience is too short or too far in the past. These deficient students must register for 3 or 4 semesters – between 12 and 16 credit hours – of foreign language study.

3This huge captive audience is a great boon not only to language departments, but to textbook publishing companies. In any language department, teaching beginning language is considered a service activity to the institution and mobilizes a great number of resources. For example, the number of students registering in these required courses allows the departments to finance their graduate assistants’ scholarships and their professors’ research. It also enables publishers to sell scores of first-year textbooks and use their profits to publish manuals for learners who are more advanced but much less numerous.

4The pressures facing beginning language textbook authors are immense. They must provide their large audience with what will probably be the single most significant source of information about French language and culture that they will be exposed to in their lives. Indeed, during the non-French-majors’ short stay in required courses, their textbooks must impart to them the only knowledge of the French language and culture they will likely encounter.

5From this perspective, I invite you to explore with me the various images of France presented in university-level beginning French textbooks in the United States. For this purpose, I selected four textbooks: (1) Contacts Langue et Culture françaises, (2) Chez Nous, branché sur le monde francophone, (3) Voilà, an introduction to French and (4) Parallèles Communication et Culture. Each book has more than 500 pages, costs more than 100 dollars and is used for 2 to 3 semesters. Contacts Langue et Culture françaises, 7th edition (Valette-Valette. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001) has been among the best sellers for more than 25 years and, according to a Heinle & Heinle editor (Heinle is a Boston publishing house specializing in language textbooks), Contacts was the number one seller in Fall 2005. Second place belonged to Chez Nous branché sur le monde francophone, 3rd edition (Valdman, Pons, Scullen, Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2006). Third place includes a number of textbooks which will be represented by Voilà, an introduction to French, 4th edition (Heilenman, Kaplan, Toussaint-Tournier, Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 2001). Finally, I chose examples from my own textbook, Parallèles Communication et Culture, 3rd edition (Fouletier-Smith. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2004).

6Book covers are important sales tools. They are chosen for their aesthetic value, of course, but also for setting a certain tone. For Contacts there is a photo of the « rue Saint Jacques » in the « Vieux Lyon »: old buildings and modern crowds! A sticker proclaiming EURO EDITION, celebrating the euro’s arrival, is superimposed over the cover photo.

7 Chez Nous places on the cover of its latest edition a traditional and old-fashioned image of France: it pictures the entrance door to a French country home adorned with heavy blue shutters, its window panes veiled in checkered pink and white material. Two golden loaves of bread are placed on the step. While a trained eye is immediately aware that these loaves are not the famous French baguettes, the average American is immediately transported to the France of his or her dreams!

8 Voilà simply sets its title over a field of sunflowers, for no immediately apparent reason... perhaps to symbolize the French countryside or French agricultural wealth. On the dark blue Parallèles cover, a Moroccan veil with Arabic characters underscores the emphasis given to the Francophone World in this new edition. Three of the four covers confirm that the image of France as seen from the United States is primarily a traditional one that mirrors what Americans expect and are already familiar with (historical cities, the rich French countryside, and the « baguette »).

9In the four textbooks in question, France is introduced by both images and texts. Images – as evidenced by the credits – are most often photos coming from image banks belonging to the publishers or bought from agencies and/or museums. Some photos are provided by the authors. Among the realia, many images and/or logos come from published advertising reproduced by permission. Statistical charts are often partial reconstructions of authentic documents, borrowed from magazines such as L’Express, Le Nouvel Observateur, Phosphore, Le Figaro Magazine or La Croix, or from the current edition of Gérard Mermet’s Francoscopie, a popular source. Finally, publishers frequently diagram information compiled from agencies such as l’Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques (INSEE) and l’Institut Français d’Opinion Publique (IFOP).

10The materials treating culture are written by the authors themselves. The texts often consist of dialogs invented to sound authentic. For example, a lesson on the topic of food typically begins (Contacts, p. 254, Chez Nous, p. 305) with a short conversation among friends, followed by a cultural note (Contacts, p. 255) about French meals. These cultural notes, whose placement in the chapter may be before or after the vocabulary presentation, are usually written in English for the first three or four chapters and in French later on. Short questions such as « Et chez vous? Qu’en est-il? », geared to involve students more deeply, usually follow. Every three chapters, Contacts adds a section containing practical information under the heading « Vivre en France », where one learns how to purchase a subway, plane or train ticket, make a room reservation, obtain a theater ticket, or simply use the Michelin guide.

11Each chapter in Voilà opens with an authentic document, brochure and photo-collage, followed by questions illustrating the chapter theme. This introduction is followed by author-written texts to present the vocabulary in context. A short rubric in the margins, entitled « Infos Plus », always written in English, adds a complement of information. For example, one finds a few lines on « L’Amour passionné, le grand amour » (Voilà p. 406) in the chapter dedicated to love and marriage.

12Additionally, Voilà inserts among its regular chapters special issues of a Magazine francophone. Written in French, it is set to look just like a real magazine and serves as a lively way to convey supplementary cultural information on a selected theme.

13In Parallèles, whose goal is to systematically develop the students’ability to perform rudimentary cultural analyses, every chapter starts with a rubric labeled « Cultures en parallèles », a visual document – photo or survey – followed by a questionnaire. The rubric directs students to make observations about their own culture. It is followed by an author-written « Contexte », presenting the vocabulary, and a cultural note called « Est-ce evident? » After having read and discussed four of theses « Contextes » + notes, the second part of the rubric, « Cultures en parallèles », directs students to compare both cultures in two steps: (1) « Observer » and (2) « Réfléchir ». The section, « Parallèles historiques », ends each chapter, adding an historical perspective to each theme. The chapter on food, for example, ends with a note on « la poule au pot du bon roi Henri » (Parallèles, p. 286).

14Following my presentation of the methods used to present France and her culture, we are now able to record and index many of the individual pieces of this puzzle.

15Let’s start with the geography of France. With the exception of Parallèles ( « A l’échelle de la France », p. 126) the difference in size between France and the United States is neither openly present nor discussed. And while Parallèles (p. 101) invites its readers to « Un petit tour dans l’hexagone », Chez Nous (p. 255) denounces « le mythe de l’hexagone », showing that the « Hexagone »’s borders are far from natural. All of the textbooks, however, agree with Parallèles’ (p. 127) assertion that France is « si petite et si variée ». Contacts (p. 231) illustrates the consequences, confirming – surprise! – that « la France est un pays touristique ».

16« Province » or « regions » are terms that appear to be used interchangeably, regardless of their actual meanings (once again demonstrating the legendary American aversion to geography). For example, maps of France in Parallèles and Chez Nous, published by the same house, are identical. In Parallèles, however, the regions are correctly labeled, while Chez Nous continues to use the old term « provinces ».

17In all four textbooks, the same regions (or provinces, or even areas) are highlighted. The favorites include Provence, Brittany, Normandy, the Loire Valley, Chartres, Alsace, and the Alps. First comes Provence, with its sun, « santons », « aioli », « calanques », Roman monuments and Avignon’s Palace of the Popes. Brittany, with its « crêpes » and quaint fishing harbors, comes in second, competing with Normandy and its American cemeteries. Let’s not forget the Loire Valley and its castles, Chartres and its cathedral, and Alsace with its half-timbered houses. The Alps are always mentioned when a chapter deals with winter or summer sports (the Pyrenees are forgotten). No wonder the future tourist needs a guidebook: Michelin for Parallèles, and Le Guide du Routard and Voir for Chez Nous.

18The place and the role of Paris are given great emphasis in all four textbooks. « Paris sera toujours Paris » for Contacts (p. 226), « ville-monument ville-musée, ville-promenade ou les distractions abondent... mais aussi symbole du gigantisme administratif, de la bureaucratie de la centralisation ». Paris remains « la ville lumière » for Chez Nous (p. 375), while Voilà (p. 273) and Parallèles (p. 143) devote several pages to the Paris monuments, often better seen from a « bateau mouche ». Chez Nous (p. 382) also notes that Paris is a city much appreciated by many famous Americans, from Benjamin Franklin to Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. The old adage, « Paris c’est la France et la France c’est Paris », is still in full force, in spite of Contacts’ (p. 331) cultural note on « l’urbanisation de la France ». After Paris, the cities of Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Toulouse are the ones most often mentioned. Tours (Chez Nous, p. 365) and Rennes (Parallèles, p. 167) are accompanied by maps, while the renowned medieval city of Carcassonne figures twice among notable French cities (Parallèles, p. 171 and Chez Nous p. 368).

19 Voilà (p. 100 and p. 497) is the only textbook to discuss the administrative divisions of France in regions and departments, whose existence Contacts (p. 359) acknowledges in five lines. All textbooks, however, contain abundant readings and notes about the DOM-TOM, although they are often reduced to Martinique and Guadeloupe.

20To finish with the theme of geography, it is worth noting that only Parallèles (p. 108) discusses the climate tempéré et varié de la France while the other three textbooks only note that the temperature is expressed in Celsius!

21French history, this long history that fascinates the American tourist visiting the cathedrals and the Loire castles, is curiously absent from all textbooks. Half a page and a photo are dedicated in Contacts (p. 225) to the Allied landing in Normandy.

22Furthermore, France’s colonial past is oddly absent, except in a marginal annotation to the instructor, suggesting it may be appropriate to remind students that at the origin of « francophonie », there was a large colonial empire (Parallèles, p. 89). I have already mentioned that only Parallèles offers a historical rubric, « Parallèles historiques », in each chapter. Besides « la poule au pot du bon roi Henri », I shall point out another example in the chapter on secondary education, where the portraits of Charlemagne, Rousseau and Jules Ferry proclaim: « Vive l’école! » (Parallèles p. 361).

23One also notices in all four textbooks the near total absence of political science elements. France would appear to be a fairyland with no administrative structures if Contacts did not mention repeatedly the existence of ministries to manage political and social issues: ministries of Education, Culture and Communication, Youth and Sports, Francophonie and others. Political life is approached only indirectly through the theme of students and politics (Contacts, p. 303 and Parallèles, p. 391), a theme consistently illustrated with pictures of street demonstrations. Students’ political engagement is limited to issues that touch them directly: the fight against racism, opposition to war, defense of youth interests, the fight against social inequalities, violence against women, AIDS and ecological disasters. Information on political and/or societal factors affecting the quality of French life, such as unemployment, pollution, freedom, and health services, among many others, are rarely seen. A notable exception appears in Voilà (p. 528) in the form of an IFOP-Express poll in which people were asked what they thought « goes well » in France versus what « does not go so well (ce qui va bien en France et ce qui va mal) ».

24The textbook authors do not pay much attention to the European Union. Contacts (p. 502) offers a quick chronology of the birth of the European Community. Voilà’s (p. 29) map depicting the European Union as made up of 13 countries, however, is completely out of date (Voilà 5th edition will be published in 2007). Dialogs and stories taking place in European countries such as Switzerland or Belgium (Parallèles, p. 157 and p. 221; Voilà, p. 48) occur much less frequently than those taking place in Canada and Africa.

25 The French concept of time is treated in all four textbooks. Each adopts a practical approach to the 24-hour clock and offers many exercises training students to give times, read train schedules or understand shop opening hours (Voilà p. 135). With Chez Nous (p. 46), students use the calendar to learn how to celebrate birthdays. Parallèles (p. 319) goes a bit further, proposing to study the calendar as a cultural artifact, which records history, beliefs and traditions that were and continue to be part of the culture. Only rarely do value judgments replace objective descriptions, but it happened in this short marginal note in English contrasting the concept of timeliness in France and in the United States: « In North American culture promptness is usually seen as a virtue. In France, however, it is not necessarily the case. The French obey their own sets of culturally determined rules » (Voilà p. 128).

26On the subject of intellectual and cultural life, a topic that students expect, the textbooks are richer. Secondary education, perhaps not a matter of particular interest to university students, is often treated in one syllable: the « bac ». The difficulty of the « bac », « a High school graduation exam », according to Voilà (p. 295), is further underlined by Contacts (p. 275) in a chapter called « La course aux diplômes ». Chez Nous (p. 116) adds that it is common to fail the « bac » the first time. Parallèles stands alone in devoting an entire chapter to secondary school and in underlining the « bac »’s importance to the student him/herself, to his/her family and, of course, to his/her future.

27In treating higher education, Contacts (p. 275) discusses only the university, and Voilà explores the Free University of Brussels (p. 65), while Chez Nous (p. 117) points to other institutions of higher learning such as business or engineering schools and mentions, without identifying them, the prestigious and competitive « Grandes Écoles ». Chez Nous (p. 117) is also the only textbook (because it is the most recently published) to mention that the European Union is currently reorganizing its universities, following the American model with semester and credit hours. Parallèles (p. 365) devotes an entire chapter to higher education (universities and « Grandes Écoles ») and includes a collage based on INSEE statistics indicating recent changes.

28Culture with a capital C holds an important place in three of the four textbooks. Contacts dedicates one special chapter, « Aperçus culturels », exclusively to high culture. « France, mère des arts » (Contacts, p. 424-433) contains a 10-page art history booklet, from prehistoric to modem art, because « les Français d’aujourd’hui sont passionnés par et visitent régulièrement les expositions organisées par les grands musées nationaux » (Contacts, p. 424). In addition, there is a five-paragraph note shown earlier in the book, focusing on French cinema (Contacts, p. 115), encompassing the Cannes festival and the obligatory tip to « les ouvreuses »! Voilà contains a rubric called « Art et lettres » in each special issue of its Magazine francophone mentioned earlier. Its contents are eclectic: the same issue includes four of Jacques Prévert’s poems, a short story from Cameroon, a Quebec song and a note on the Belgian female music group Zap Mama (Voilà, p. 319), as well as short film critiques. Chez Nous’ last two chapters are devoted to media (film and fine arts) and a succession of cultural notes focuses on international film festivals, La fête de la musique, the weekly Pariscope and many Paris museums. A scene from the opera Carmen serves as the reading (Chez Nous, p. 488-492). Parallèles’ coverage of the arts is far less encyclopedic (as said earlier, its goal is to train students in the rudiments of cultural analysis), mentioning la fête de la musique and French radio’s music quotas (Parallèles, p. 196). It is worth noting the most popular artists in the four textbooks. Among the writers, Prévert holds first place far ahead of Verlaine, Molière, Annie Emaux and Victor Hugo. Among the singers, Trenet is still popular. Additionally, the works of cartoonists Sempé, Faizant, Plantu and Bretécher are frequently reproduced.

29The bulk of cultural notes, however, concern French daily life. Before devoting more time to the most popular topics such as vacations and food, I propose to do a short inventory of the various topics that warranted cultural notes:

  • Shaking hands, « la bise », « les bonnes manières »
  • Politeness, etiquette
  • Slang and « verlan »
  • The neighborhood (subway station, post office, « bureau de tabac », pharmacy and shops ( « charcuterie », « boulangerie », « boucherie », day care and... the « FNAC (Fédération Nationale d’Achats pour Cadres) »
  • Housing ( « banlieue » or downtown, « cité-U » or rentals, apartment life, student life and its budget: the FNAC once again, « restau U »)
  • Fashion and clothing sizes
  • Sports, including « Le Tour de France », Zinedine Zidane and Club Med
  • Train transportation
  • « Métro, boulot, dodo », the work week and « les 35 heures », job interviews, working women, immigrant workers, the « SMIC (Salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance) »
  • Technology (Minitel (!) Concorde, TGV, Ariane and Airbus)
  • Doctors without borders

30All of the textbooks devote two entire chapters to the popular themes of food and leisure activities, including vacation time. On the topic of food, Contacts (p. 254) wishes us « Bon appétit! ». Voilà (p. 209) wonders « Qu’est ce qu’on mange? » Parallèles (p. 252) invites us « A table! » and Chez Nous (p. 304) takes us « Du marché à la table ». The cultural notes deal with:

  • Meal organization
  • Meal times
  • How to order at cafes and restaurants
  • Children’s afternoon snacks
  • Meal time as a special time for the family to gather (while catching up on TV news?)
  • How much food is eaten
  • Shopping trips at the comer grocery store, the supermarkets and hypermarkets
  • Eating well, a robust tradition
  • 365 kinds of cheeses for 365 days
  • « Les plaisirs de la table »
  • Fast food

31The increase in available leisure time because of the 35-hour week and the 5-week paid vacation is a constant theme to which all of the textbooks allocate an entire chapter. French people want to enjoy life and the opportunities to do so are numerous, notes Contacts, which explains that « Les loisirs sont devenus un droit » (p. 381). But it is no longer enough to « bronzer idiot » (Parallèles, p. 462) as more people have time to enjoy sports, meet friends, spend time at their secondary residences and travel. Of course, daily life habits and behaviors reflect French values, and the four textbooks propose similar lists of these important values, based on polls from IFOP, INSEE or SOFRES (Société française d’enquêtes et de sondages):

  • Health, family, money, work, free time, children and housing, according to Contacts and SOFRES.
  • Quality of life, freedom, social benefits, solidarity, democracy and technological advances, as maintained by Voilà and IFOR
  • To earn enough money, enjoy good health, have a successful family life and thriving friendships, appreciate life’s small pleasures, and feel fulfilled in one’s personal and professional life, according to Parallèles and L’Express.
  • Health and environment are the two top values according to all four textbooks.

32As we have seen, France as portrayed in university level textbooks remains traditional, as dramatically evidenced by the beautiful but old-fashioned photo gracing Chez Nous’ cover. France is seen a bit like a fairyland, geographically fuzzy, whose long history seems to have left traces mostly in the domains of art and architecture for the enjoyment of tourists. It’s a country where life is good because of its joie de vivre, where the bread has no equal, the coffee is strong and the natives are sexy and romantic. Of course it is also a country of technological triumphs. If it is reasonable, however, to feature prominently Airbus and Ariane, the Minitel is certainly (very) dusty, the Concorde no longer flies and the TGV has been running for more than 30 years!

33For authors and publishers of textbooks, the question remains: how do we retain, yet at the same time modernize, this traditional image that sells because it is solidly anchored in the American psyche? In perusing the four textbooks, one notices some timely initiatives. All prices, for example, are now indicated in euros. A mention of « le Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PACS) » is required in the chapter on the family, as are the new behaviors brought about by the 35-hour work week in the chapters on work or vacation time.

34In addition to these initiatives, American publishers have favored two strategies in modernizing France’s image. Both rest on two values imperatively fashionable in the United States today: (1) celebrating diversity and (2) globalization.

35While it is certain that « Vive la différence! » is not a new concept and that it has deep French roots, celebrating differences is an important concern in American society today. The politically correct movement yields many positive results when it obliges citizens to recognize that not all among them have been treated, nor are they being treated, fairly by society. Political correctness, however, loses much credibility when it becomes mechanical. Impelled by societal concerns, publishers of beginning French language textbooks push their authors to insist on diversity because it is a strong value in America. The systematic and superficial manner in which textbooks reach this objective, however, can be quite disconcerting, and initiatives to infuse diversity appear at times simplistic.

36The following example comes from Parallèles 1st edition (1995 p. 138) where two young white faces illustrate the vocabulary concerning facial features. In the third edition (2004, p. 177), the drawings have been modified and the young man’s face darkened. Similarly, faces of the patients at the doctor’s office have been redrawn for the latest edition (2004, p. 497). The doctor is now clearly of African origin, one of the patients is Asian, and later we see a pharmacist from North Africa. Fortunately, more subtle examples of French diversity also appear. Such is the photo of a group of young men and women from varied ethnic origins shown in two different textbooks. In Contacts (p. 1) it is accompanied by the caption « Bonjour les Français! » and in Parallèles (p. 175) it opens Chapter Five, « Des gens de toutes sortes », with the caption « Aujourd’hui on a des copains de toutes sortes ». Indeed, all of the textbooks treat ethnic diversity at length. Contacts’ (p. 22- 25) first « aperçu culturel », entitled « La France multi-ethnique », presents statistics on immigration, lists « les petits plats étrangers bien de chez nous » and offers two cultural notes on (1) French views on racial diversity and (2) « la musique métisse ». Voilà (p. 292) has only a short note on immigrant workers, but completely devotes one of its four Magazines francophones (p. 427) to the topic of immigration. Its editorial is written on the theme « Cultures en conflit », « conflits culturels », with two articles « Vive le métissage » and « Qu’est ce qu’un émigré? » appearing on the first page. While, as already mentioned, Parallèles’ fifth chapter is devoted to cultural diversity, the theme is announced earlier in cultural notes such as « Vive la diversité » (p. 28), and « Qui sont les Français? » (p. 178), a short chronology of immigration. Chez Nous (p. 64) presents « Des familles bien diverses » from Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa and explains the essentials of Ramadan (p. 300). This short note on Ramadan, however, is followed on the same page by another note discussing Carnaval, a rather unfortunate association! All of the textbooks make a serious effort to include ethnic diversity in modem France. Meet Meddi Ben Belaïd, certified accountant in Parallèles (p. 408), the biracial families photographed for Voilà (p. 27) and Parallèles (p. 405), and the young multi-racial musicians in Contacts (p. 114).

37American publishers have adopted Jacques Chirac’s France « moderne tricolore et multicolore », but the more important changes regarding France as seen in their textbooks are those imposed by the newest American value of globalization.

38The study of French language and culture is no longer the sole objective of American departments of French studies. Although France is at the center of the francophone world (it is after all both its birthplace and its heart), French studies alone fill neither program nor courses. To palliate this declining interest, publishers and authors have adopted a new strategy: pay more attention to the francophone world outside of Europe. The appeal of Chez Nous branché sur le monde francophone, number two in beginning French textbook sales in Fall 2005, indicates clearly and forcefully that today one must be tuned in to the Francophone World.

39The map of the Francophone World on the inside cover of Chez Nous is the first document the students discover. Contacts, as early as p. 35, wonders « Qui parle français? » Voilà dedicates its first two lessons to the place of French in the world. Parallèles invites its users to join the francophone community as early as Chapter Two ( « On rejoint la communauté francophone », p. 60).

40 Contacts, the most conservative of the four textbooks presented, but the one with the longest record of success, contains the least material concerning « la francophonie ». Voilà brings the Francophone World to life by adding many new photos and documents about Canada (p. 181), for example, or La Réunion (see reading p. 200) and Senegal (recipe for rice with fish p. 230).

41 Parallèles’ approach is more systematic. One of the four « étapes » constituting a chapter is always dedicated to a francophone topic, for example, « Une famille canadienne: les Tremblay ». (p. 63), « Un marché au Bénin » (p. 268) or « Célébrations en Guadeloupe » (p. 293). In addition, at the end of each chapter, Internet activities invite students to a « Voyage en francophonie ».

42 Chez Nous, in its newly published third edition, goes further than any other textbook. It is rich in images, texts and cultural notes from the Francophone World, but this wealth is at times burdensome and lacking in organization. For example, on two adjacent pages, there is a Senegalese short story, L’arbre nourricier (p. 420), and a text on ecology practices in Quebec (Réduire pour un Québec plus propre p. 421). Then, illustrating the fashion world, there is a photo of an anonymous fashion show in Paris and three photos depicting Senegalese fashion designer Oumou Sy’s work. Chapter Three, focusing on « Etudes et professions », devotes more pages to Canada’s educational system in Québec (p. 107) and Montréal (p. 113) than to the French university (p. 117).

43In all of the textbooks, French cuisine is no longer the main topic: one can learn about African dishes (Voilà p. 230) and Canadian desserts such as « Pralines aux pacanes » (Chez Nous, p. 339).

44What is one to conclude? France as seen by Americans in beginning university level French textbooks remains clearly traditional. This traditional image, however, is changing. It is beginning to reflect not only observable reality but also the priorities and values of the image builders. The American interest in celebrating diversity and globalization explains and justifies the initiatives taken by publishers and authors to modernize France’s image. As Margot Steinhart, president of the American Association of Teachers of French expressed it in an interview published in September 2005 in France-Amérique: « La francophonie promet d’enrichir les enquêtes linguistiques, littéraires et culturelles pour les professeurs et leurs étudiants et de répondre à la préoccupation américaine de l’utilité de l’étude du français au XXIe siècle ».

45This perspective, both intellectually challenging and frankly utilitarian, has been verified by Chez Nous branché sur le monde francophone’s recent success. It would thus appear that the American image of France is losing some of its traditional appeal to the benefit of the more inclusive Francophone World.


Chevalier des Palmes académiques, est Professor of French à l’Université du Nebraska-Lincoln, États-Unis, spécialisée dans l’enseignement du Français langue seconde et de la civilisation française. Elle a publié des manuels de français ainsi que articles dans French Review, Lettres Romanes, Bulletin de la Société des Professeurs Français en Amérique, Romance Notes, Teaching Language Through Literature, et dans les Selected Proceedings des Conférences auxquelles elle a participé,

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