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I Could If I Were French

With the right accent, a guy can get away with anything.

12:00 AM, Jul 6, 2004 • By LARRY MILLER
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MY WIFE just got a new dishwasher for us. She didn't tell me, she just got it. I discovered this the other day when I came home from work and saw it, but it was difficult to learn any more at the moment, since she was in the living room with her best friend, Ilana, planning a party at our house that weekend for 25-or-so of the Little League parents. I didn't know about this, either.

"Oh, you'll love it," she said with a wave of her hand, and turned back to Ilana, who was animatedly saying something like, "I think the pasta station should go in the playroom."

And I remember chewing this over and thinking, "You know, there's a lot I disagree with about Arab society, but, on the whole, you've got to admire the way they treat their women."

By the way, I think that's how the whole thing started over there. Some Saudi prince came home, saw new drapes in the tent, and snapped. "Okay, that's it. Let's have your driver's license."

Now, of course, no one sane has anything but contempt for the type of guys who refuse to allow their alleged loved ones any place in the world except behind walls. But there is something to the idea that American men have gone far too far the other way for the last 30 years, and have become marginalized and superfluous objects of scorn.

Commercials, TV shows, and movies almost always portray the father as a moron, a bumpkin, an out-of-touch dodo. An idiot. I feel I have more than a little bit of special knowledge, even responsibility about this, since I have played those characters. A lot. I'm paid for it, too, which probably makes me part of another profession: the oldest.

I don't know when we lost it, I just know that we have, and by we, I mean American men, and by American men, I mean me. Because I don't think this kind of drugged, fugue-state, hairless, eunuch-y complacence exists in quite the same way around the world.

The Divine Mrs. M.'s brother-in-law is Argentine, and we were over at their house for dinner recently. My wife and her sister were gabbing about a dress in a magazine, and Roberto leaned over to me with his manly accent, and his Douglas Fairbanks Jr. smile and said, "Ah, you know, Laddy, what does it matter? The dress, she is off in a minute anyway, eh?"

Whoa. Not exactly something you'd expect from, say, Alan Alda. I turned to see if my wife was staring daggers at him, but instead she and her sister were . . . laughing! Tittering behind their hands! My wife! The two of them giggling like schoolgirls performing "Three Pretty Maids Are We."

I was about to take her hand gently and say, "Have you lost your mind?" When Roberto, unsure that his first foray had been sufficient, added, "And then, after you finish, on the way out, you step on the dress, eh? Try some of this sauterne, Laddy. It's from the pampas."

"Step on the dress." Hmm. Quite an image, don't you think, and not exactly one from the "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar" school of thought. Their reaction this time? Howls. Roars. A real knee-slapper. "Step on the dress! Oh, Roberto . . ."

After a minute I glanced sideways at The Divine Mrs. M., who by now had recovered enough of her senses to begin shyly dabbing her maidenly tears of mirth away; and I seriously considered the possibility that in the last half-hour, a long-since disbanded black operations group from the fifties had crept into the living room and slipped a psychotropic drug into her wine, since the woman next to me laughing was clearly someone I had never met. So much to consider.

INSTEAD, I took my sauterne out onto the terrace, gazed at the sun setting over the Pacific, and tried to imagine a gaucho riding up to his cabin on the pampas and having his Incan wife come running out saying, "Honey, guess what? I got a new dishwasher."

On the ride home, with the kids sugar-drugged into staring out the windows like Robert De Niro in Awakenings, I said to my wife, "So, how long do I go to husband-prison for if I ever make a crack like that?"

And she said, "Oh, you know the Argentines."

And I said, "No, I don't know the Argentines. Why do they get a pass on it? Is it the accent? The tradition of flirting with every woman? If I flirt with a woman, she's likely to think, "What an idiot," or, "God, he's bald," but if Roberto does it, everyone just giggles and says, 'Oh, you know the Argentines.'"

I had a chance to think about this a lot more, since my wife decided to just look out the window herself and not respond.

THERE ARE A FEW GROUPS that can get away with murder on these things, and it's not just the Argentines. I think French and Italian men pretty much get a pass on Planet Earth for anything they say to women.