The country of Uncle Sam // Who’s Sam?

We are used to say in French to talk about the United States: “the country of Uncle Sam”, as we say to refer to English, as a language, “the language of Shakespeare”. I get why we say that for the language, though fortunately nobody’s talking like  Shak’. But who is this Uncle Sam? I had no idea. Then I started looking online, and I sort of knew the face of this guy, but still. Who was it? Why we always use this phrase?  This is a nice family story…

Who is Uncle Sam

It all started like a joke. At the beginning of the 19th century, soldiers in the Hudson Valley got some meat boxes, and US was written on them (it stands for United States, but by this time, it was most common to write down U. States). The provider of these boxes was Samuel Wilson, and everybody called him Uncle Sam – he was a nice guy, honest, and of course loved his country. Soldiers started saying that US meant Uncle Sam. The legend start spreading, and in the 1830’s, cartoonists used this image to refer to the country. At first, he was a big guy, but after the death of President Lincoln in 1865, Uncle Samie looked like  him: tall, skinny and with a goat beard. The character became a symbol.

Uncle Sam - Vintage Poster Defend your country

Do American people use this phase like in French?

Uncle Sam is famous, but it’s not used to refer to the country in general, but for the administration. You can say stuff like “I need to pay my taxes to Uncle Sam.” With his hat, blue jacket, pants with stars and stripes, he’s a personification of the American homeland, like the Statue of Liberty or the bald eagle. He can be nice, or sometimes threatening, and was used for war propaganda.

Uncle Sam - Vintage Poster

And how American people call France, the country of cousin Marianne?

After some research, the answer is: American people call France, France. I think they secretly call it the country of the baguette, this is one of the rare words that people know here, with “bonjour”, “merci”, and sometimes for the bold ones: “voulez-vous coucher avec moi”.



Rédactrice, grande organisatrice et réseau socialite du Blog de Mathilde. Quand je ne suis pas devant un écran, j'organise des visites guidées de Boston, là où j'ai fondé ma petite entreprise Boston le nez en l'air. Je suis aussi auteure de nombreux guides de voyages, de livres de yoga et de jeux chez des éditeurs français. Suivez-moi sur Instagram, Facebook ou Pinterest.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.