- Cold War Holidays: American Tourism in France
Tourism, according to Christopher Endy, added a consumerist dimension to U.S.-French relations that has been neglected by historians. This is certainly true, and to the extent that Endy's book fills the proverbial gap it is welcome. Tourism is equally important as an aspect of modern globalization, and because France for much of its recent history has been—and still is—the world's most visited country, a study of U.S. tourism in France is of value in trying to understand global capitalism. American tourism in general became a mass industry during the Cold War and was heavily influenced by it. U.S.-French relations were also shaped in peculiar and distinctive ways by the ColdWar, and American tourism in France necessarily reflected that. The U.S. government was extremely sensitive to the possibility that American tourists abroad might exacerbate anti-American feeling in countries like France, where partisan politics often seemed a domestic Cold War battleground. But did tourism in turn affect all the Cold War issues and high-level diplomacy between the two countries, as Endy asserts? This seems a much more doubtful proposition, and Endy seems to have demonstrated the reverse. Tourism was influenced by the Cold War but had a minor impact, if that, on the actual course of U.S.-French relations.
In the immediate post-1945 period, U.S. tourists in France were few in number and not particularly welcome because they competed for scarce resources. They also tended to be put off by the country's poverty and by the strength of the French Communist Party. But as the economy swiftly recovered to prewar production levels and the Marshall Plan took hold, tourism revived, and Marshall Plan officials in France [End Page 122] encouraged it. Tourism was a valuable source of revenue for the French economy, and it came in the form of private enterprise rather than a government dole—"trade, not aid"—and therefore was welcomed by conservatives in the U.S. Congress. Many in the United States who encouraged tourism hoped that American visitors in France would be ambassadors of good will and welcome guests who could help cement good relations between the two countries through people-to-people exchanges. Many also hoped that the presence of these tourists would highlight the superiority of the American economy and the capitalist system in the face of the Communist threat. The French, for their part, encouraged tourism as a matter of national pride and a testament to the rayonnement (radiance) of French culture and civilization as well as an additional source of income and jobs. A symbiosis rapidly developed between the travel industries of the two countries, encouraged in turn by governments and a cooperative media. Technological improvements in air travel facilitated a huge expansion of the industry, elevating it to its current status as one of the hallmarks of globalization.
Endy is particularly good at showing how the tourism industry evolved. The introduction of tourist-class travel by Pan American Airlines in 1956 and the introduction of passenger jets two years later produced a great spurt of growth for the industry. Guidebooks became standard in interpreting France for Americans, and mass tourism shifted from the luxury hotels to budget travel, pioneered by Arthur Frommer's Europe on $5 a Day. Marshall Plan officials in France helped modernize the French hotel industry, and the French took it from there. Under Charles de Gaulle, tourism became a mass phenomenon in France; many modern hotels were built with government aid; French tourist offices were established in U.S. cities; and the French government encouraged tourist workers to be efficient, friendly, and courteous. De Gaulle encouraged American tourism in France even after he began discouraging U.S. investment there. Yet France developed the reputation in this period for being rude and unwelcoming to Americans. This trope was entirely constructed, according to Endy. In some of the most insightful portions of the book he attributes France's reputation...