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Jewish World Review March 3, 2003 / 30 Adar I, 5763

Tom Purcell

Purcell
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Consumer Reports

My Family's Tragic Secret: We're French



http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | My father still hasn't gotten over the news.

About nine years ago I was researching our family background. My father's father died when my father was only three, so I found some people who knew the man and wrote a column about him. In the process, I learned something tragic about my Great Grandma Purcell. She wasn't Irish, like we thought.

She was French.

As painful as it was for me to learn this tragic news -- as painful as it is to make this family secret public now -- my father has taken it especially hard.

Father used to tell us about our Great Grandma Purcell. She was full of wit and spirit. She had a huge, loving heart. She also had a distillery in the basement, as all good Irish families in Pittsburgh did during Prohibition.

So when I first told him she was French, he didn't take it well.

"The heck we're French!" he said.

I can't blame father for his reaction. I certainly don't want to be French.

It's partly because of the way they run their affairs over there. They seem to enjoy the large socialist economy that produces lots of bureaucrats, impediments to business growth and high unemployment rates.

It's partly because of their lack of gratitude. After a good run in the 19th century, they suffered many military setbacks in the 20th century, and America bailed them out. We sacrificed American lives to liberate them in WWI. And after they let the Germans waltz in, we sacrificed more American lives to liberate them in WWII.

It's partly because they are so snooty. The French are against everything American just because it is from America. They pass laws to keep our movies and culture out (though I can't entirely fault them there). They treat American tourists with rudeness and disgust. And they resist every solution we offer about anything, particularly the situation with Saddam Hussein.

Though I think Conan O'Brien has the best explanation as to why. Saddam Hussein hates America, keeps mistresses and wears a beret, says O'Brien. The French don't want to attack Hussein because he is, well, French.

My family has been trying to come to grips with our terrible secret. We meet with a counselor monthly and he is helping us face our French heritage head on.

During one session, I realized I suffer from many French tendencies. When I was a lad, for instance, I never was much of a fighter. It is true I had no brothers and that my five sisters taught me all I know about "fighting." Well, the neighborhood bulley kept pushing me around, so one day I looked him dead in the eye and said, "You are soooooo immature!" Then I attempted to appease him by giving him half of my Snicker's bar in exchange for peace, but after he whipped me, he took the whole thing, anyway.

I've realized that my French-ness also exhibits itself when I'm in restaurants. I'm most picky about my coffee and it is hardly ever right. Thus, I'm forced to yell at the wait staff, manager and, if I can find the bugger, the cook. It is simply unconscionable what some people try to pass off as coffee these days.

Our counselor says my family has a tendency to exaggerate the positive aspects of our Irish heritage, while downplaying the fact that we're almost half German. He pointed out that the Germans have been almost as difficult as the French where Iraq is concerned. That may be true, but we don't mind being half German. It is because of our Irish-German mix that we're able to drink so efficiently.

Our counselor says that to embrace our French heritage, we should focus on the more positive aspects of being French. Napoleon was no sissy. Joan of Arc was a terrific testament to courage. And France is a beautiful country rich in culture and history. I know he's right. It just seems to me that France would be so much nicer if the French didn't live there.

In any event, I think father is finally coming around. It was he who introduced the rest of the family to Cognac, and I think he's on to something.

When you drink enough of that stuff, being French isn't so bad after all.

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Up


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© 2002, Tom Purcell