IN OTHER WORDS : En garde!

These are trying times for France. Beset with high unemployment, an attrition of social benefits, anxieties about immigrants, and a loss of faith in the elites’ concept of European integration, the French people appear to be suffering a full-blown identity crisis. The rejection of a 448-article EU constitution by French voters in last mon-th’s referendum was not only a popular rebellion against President Chirac, but also a cri du coeur against the suffocating weight of elitist traditions. And something more profound has begun to set off tremors in France. Some of the most exalted chefs are revolting against the tyranny of the red Michelin guide and its austere rating system. Master chef Alain Senderens said he would close his restaurant Lucas Carton in Paris and reopen in the fall with a less pretentious establishment because his clients had become “so self-conscious they don’t even dare to talk to each other.”

There are more mundane reasons for dropping out of the competition, among them a meal tax of nearly 20 per cent and the high cost of workers’ benefits. But the cultural meaning of the chefs’ uprising transcends all such accounting considerations. At the deepest level of their souls, the French seem to be yearning for the informal, unsystematic, egalitarian habits of the Americans. —The Boston Globe