I love history, and as the comedian Eddie Izzard says "I'm from Europe. That's where history comes from." While I don't think too much of the French people as a group, I've met wonderful individuals, and they have a beautiful country (ditto that thought on Colorado and its natives.) European history is largely a precursor of U S history. I know, I know, we have people and influence from all over the world. But American culture and our form of government are primarily of Western European descent, so even if you're immigrated from Bangladesh or Greater Mongolia, you've chosen to live in a culture predominated by western European philosophies, languages, government, religions, et al. You can add your own seasonings, but this is the dish that's on the menu.
With all that: look at a map of Europe, and France is this big ol' chunk in the middle. Whether you were marching up from Rome, headed towards the ocean from Germany, spreading Islam north from Spain, or looking for wine-growing weather from England, it's right there in the middle. The French were actually important on the world stage for a short time (as history goes), but their time has passed. But there is still two thousand years of post-Axial Age stuff to see. From the pre-Christian era ruins at Glanum, to Omaha Beach, it's all there.
Reaction from friends and family, on my two (so far) visits: "You're going to France? FRANCE? But, but, it's full of French people! And they hate us!" Yea, yea, well, I'm just going over there to exploit them. I want to see the cathedrals, climb the ruins that previous conquerors left, taste the food, smell the air. I want to shed tears on the tiny piece of land that belongs to the U.S., where we buried our dead, during one of the two times we kept the German language from being taught in the schools. I am just using them to enrich my own personal history. Last week, President Chirac stormed out of a meeting of the European Community because the speaker, a native French, announced he would use English since 'it is the international language of business." Let them pout. (Aside: when I visited Norway 10 years ago, I apologized to someone for not being able to speak any Norwegian. He said "why should you learn it? There are only four million of us in the world.") The time of French as an international language, or as the court language of Europe, is long gone. Get over it. Passe moi le bouillabaisse.
A view from my balcony in the Latin Quarter; my son and I at the Louvre. 2004