IT was a blow to French pride and purse when, in the middle of the 18th century, England booted France out of most of its North American empire. Two centuries later Ho Chi Minh ejected the French from Indochina, and a few years after that the tricolor was lowered in Algeria. But to hear some Left Bank intellectuals tell it, none of these defeats was as devastating to the nation as the expulsion of French hegemony from 4,800 acres east of Paris. By Mickey Mouse.
On April 12 the gates opened at Euro Disneyland, Walt Disney Company's first European theme park. The combination of enchanting rides, displays, and eateries is similar to that which has delighted hundreds of millions of visitors to the other Disney parks in Anaheim, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; and Tokyo, but with a European flavoring.
Given the prickliness of many French in championing their country's cultural grandeur, it's not surprising that some intellectuals have denounced Euro Disneyland as "cultural colonialism." To a certain kind of Gallic palate, nothing could be more distasteful than a massive helping of American popular culture plopped into the French heartland. And nothing symbolizes American culture to much of the world more immediately than Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. A "cultural Chernobyl," moaned one distraught French w riter.
The alarm behind such pronouncements is of course overwrought - as many other French opinion leaders have been quick to point out. As one thinker wrote, French culture is fragile indeed if it can be submerged by an amusement park. Euro Disneyland will bring pleasure to millions of European and other visitors, especially children, and will be an economic boon to France - as its supporters in the French government have recognized.
As we see it, the biggest danger posed by Euro Disneyland isn't to France, but to distracted first-time visitors to that glorious land. On your French holiday, plan to visit the Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, the Loire chateaux, and the cafes and bistros of the Champs Elysees first. Then hit Euro Disneyland. Even France's greatest pastry chefs wouldn't expect you to eat their confections before a four-star main course.