Few nations, outside the Arab world, are quite so vilified by your average American as France, whose woeful public image was perhaps best summed-up when Homer Simpson coined the phrase: "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys."
Anti-Gallic sentiment is deeply ingrained. The other day, a 12-year-old pupil at the school where my wife teaches submitted an essay titled "A Perfect World". It argued, confidently, that an ideal society would outlaw two things: prejudice, and France.
Suddenly, though, there's a new least-favourite nation in town. It is Switzerland. To many inhabitants of Los Angeles, this mountainous European country is responsible for not one, but two of the great injustices of recent times.
The first involves Roman Polanski, who to the amazement of Hollywood liberals has been unable to persuade the Swiss court system that Oscar winners should be automatically immune from prosecution for child rape. The second involves Swiss banks. Earlier this year, UBS agreed to give the US taxman a list of 4,000 Americans who've squirreled savings away in its vaults. Pressingly, a large portion of these suspected tax dodgers happen to live in LA.
Many work in the film industry, where creative types are famously, um, creative with foreign royalties. Others form part of LA's large immigrant population, particularly from pre-revolutionary Iran, whose ruling class apparently used Switzerland to store ill-gotten gains. Now, of course, they're all in deep doo-do. The US taxman has given Swiss account holders until today to voluntarily "fess up" and pay a hefty fine. If they don't play ball, they could face prosecution, and quite possibly prison.
Fear stalks LA's wealthiest postcodes this morning. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times says local tax accountants are facing so much UBS-related work that they are refusing to take on new clients. Leading defence attorneys are being booked up for the years ahead.
Justice is always to be applauded. But some big names are heading for a fall. I doubt Roman Polanski will be the last Hollywood heavyweight to rue the day he placed trust in so-called Swiss neutrality.
I'll be damned
Americanism of the week: interviewing Michael Sheen about The Damned United, released State-side last week, USA Today saw fit to inform readers that "soccer" manager Brian Clough's name ought to be pronounced "cluff."
A well-aimed shot
Simile of the week: Andy Mill, the former Olympic skier whose ex-wife Chris Evert ran off with his best friend Greg Norman a few years back, was asked by People magazine about the couple's shock separation. "Divorce is like a golf swing," he replied. "It always makes someone happy."Reuse content