BROOKE GLADSTONE: This weekend, French citizens are voting in a runoff election between conservative President Jacques Chirac and the far right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen is expected to garner less than a quarter of the vote, but that's more than most thought possible a month ago. His popularity has sobered the French who thronged the streets this week to protest his xenophobia. Don't expect any pro-American demonstrations, however. French media and politicians have long criticized the United States for everything from its Middle East policies to its cultural imperialism. So it might have surprised readers of that country's leading broadsheet, Le Monde, to find in its pages a pullout section of the New York Times in English -- not translated into French. Obviously this benefits the Times by expanding its French market. The surprise, as Thomas Marzahl reports from Paris, is that it seems to be doing that for Le Monde too!
THOMAS MARZAHL: On the day after September 11th, Le Monde's front page bore the headline "Nous Sommes Tous Americains." We are all Americans. Every day for a week it published a page of articles from the New York Times in English -- a notable shift for Le Monde which has traditionally looked askance at American culture and politics. While last fall's sample of English-language articles was temporary; a few weeks ago it became more permanent with a Sunday supplement of New York Times articles on politics, world affairs, arts and business. Le Monde editor Eric Le Boucher says the New York Times in English were the most natural choice for his paper.
ERIC LE BOUCHER: We choose to be bilingual and we want to open doors and windows to different cultures, to different point of view.
THOMAS MARZAHL: Judging by some of the letters the paper has received since the supplement's launch, many readers are not happy. One wrote: "When will you realize that you are sawing away at your own demise and contributing to the isolation of millions of people who don't speak perfect English?" Albert Salon, who heads a lobbying group for the French language, said the project was only furthering the Americanization of France. Correspondents to Le Monde said one thing, but research the paper carried out over the period of a year painted a very different picture. Eric Le Boucher.
ERIC LE BOUCHER: In French or in English, that was, a, a question but our tests -- we, we made some tests -- and they are - they were very clear -- in English. People, young people especially, want, want it in English.
THOMAS MARZAHL: New markets are key for Le Monde as it, like many newspapers in France, has seen circulation and ad revenue drop. As for the English language, many French are eager to try out their English when they find you are a native speaker. But there are limits. All billboards are required to provide a French translation for an English slogan, and the venerable Academie Francaise -- the watchdog of French language -- still ties itself in knots every year trying to find French expressions for English words that have crept into daily life. Media analyst Jean-Marie Charon welcomes the collaboration but says that Le Monde, a very pro-European paper, could have opened up to Europe first rather than to the United States.
JEAN-MARIE CHARON: [SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
TRANSLATOR: Where I find myself in disagreement with Le Monde is this exclusive arrangement with the New York Times. It would have been interesting in the end if one week it could have been the New York Times, one week Britain's Independent, then Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung or Italy's La Republica. I'm a little frustrated at this missed opportunity to open up in different directions.
THOMAS MARZAHL: Charon warns the move could backfire and cost the paper readers. Twenty-six year old Anne is just the kind of reader the paper is angling for. She had just picked up her copy at a newsstand in the Paris Montmartre neighborhood.
ANNE: [SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
TRANSLATOR: It's a great idea, even if many readers won't touch it, because the French speak English very poorly. Many will probably just throw the supplement out, so it would be better to offer a translation of the articles in French.
THOMAS MARZAHL: At the nearby Metro station, 18 year old Philippe on the other hand, thinks the supplement could not have come at a better time.
PHILIPPE: [SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
TRANSLATOR: I think this can bring some diversity to a daily like Le Monde, and with what is going on right now in France, we need to hear from and read about other cultures so that our society opens up more.
THOMAS MARZAHL: Philippe's reflections on far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen have been borne out in French streets. On Wednesday, more than a million people marched across France against Le Pen, racism and xenophobia. The supplement ends its trial run in July, but both the French and the Americans hope for a re-launch in the fall. Then the New York Times may continue its march across Europe, taking on partners in Germany, Italy and Spain. As Le Monde wrote in an editorial, "Knowing others in their language increases diversity and does not mean giving up what you yourself hold dear." For On the Media, I'm Thomas Marzahl in Paris. [MUSIC]