Made in America — in France

Moviegoers pack theaters to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters, sprawling strip malls loom at highway exits, low-fat foods line grocery shelves and minivans congest roadways.

Sounds like America, doesn't it? But guess what — it's France (search).

Despite the perception that the French are rude and scoff at American tourists, the country some Yanks love to hate apparently doesn’t return the bad feeling. Les Français continue to snap up, or at least reluctantly accept, all things américaines.

"Every time I go back, I am astounded by how much more prevalent American culture is," said Roy Caldwell, a French professor at St. Lawrence University (search) in New York.

In France today, movie theaters show a barrage of Hollywood blockbusters ("Finding Nemo" was the top film there last year), and la télé is bombarded by reality shows, just like in America.

Traditional French treats like rich, creamy yogurts and decadent buttery biscuits are sandwiched on grocery shelves by saccharin-sweet, low-fat versions.

Huge, American-sized portions and meal-sized salads arrive on the table in some French brasseries. Pedestrians bump into fast-food joints around every corner — blamed for the très américain problem of obesity that has now gripped France, in spite of the "French paradox" of fatty foods and slim bodies that seemingly blessed people there for so long.

And even the staple breakfast of a croissant or pain au chocolat and a strong cup of café au lait has felt some heat as cereal, Starbucks lattes and even flavored coffees are giving the old standbys competition.

All this has led some Francophiles to proclaim a cultural shift.

"They're endorsing an American way of life," said Lysette Hall, a University of Delaware instructor from France.

And contrary to what one might assume, natives and France frequenters say Iraq-related tensions haven't turned the country's citizens into American-haters, the way some here have become contemptuous of the French.

"There is no anti-American feeling whatsoever — none," said Hall.

In fact, speculation has swirled that the influx of Americanisms is a deliberate effort by France to lure back the Yanks, whose tourism numbers dwindled because of Sept. 11 and French opposition to the war.

Visitors to the country will indeed notice the scenery along French highways is increasingly dotted with strip malls. In the fall, they might see ads for Halloween costumes and parties (France now celebrates the holiday), and there's even the occasional Thanksgiving turkey for sale at the butcher shop in November. In warmer weather, they could spot American-flag T-shirts and Bermuda shorts on men.

The blend of French and English known as "Franglais" is also still going strong, in spite of laws requiring ads with foreign expressions to include French translations and mandating 40 percent of songs played on the radio must be French tunes.

"English vocabulary is used where French words don't exist — like 'prime time' — and in the office," said journalist Juliette Souchon, 32, of Paris. "And it's very trendy to open a shop with an English name."

Lawsuits en masse, speed dating, SUVs, minivans, casual Fridays and rooming with friends à la "Friends" are also en vogue, not to mention the very American trend of mind-body medicine — which has caught on so much that it's the cover story of the current Le Nouvel Observateur, a French newsmagazine.

Many say the strong presence of American media has led to the rise in U.S. customs in France and the rest of Europe, like it or not.

"American culture has found a very powerful way of selling itself through TV series, music videos and movies," Souchon said. "French people are very ambivalent about all that. There’s a certain mistrust toward Americans and their culture that’s so intrusive, but it’s cool to talk or dress that way."

In other words, American entertainment, ubiquitous in France, has had the same seductive effect there as it has had here.

"American TV series are much more sexy: People are always beautiful and the sky is blue," said Souchon. "It's exotic and appealing."

But most France lovers aren't worried that the country will one day be usurped by Uncle Sam to become just another, smaller United States in the Old World.

"I don’t think there’s going to be that takeover," Caldwell said. "They’re still holding up pretty well."