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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.

When my wife and I were dating there was a nice Italian joint near her we always went to, and the maitre d' was an Italian guy from Rome, in his 50s, always elegantly dressed, and whenever we came in, he would take her hand and say, "Hallo, prrrrincess!" Then he'd kiss it romantically, take her other hand, too, step back, and look her up and down (really look her up and down, the way--well, you know the way) and say, "Beautiful, beautiful, come, we go." Then he'd lead her to our table, kiss her hand again, then her cheek, give her the once over again, and glide back to the front.

I liked the guy, mind you, I was always just amazed that an Italian guy with an accent could get away with that. If I ever tried to pull anything remotely close, I wouldn't get past the first kiss before the woman jerked her hand back and sent it across my yap. Here, kiss that side of it, buddy.

"Well, you know the Italians." I guess. One thing's for sure, a smooth accent and a lot of continental charm can go a long, long way. Usually, at least to third base.

Not all accents work. I can't imagine a Polish guy doing that. Or Danish, or Dutch, or German. Somehow it's not the same thing. But Italian, Argentine, oh, yeah. And French. I mean, please. That's got to be the blue-ribbon winner, doesn't it? I really think that if we knew a French guy who had cheated on his wife, my wife's only reaction would be a shrug and a "Well, you know the French." If I ever pulled anything like that, I think it overwhelmingly likely that I would be having a lot of chats with John Wayne Bobbitt. ("Actually, they've learned a lot since yours. 'Course, there's still no way around the stitches.")

And, accent or no, raw power is always a factor. Kim Jong Il over in North Korea is supposed to be something of a womanizer, but I'm sure he doesn't have to ooze charm or much of anything else to get females instantly agreeing to watch him take of his boys-size-five shoes. I guess there are some times when no is not an option. (Larry David used to do a great bit in his act that, if you were a woman who had just spent the night with a dictator, and he hadn't been able to perform sexually, what do you think the chances are of your getting out of the palace alive?)

No one's ever going to excuse any behavior in our country, sexual or otherwise, with an envious shrug and a jaunty "Well, you know the Americans!" That's just the way it is. Hey, fine with me. It's not my instinct to step on dresses anyway.

But I do wonder about getting up to heaven one day and having the big sit-down with God, and Him going through my folder, and it's huge. And it's all just thoughts about sex. "You mean every time I daydreamed about the woman down the hall it was a sin?"

Uh-huh.

"But I never did anything. Just thought about it."

Hey, I don't make the rules.

"Yes, you do."

Oh. Yeah. Well, still . . .

"Oh, boy, if I got a black mark every time I imagined doing it, I'm a dead man. That's all I ever did, like every minute of every day. I'll never get in."

Nah, you'll be fine, it'll just take a while. Oh, hello, Monsieur Mitterrand. Go right in.

"Did you say Mitterrand? Was that Francois Mitterrand? Wait a minute, he had lots of affairs, and he even had a whole other family, or something, didn't he? And I've got to spend the next 500 years paying for imagining women naked while he goes right in? How come?"

And then, with a big smile and a wink, Well, you know the French.

"Don't tell me they were right on Iraq, too?"

Here I imagine God leaning in, pausing, and saying, Well, I probably shouldn't even be saying this, but . . . Entre nous? That door he went in isn't exactly heaven. Tu comprends? Good. Now, why don't you get started?

Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.