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This is an out of universe question. Why did the creators of Star Trek TNG decide to use a French character as Captain of the Enterprise? It is an American series, Patrick Stewart is a British actor, so why they did not give him a American or British background? Was there a special reason they decided the main character should have French nationality?

Also I have the feeling they often refer to the French origin of Picard, but not to the nationalities of other crew-members (I don't even know for sure what nationality Geordi or Riker have, but that Picard is French is stated in many episodes). Most of the time the main characters of TV series have the nationality of the country where the series is created and produced; as far as I know Kirk, Janeway, Sisko and Archer are American, but for some reason TNG is different in this case.

Related to, but not a duplicate of, Why didn't a French actor play Captain Picard? What was the reaction to this on the part of the French?

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    For what it's worth, Riker is from Alaska and Geordi is from Somalia. – Nerrolken Aug 25 '15 at 15:21
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    And the way Picard is always going on about Shakespeare, he could easily be mistaken for a Brit. – Mr Lister Aug 25 '15 at 15:41
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    Because he had to surrender in the first episode. – Kenster Aug 25 '15 at 16:17
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    @Lèsemajesté In TOS I believe that only Kirk was identified as having been from the North American continent. Sulu was Japanese, Chekov was Russian and Uhura was from Africa. I supposed McCoy may have had an American ancestry as well as Nurse Chapel and yeoman Rand, but I don't know if their heritage is ever given. – Xantec Aug 25 '15 at 21:04
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    @Xantec: Not sure right now about the rest (you're definitely right about Chekov), but Sulu was actually a Japanese American. He's supposed to have been born in SF. – Lèse majesté Aug 25 '15 at 22:21
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The short answer is that where Kirk was based on Horatio Hornblower, an older (and wiser) Gene Roddenberry appears to have decided to base the character of Captain Julien Picard largely on another of his heroes, Captain Jacques Cousteau:

“Kirk came out of an earlier time in my life when I was pretending to be part of my macho southern background, and [the character] reflects some of that,” Gene Roddenberry would later tell an interviewer. “Macho feelings about women, and so on. But in twenty-five years, my feelings have changed enormously about those things and I think Picard represents that. He’s more mature.”

The back story for Picard—given a French heritage in homage to the many Gallic explorers, including Jacques Cousteau—was set down in the very beginning and mentioned a twenty-two-year stint as mission commander of the USS Stargazer. - The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion

Notably, in both the TV Series and the Insurrection movie there are small auxiliary vessels named after the famous and inspirational sea captain; The Shuttlecraft Cousteau and, apparently at Patrick Stewart's insistence, the Captain's Yacht, Cousteau.

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Just like with Chekhov, I believe the intention is to show that Starfleet isn't just a "United States" space armada, but is for the entire Earth (and maybe even the Federation).

The Next Generation Bible (Writer/Director's Guide) states this:

Born in Paris, France, Picard betrays a gallic accent only when deep emotions are triggered. Otherwise, since ethnic accents are no longer common, he carries only a touch of French phrasing in his speech.

Obviously the onscreen version of Picard had a much more pronounced English accent than French.

Memory Alpha has this to say:

The character of Picard changed quite a bit from the original March, 1987 Writers/Directors guide. In that guide, he was born in Paris, carried a touch of French phrasing in his speech, and pretended that France is "the only true civilization" on Earth (reminiscent of Pavel Chekov). The latter only surfaced briefly in some early episodes (most notably "The Last Outpost"). Over the course of the series, his character became more English. He enjoyed the works of William Shakespeare, and was never seen reading a French author. He drinks Earl Grey tea, an English beverage named after an English nobleman, and was rarely seen drinking wine (he only drinks it on three occasions, once in "First Contact", again in "Family", and once at the end of Star Trek Nemesis), a beverage which is commonplace in French life. Additionally, his brother and nephew both spoke with English accents.

Memory Alpha goes on to say that there were a number of famous explorers / scientists named Piccard / Picard.

It is also worth noting that a "Picard" is a sixteenth and seventeenth century term for someone of an enquiring mindset (derived from the birthplace of John Calvin of Picardy or Picardie). With his interest in the development of Humanism, it is likely Roddenberry knew this. Certainly it is a fitting description of Jean-Luc's character as well as his name.

For the rest of the human bridge crew:

Riker is the only regular bridge crew member who was born in the United States.

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    I read something like that long ago, but why the main character, and why france? I guess there must be an out of universe explanation why the choose this setting – kl78 Aug 25 '15 at 16:37
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    I agree with @kl78 on this one. Lots of interesting back-story but this doesn't actually answer the question of why they characterised him as French. – Valorum Aug 25 '15 at 17:50
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    @kl78: I query whether Picard was actually conceived as the “main” character. Was it like The West Wing, where they intended the man-in-charge to be more of a supporting character, but audiences like them so much they ended up being the main character? – Paul D. Waite Aug 25 '15 at 20:41
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    When did England have a no alcohol policy. They had a rum ration, for pete's sake. – Oldcat Aug 26 '15 at 0:05
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    Interestingly, I've encountered French speakers (albeit Canadian ones) who use British accents for English because of how they learned it. – JAB Aug 15 '16 at 14:59
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I've always felt that after casting Stewart, it would have been better to rework the character slightly to make him an Englishman (possibly even a Yorkshireman as Stewart is in real life). I do find it a bit odd and culturally insensitive that he was French, but this was largely ignored and even his relatives given British accents.

Edward James Olmos was offered the part, I believe before Stewart, but he claims he turned it down because he felt the series was too utopian.

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