Paris — With nearly every Frenchman enjoying the surf this month, France's Socialist government decided to show itself as a staunch defender of the people by launching a campaign to win back the people's right of access to privately enclosed beaches.
So Louis Le Pensec, Minister of Maritime Affairs, flew to the sun and sand of chic St. Tropez and ordered his gendarmes to plow through a fence illegally enclosing a local beach.
The only problem was that the wife of the owner of the fenced-in beach turned out to be not a rich businesswoman or other capitalist but a director of the communist daily, l'Humanite.
The owner's wife, Lucette Thomazo, was not amused. She immediately threatened to sue the minister, charging him with a ''gross injustice'' and with subjecting her and her husband, also a Communist Party member, to ''public dishonor.''
First there came the friction between Paris and Washington over French steel exports. Then the pipeline imbroglio. And now culture.
At a recent UNESCO meeting in Mexico, Socialist Culture Minister Jack Lang inveighed against American ''financial and intellectual imperialism.''
''Economics and culture, it is the same combat,'' he said, calling for ''a crusade'' against US attempts ''to impose a uniform way of life on the entire planet.''
This proved too much even for Le Monde, which itself has stepped up its criticisms of the US recently. In a front page box, Le Monde noted:
''One must tremble at the idea that we must fight the Americans in a cultural war. They would hesitate, after all, to use the most ignoble arms. Imagine a time when they would use as a weapon Woody Allen. They would break us all in four. It would be better if we surrendered.''
The French are known as die-hard individualists.
So it was no surprise that Parisians did not pick up after their dogs like New Yorkers did when a pooper-scooper ordinance was passed here. Mayor Jacques Chirac's order was so frequently ignored that dog litter remained a serious impediment to strolling the boulevards.
Now Mr. Chirac has another solution. This week he put into service a fleet of ''dogsweepers'' -- two-wheeled sweepers led by motorcycles that clean up what Parisians will not.