The popular stereotype that the French suck at war. They surrendered to the Germans fairly early in World War II and would spend the next several years under the rule of the most infamous fascist regime in western history. Some people consider this a source of comedy, making it into a sort of Never Live It Down event. At least, if you ask American and British popular culture, especially since the mid-'90s or so.
This is a specific and very common example of a National Stereotype. The French, so the story says, are useless at war, will surrender at the drop of a hat, and need to be bailed out by the Americans/British in any major conflict. Perhaps the historical enmity and mutual prejudices between the English and the French have been unthinkingly adopted by American culture, even though the French helped the former British colony during its War of Independence. The Law of Chronological Superiority isn't helping either: this trope isn't necessarily the prevailing opinion, but it is the most recent one, as France has not fought any major war since the one that earned them this label. The stereotype came back with a vengeance in the 2000s when France vocally opposed the war in Iraq. Much of the perception actually seems to come from the Franco Prussian War and World War II, as well as a generous helping of the Never Live It Down trope.
In truth, France has spent most of its history as the most organized, centralized, populousnote Around one in every five Europeans was French in 1789, the year of the Revolution., militarily capable, and economically powerful nation in Europe. Just to give one example (admittedly major), the reason why the French were allowed into the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars as a full party, after being as completely and utterly defeated as Imperial Germany after World War I, was because every other party was absolutely terrified they would simply up and conquer Europe a second time, as they had under Napoleon. Even so, the French have a somewhat troublesome tendency to win battles but lose wars, as with Napoleon and Louis XIV. The French also fought a large number of wars, especially under their Sun King, that ended in draws or even victories that simply were not worth the cost, especially in the debt the French state accrued, debt it never found a tenable means of servicing, which more or less led to the French Revolution. Nevertheless, France was and remains the military terror of Europe (possessing by far the largest military and nuclear arsenal in the European Union), with France factoring most prominently into every single other European nations' strategic considerations.
It's also worth noting that the Franks were the root of medieval knights, and by extension much of European warfare in the middle ages. They were also by far the most important group in the Crusades, as well as effectively serving as predecessor to the Holy Roman Empire (the Holy Roman Empire saw themselves as descendants of Charlemagne).
On the other hand, some might read something into the fact that the English word "surrender" is itself derived from French. Just like "battle" (from "bataille") and "victory" (from Old French "victorie").
Contrast Gauls With Grenades, and see also La Résistance.
Especially following their indifferent performance in WW 2, this trope has also been levelled at the Italians. British people of the WW 2 generation are very prone to level accusations at the Italian Army, that their collective heart wasn't really in it.
In some kind of unexpected subversion, Sonic himself seems to be French or of French descent, since his family all have French forenames: Bernadette (Mother), Jules (Father) and Charles (Uncle). That and his real name is Maurice.
In one Simpsons comic, Hank Scorpio was able to conquer France with nothing more than a cheese-melting laser. Note that the Laser was really only able to melt cheese and nothing else.
Subverted by the Captain America of main continuity during the Winter Soldier arc. While in Paris, he reminisces on fighting alongside the French Resistance, and expresses his deep respect for the French people who, while their government surrendered, never stopped fighting back.
Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's run on X-Force had the title team's former manager try and create a new superhero group based around various absurd Captain Ethnics including a French member who appeared to be an actual monkey whose mutant power was knowing exactly the right moment to surrender (and whose codename was actually Surrender Monkey). The team's backers actually call the manager out on what ridiculous stereotypes all the superheroes are. The French monkey showed up in a later story line and was revealed to be an American agent with the job of creating anti-French sentiment but he went native because of his love of cheese and wine.
In one Punisher storyline that involved, among other things, an illegal black-ops arms selling operation arms including nukes and the return of the Russian who has breasts now thanks to the hormonal treatments that were part of the process that revived him after Frank decapitated him, there is one French officer who is treated like crap throughout. Nearly everyone he meets says that they "hate the French" though they don't give any concrete reasons; they just hate them. To be fair, everyone who says this is a bad guy. Also, the French officer is the only other major character to survive other than Frank, and Frank even lets him leave with the credit for bringing down the operation. He ends up becoming known as a hero and gets promoted to general.
Pointed out in Warren Ellis' Crecy that the French at the time were the Badass Army and the English were this trope (speculated to be parsnip eating surrender monkeys). This comic is about The Heavily Outnumbered English Army giving France one of the most one-sided Curb Stomp Battles in History (guess who lost). With Annoying Arrows (annoying as they kill the fuck out of so many silly French kniggits that they eliminate the concept of knighthood).
Bucky of Get Fuzzy is known to give rants to this effect.
Other characters get their shots in too:
Rob: Off he ran, faster than a French border guard with new track shoes and a coupon for cigarettes.
An Arlo and Janis comic discussing the origins of Cinco de Mayo ended with a shot at the French. The next day, Jimmy Johnson apologized for it on his blog.
Janis: The French army? Arlo: I said it's a minor holiday.
The whole "Freedom Fries" debate is spoofed in a FoxTrot strip where Andy asks Paige how her French homework is coming along. Paige responds by just saying "Excuse me??" Andy repeats the question, and gets the same response again. Then she facepalms herself as she realizes what Paige meant:
Andy: Don't tell me you 've bought into this nonsense also... Paige: My Freedom homework is coming along just fine!
Don't mention this trope to The Frenchman. He'll point out the fact that you personally, even if you're American, did not in any way "save" France from the Germans, then school you on most of the meat of this article, and then he'll rip out your eyes and feed them to you.
From the pages of Batman Annual, when Bruce Wayne tells the head of the Police Nationale that he wants to set up a Batman in Paris, he responds thus:
Police Chief: An American billionaire wishes to set up a private franchise of masked vigilantes in the country of...What was the term? "Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys"?
Polnareff: I'm French! We NEVER surrender! Kakyoin: Yes, and I'm Japanese, we never attacked Pearl Harbor, now let's get outta here!
In author A.A. Pessimal's Discworld series, allusions are made to Discworld history and the sheer number of times "Quirm" has had to, er, arrive at understandings and accomodations with its larger and more martially expansive neighbours in "Überwald" and its allies. these have necessarily involved a certain collaborative component. Just to make the analogy clearer, the action of the Discworld, both in canon and in Pessimal's fanfiction, covers the years 1990-2010. The last time Quirm had to arrive at a mutual understanding with Uberwald was in the Discworld time period 1940-44....
Films — Animation
In Flushed Away, LeFrog calls his henchfrogs to action. They throw their arms up and yell, "We surrender!", to LeFrog's dismay.
Films — Live Action
Ocean's Eleven: "They got enough armed personnel to occupy Paris!... OK, bad example."
Johnny English contains a fair amount of French bashing, because the main villain of the movie is French. At one point a British radio host asks his listeners to call him and say what they like about the French. He doesn't receive a single phone call.
"In my opinion, the only thing the French should be allowed to host is an invasion."
General in Hallway: We wouldn't be there if they hadn't already beaten the French Army.
Maj. General Henry Kinnard: French Army? What's that?
Notably averted in pretty much any movie starring Jean Reno that english-speaking audiences are likely to have seen. While in France he's know to have quite a large repertoire (from romantic comedy to psychological drama), when he's in an internationally-distributed movie he's almost garanteed to be a stone-cold badass.
In The Patriot, some Americans doubt that the French will come to their rescue, despite the presence of Major Jean Villenouwve, impersonating LaFayette, among them. They finally show up, but only with boats.... Actually, France helped Americans much sooner, and provided most of the guns the Americans used during their revolution (except for the ones they took to the Brits).
In Mars Attacks!, the French President joyfully calls the American President to announce that he has signed a peace treaty to end the war. The American President is forced to listen to his dying screams.
In G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the President of the United States really Zartan in disguise forces the major world powers to abandon nuclear weaponry. When he triggers their missiles simultaneously, France's representative is first to disarm their warheads.
Keep in mind that this section just archives jokes related to this trope as other people tell them, and should NOT be used for arguing about how right or wrong they are.
The British often refer to the French army as "the finest army in the world in time of peace"
Sort of inverted (or maybe a double one?) by this one.
An old joke: "Why are there trees along the Champs-Elysees?" "Because the Nazis like walking in the shade."
Q: How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? A: We don't know, they've never tried.
Old joke: An ad for a French rifle in the paper. Never fired, once dropped.
Another joke: If you're British, raise your hand. If you're French, raise two hands.
French battle tanks have four gears: reverse, reverse, reverse, and forward in case they get attacked from behind.
Why do the French install mirrors in their tanks? So that they can watch the battle when they run away.
Disneyland Paris had to be shut down recently. Why? Because when the fireworks went off, all the French ran out in the streets and surrendered.
An elderly British gentleman visits France on holiday and is immediately asked to turn over his passport. He admits that he doesn't have it with him. Bemused, the French man behind the counter asks him: "Monsieur, have you been to France before?" "Yes," the old Brit replies. A smirk develops on the Frenchman's face. "And you did not bring your passport then?" He shakes his head "There was nobody around to give it to." "Impossible! The British have always had to show their passports when entering France!" The old man takes a long, hard look at the Frenchman before quietly telling him, "Well, the last time I was here, I came ashore on Gold Beach in June 1944, and I couldn't find any fucking Frenchmen to show it to."
This is possibly a recounting of a real event.
If it was, he missed a few hundred thousand Free French (exiled Frenchmen) who did take part in D-Day.
A boy was upstairs playing on his computer when his granddad came in the room and sat down on the bed. "What are you doing?", Asked the grandad. "You're 18 years old and wasting your life! When I was 18 I went to Paris, I went to the Moulin Rouge, drank all night, had my way with the dancers, pissed on the barman and left without paying! Now that is how to have a good time!" A week later, the grandfather comes to visit again. He finds the boy still in his room, but with a broken arm in plaster, 2 black eyes and missing all his front teeth. "What happened?", he asked. "Oh Grandfather!", replied the boy. "I did what you did! I went to Paris, went to the Moulin Rouge, drank all night, had my way with the dancers, pissed all over the barman, and he beat the crap out of me!" "Oh dear!", replied the granddad. "Who did you go with?" "Just some friends, why? Who did you go with?" "Oh!" replied the granddad. "The Third Panzer Division."
Blackpool is targeting French tourists. The Elysee Palace has issued an unconditional surrender.
Parkour - The French art of running away.
Now that the French have started committing troops to Iraq, they can get on with the business of introducing their new flag. It's a white cross on a white background. (This references the Merchant Flag of the Kingdom of France, a white cross on a blue field.)
The Onion's book "Our Dumb Century" discusses the French in its World War II articles: They surrender after a "Valiant Ten-Minute Struggle," then after Pearl Harbor, then again after Nagasaki.
In fact, pretty much every war that's mentioned in the book includes a headline somewhere on the page reading "France Surrenders." Even if France isn't involved.
Obligatory French joke: And the French champion has surrendered her egg right out from under the Welsh Green!
One of Dave Barry's books mentioned that his then-toddler son had somehow amassed enough toy guns to conquer a toy nation the size of France. "Come to think of it, he probably could have conquered the real France."
He stings both France and Italy in the WWII section of Dave Barry Slept Here, describing France's defeat at the end of an epic 35-minute battle, "at which point the Italian army's truck broke down."
Complaints about the French were so common during the time United States troops were stationed there in World War II that this pamphlet was written.
In John Ringo works mentioning the French, at times he has kind words to say about their soldiers (like the ones that kicked ass in the expeditionary forces of the Legacy of the Aldenata), but never about their political leadership.
This trope is explicitly defied by the French in World War Z, with disastrous results. The French felt that, after nearly a century of military humiliations (World War II, Indochina, Algeria), they needed to win a triumphant victory against the zombies in order to restore the nation's honor, and sent waves of soldiers into the Parisian catacombs to kill the quarter-million zombies down there. The reclamation of Paris was one of the bloodiest battles of the Zombie War.
Invoked explicitly in Tucker Max's book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
"You fucking cheese-eating surrender monkey. I thought someone stunk around here. So if I start speaking German can I push you around and take all your stuff? Those hairy fucking stink-bags would be speaking Kraut right now if it wasn’t for us, and they aren’t the least bit appreciative. I hope they all fucking die, and your frog-sympathizing ass with them.”
Downplayed in Horatio Hornblower. The French are often portrayed as less competent then British(which they were; to many of the officers of the old Bourbon navy were decapitated) but not as less brave.
Live Action TV
One episode of Spin City focused on the Mayor trying to get Paris to be New York's sister city.
Paul: Sir, do you really think you can take Paris? Mayor: Why not? It's only been done by everyone who's ever tried.
Al Bundy liked to make jokes like these on Married... with Children, for instance noting how another character ran away "like a Frenchman from a cap gun."
When the actor Ed O'Neill later starred in a remake of Dragnet, he was investigating a murder, and interviewing a latina maid. Her boss (who was having an affair with her) said, "You wouldn't be interviewing her if she was French!". Sgt. Friday replied, "Well, I have a thing about the French."
Jeremy Clarkson, one of the presenters of Top Gear is given to using the phrase "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys" when he refers to the French. He'll also modify the phrase when appropriate; e.g., during the Val Thorens ice race the other drivers were "cheese-eating sideways monkeys."
Unhappily Ever After: Mr. Floppy lists all the countries he'd like to nuke. Jack asks, "Can we kaboom France?" Floppy: "We don't have to — France will surrender with a phone call."
In one episode from the final season of That '70s Show, Red and Kitty, having decided to move to Florida, are showing the house to a bunch of different families. Kitty mentions that a family with the last name Dubois is coming to view the house. Red, in his typical Jaded Washout fashion, complains about it.
Red: Dubois? Kitty, I don't want Germans moving in here! Kitty: I think they're French. Red: Yes, and if they buy this house, they'll give it to the first German who knocks on the door!
Captain Picard, despite Not Even Bothering with the Accent: "Signal the following in all languages and on all frequencies: 'We surrender.'" In the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint", no less. In fairness, this was his first encounter with Q. Picard is depicted as quite unwilling to surrender in virtually any reasonable circumstance.
Aggressively averted in Yesterday's Enterprise, where an alternate timeline version of Picard leaps over a railing in the middle of a loosing battle to personally take control of the tactical station. Then he delivers one of the most badass lines in all of Star Trek:
Klingon Commander: Federation ship, surrender and prepare to be boarded.
Picard: (Darkly) That'll be the day.
Inverted in Star Trek: First Contact, where Captain Picard is the only member of Enterprise's crew who doesn't want to destroy his ship to prevent a Borg victory. He gives another of the most badass—if slightly delusional—lines in Trek:
'Allo 'Allo!, the legendary sitcom, is all about the French resistance and how cowardly Rene, the main "hero", is, and mentions the French surrendering approximately once per two episodes. A majority of the French cast, however, don't fit the trope.
The Black Adder series a few off-hand reference to this, but none quite as prominent as in Blackadder: Back & Forth when the titular character travels through time to the Battle of Waterloo and has Napoleon portrayed as being strategically-inept, with another French soldier essentially stating that all of England's stereotypes of the French are quite true.
Though apparently without General Wellington leading the Brits, the French would have apparently won anyway, at least according to this picture.
Mike of Spaced once attempted a one-man invasion of Paris with a stolen Chieftain tank. He only failed because he decided to stop off at Euro Disney on the way.
Completely inverted in The Walking Dead. According to Dr. Jenner, the guy in the CDC bunker in the first season finale, France was not only the last country to fall to the zombies, but the French scientists kept working on a cure for The Virus until the end while the American CDC scientists abandoned their work and ran for the hills.
The Borgias subverts this to its fullest extent by presenting the French army as a pack of bloodthirsty, highly skilled warriors who've recently invented some extremely grisly war machines.
In 1990, Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" followed up the news that Germany was reunifying with the line, "Believe me, a lot of countries are very nervous about this. France, for example, offered to surrender."
It goes without saying that the page is riddled with inaccuracies, misleading editorials, and quite a lot of selective editing.
Ruddigore suggested an early Stealth Parody of this trope with Richard's sea shanty. The French were offended, but the British tars of the song exercise their Patriotic Fervour by retreating from a French frigate without firing back at it because "she's only a poor Parley-voo" and fighting it would be "like hittin' of a gal."
Command and Conquer Red Alert 2 multiplayer plays with this trope. If a player hits the function keys F1-F10 while playing, a country-specific voiceover will ask allies for help or will taunt the enemy. F6 sends a taunt calling on the opposing player(s) to surrender. If playing as France, the voice-over says "Surrender! No, I don't mean I surrender, I mean you surrender!"
In Call of Duty 3, a Scottish officer remarks that the French are only good at "kissin' and surrenderin'."
There's a downloadable PS3 game called Pain - Exactly What It Says on the Tin, it's about launching a ragdoll into various urban and natural landscapes and watching him and his surroundings pay the price for your sadism. Firing your ragdoll at or even near the mime in the default city area prompts him to run away, arms raised, screaming, "I surrender! I surrender!"
Thiery Trantigne in Odium is a coward, to the point where he screams in panic how they're all going to die even when facing the most pathetic of monsters. He also once expresses disgust at the thought of risking his life for a teammate.
In The Sims 3, one of the books you can buy in the French holiday town is "The White Flag of Victory".
Serperior of the Pokemon Black And White games is confirmed by Word Of God to be based off a snake and a French king. Its offensive stats are average, but it has high Speed and Defensive stats. In its normal form, it performs an adequate job providing support for the team and annoying the opponent. When it comes from the Dream World, however, it becomes amazing, turning into a nearly unstoppable Lightning Bruiser because its Special Attack doubles from using a 140-base power STAB move. Overall, Serperior is a subversion of this trope.
In World Of Tanks expect a lot of jokes about this if french tanks are on the field in the beginning of the battle, that is before the actual battle happens. After this it's subverted to some degree: the later French tanks are some of the fastest on field and thus the first to engage enemies, often soon enough those didn't expect fire and are nowhere near cover, not to mention they can dish out a lot of damage in short time, killing you before you can even say cheese, but lacking armor for their speed and firepower, they will surrender fast if you so much as point your gun at them.
Averted in Wargame European Escalation, where French AMX tanks and FAMAS-wielding infantry are some of the most useful units available to the NATO side.
Glass Joe of Punch-Out!! both plays this trope straight and inverts it. Plays straight because he has a record of one win and 99 losses. Inverted in that despite his record, he refuses to surrender (retire).
In the game Galactic Civilizations 2, you will be called this trope by name if you don't refuse another empires attempts to extort money from you.
Averted in Modern Warfare. France is merely one of the many European countries the US comes to the aid to. You fight alongside the GIGN*
, who prove themselves to be very capable. Also while Delta ultimately take Volk down, the GIGN were the ones who found him. France is also one of the countries NATO manages to hold onto; Germany, meanwhile, is clearly falling. GIGN troops are also a support option in Survival, and are extremely durable and more than able to hold their own against anything short of a Juggernaut.
Frog from Sluggy Freelance: "We surrender! There! How's that? Does that take care of your hunger to disparage others for some 'larfs?'"
In Casey and Andy, Casey's secret persona of Dr. X is bent on conquering the world. None of his plans work and he sits dejected in his war room and sighs, then inspiration strikes, he calls up France and Declares war on them, they immediately surrender.
Later, France pesters Dr. X on every little detail of how the country should be run. He tells them to do what they would have done normally. The next day's newspaper has the headline "France surrenders to Germany", much to the surprise of the Germans.
Tiberium ecstasy is a C&C Tiberian Dawn parody. Nod takes over France. Counts of the stereotypes:
Guess what, they surrendered again (next mission location was France, and it was not under GDI territory)
The part where it shows videos of things, it shows an APC driver surrendering, and one of the GDI (suspected) soldiers saw that the apc had guns. They ran away after the APC driver surrendered.
The main team that was supposed to get money went to a town, and wanted to get money from a church building. The french person was lying about money, after one of them suggested to burn the french person, the final words for the unfortunate person was, "I SURRENDER."
Another french person went and shot the Nod soldiers, and ran after the flame trooper found out the person was shooting.
In the fanfiction Egg Belly, our favourite couple - Konoka and Setsuna - go out for dinner at Mahora Town's French restaurant. Ku Fei sneaks in to get a picture, steals the waiter's uniform and moustache, gets discovered, and - in the words of the author - "'Uh... Time for me to be French again... I surrender!'" wailed Ku Fei, turning about in the finest tradition of the French military and dashing for an alternate escape route- i.e. the window."
The Trope Namer is Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons in 1995. Having been forced to sub as a French teacher, the brief snippet of his "lesson" plays out as follows:
"Bonjourrrrrrrrr, ya cheese-eating surrender monkeys!"
After the 9/11 attacks, it gained a new popularity in American, especially conservative, media.
Even though this trope is mainly about American and English attitudes towards the French, the phrase was originally uttered by a character from Scotland, a country that had a long tradition of allying with the French against the English, and addressed to a class consisting of Americans.
In his appearance in the cartoon, Scorpio asks Homer whether he should use his massive Death Ray to wipe out France or Italy, and when Homer makes his decision, Scorpio quips, "Nobody ever says Italy."
In the story of Joan of Arc, Homer remarks "Victory? We're French! We don't even have a word for it!!" *
Just a joke, though; the French word for "victory" is "victoire."
Subverted in Treehouse of Horror VIII, when Mayor Quimby insults the French they declare war on Springfield, and destroy it with a neutron bomb.
The Sonic Sat AM animation series did not last long enough for Antoine to develop out of this trope.
South Park episode "Fatbeard": "They're French, so they surrendered immediately." The fact that they surrendered to a nine-year-old with a plastic lightsabre is damning even by the standards of this trope.
It was an "Un Lightsabre Terrible!"
Also, in Make Love, Not Warcraft (2006)
Eric Cartman: Clyde, Clyde, if you had the chance right now to go back in time and stop Hitler, wouldn't you do it? I mean, I personally wouldn't; however, because I think it was awesome, but you would, right?
Clyde: I'm just gonna stop playing.
Eric Cartman: When Hitler rose to power, a lot of people just stopped playing. And you know who those people were? The French. Are you French, Clyde?
The Fairly OddParents had a loving couple from France being hit by a water balloon due to Timmy's terrible aim. Their response? "We surrender!"