French grammar books: unparalleled patriotism or right-wing conspiracy?

French grammar texts are obsessed with the French flag.

French grammar texts are obsessed with the French flag.

No one loves the French flag more than designers of French grammar books. No one…except, perhaps….

Far right propaganda (or maybe a Tide commercial)

Far right propaganda (or maybe a Tide commercial)

the Front National! Hmm….Could there be a connection? Could the xenophobic right-wing French political party be conspiring with designers of French grammar books to co-opt not only the French flag, but also the entire French language?

Well, no, actually. That would be insane.

But now that I’ve got your attention, allow me to rant about the laziest design decision of virtually every French language textbook on the market: tricolor flags and Eiffel Towers.

I contend that nothing could be less French than a book all tarted up in the tricolore. Now, if we were talking about a book of American Grammar, I would say, Go for it! Slap American flags all over that baby! We Americans are all about ostentatious displays of patriotism:

dudeinflagshirtandhat dudeinflagpants dudeinflagshirt


Don’t even think about denying us our right to plaster our flag all over our bodies (look how much trouble Roger Ebert got into in 2010 when he “made the mistake of using irony and wit” in a post about kids wearing flag shirt at school).

But the French don’t like to wear their patriotism on the sleeves. Sporting events (but even then, it’s jerseys) and political rallies excepted, you won’t see a lot of flags on French people. Take this look:



It says, “Hello. I am a tourist.” Or “I am in French club” (which is great. we <3 you. we want you to buy our book and perhaps one day a much cooler t-shirt) But it does NOT say “Bonjour. Je suis français(e).”

I confess. I once owned a Ralph Lauren jeans jacket with an American flag on the back and wore it in Paris. I went to get my hair cut and the stylist said, “You Americans love to wear your flag. We just don’t do that…[then, perhaps, trying to make sure he still got a tip…] Of course, your flag is a lot more interesting than ours.”  —Damn straight, french fry!, I responded, y’all are just a bunch of surrender monkeys.

Kidding. I actually realized that it must seem strange that a foreigner living in your country would label themselves with their flag. I mean, what is that? Sartorial imperialism? A handy time-saver for pickpockets?

For me, seeing a French flag on the cover of a French grammar book means one or more of the following:

  1. The designer thinks you’re stupid. (How will they know it’s French without the flag?)
  2. The designer has assumed that all countries are as in love with their flag as America.
  3. The designer is lazy.
  4. The designer is trying to assuage the fears of right-wing extremists who don’t want foreigners learning their language by telling them that we, too, can adopt their veneration for their flag.
  5. The publishing house has out-sourced all cover design to the youth movement of the Front national.

End of rant.*

*This rant brought to you by the committee for more original textbook design (currently, 2 members).