Who’s best?

Douglas Johnson

During the academic year 1982-83 Alain Besançon, a French specialist on Soviet affairs, became a visiting professor at the Hoover Institute in Stanford. He arranged with his Parisian colleague, Jean Plumyene, that they would write regularly to each other and that their correspondence would be published. The interest of this exchange of letters between French academics, the one in California and the other in Paris, lies in Besançon’s reactions to America. At first he finds it unreal. He feels as if he is enclosed in a bluebird paradise under a protective film of celluloid. It is an effort for him to enquire about what is happening in Paris. But he is disconcerted by what he experiences. No one in Stanford has the slightest interest in France, or in Europe. He watches old American films on television and reflects that nothing has changed since they were made. He has unfortunate experiences with young Americans who are not slow to abandon their initial good manners, who become aggressive in a way which he thinks of as adolescent, and display tastes that he deplores, for women’s lib or biogymnastics.

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