It’s no secret that the post-WWII relationship between France and the USA has been strained, especially in recent years. So when our group of 30 USA sheep producers embarked upon an Agri-Tour across France, we weren’t sure how warm our welcome would be. We had heard stories of the French distaste for all things American, so as we journeyed south from Paris we put our heads down, stepped lightly, and tried not to leave too much of a wake. But despite our misgivings, the French were generally warm and welcoming. (Granted, if they said bad things about us in French, we were oblivious!)
It was in a small village in southern France that a little bit of magic happened, and our humble group of sheep producers were thrust into the spotlight, becoming “diplomats for the day”.
The setting was Requista, a “blink and you’ll miss it” village near Roquefort that was home of one of the region’s largest lamb markets.
Our large, formidable coach rolled through the narrow streets up to a deserted looking auction house on the edge of town. The morning dew was fresh and the air was crisp as the rising sun blanketed the small village in a golden glow. It was only 9am. Our guide, a native Frenchman, asked us to stay on the coach while he inspected the situation.
A few moments later, we were given the green light to depart the coach. As we stepped out onto the sunny parking lot, we were greeted (in French) by several prominent-looking individuals. One, we were told, was the mayor of Requista. Another was the director of the auction house. Several others were reporters. With open arms they welcomed our group to their tiny corner of the world.
We learned, through our translator, that we were the first group of Americans to ever visit the market. Of even more significance, we learned that our visit coincided with a historic event—one that would breathe a new life into the region. The US import “super tax” on Roquefort Cheese had been lifted the day before our arrival. Originally implemented in 1999, the 100% tariff on the famous cheese was raised to 300% in 2009 by President George W. Bush. Many French felt it was a parting shot by our President, blowing another hole into the cloak of the already strained relationship between the USA and France. The expulsion of this excessive tariff was cause for celebration in the Requista area, as so much of the sheep industry depended upon the blue-veined delicacy. And so, the French saw our arrival at their humble auction as the extension of an olive leaf between our two great nations.
It wasn’t long before we were whisked away into the “VIP hospitality room” of the auction house, which was an enclosed area behind the hustle and bustle of the now on-going market. A banquet table was laid out, complete with the region’s finest Roquefort Cheese, wine and bread (see photo below).
More reporters arrived, making a point to interview as many of us Americans as possible. Photos were taken, business cards were handed out, and many of us adopted sign language as the best way to communicate with our French counterparts.
After about an hour, our paparazzi-esque moment in the spotlight began to simmer down. The wine bottles were empty and the half pound of cheese was reduced to crumbles. We left the auction with a great feeling of admiration and respect for our new French friends. Though we had arrived as unassuming Americans, our time at the Requista auction house solidified that we are all, in fact, more alike than we are different.