HOW TO SURVIVE IN FRANCE DURING SUMMER VACATIONS

“Babies don’t need a vacation but I still see them at the beach … it pisses me off. I’ll go over to a little baby and say “What are you doing here ? You haven’t worked a day in your life.”
America’s greatest living comedian, Steven Wright.

France is the most visited tourist location in the world, with most visitors coming in the summer months, and particularly in August. As the entire population of 66 million French residents also take their holidays in the month of August, it does result in some challenges for those that are foolhardy enough to join the hordes.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


For those who have decided to come here anyway, here are some challenges of which one needs to be aware to survive a summer in France.

Dutch Caravans … Every Dutch person over the age of 14 owns a mobile home or caravan, and in the summer holiday months they all drive south through Belgium to France. When they arrive here they divide their time between sunbathing naked on any piece of vacant, unshaded land, and driving in large convoys seeking out fee-free places to stop for the night. These massive convoys are generally made up of all the residents of an entire Dutch village or of all the dwellers from a suburb of a major city.

Author: France64160; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: France64160; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Survival tip … if you must drive in France in August, use only the Peages, which are motorways where you actually have to pay to be able to drive on them, as most Dutch prefer not to. If you are on a free Route Nationale and do have the misfortune to come up behind a large Dutch convoy just pull over and take your vacation on that spot, as Dutch caravanners have adopted the slogan made famous at the Battle of Verdun in World War I which is “They shall not pass”.

Parisians … Residents of our capitol city have built a reputation for being a rude and pushy people, second only to New Yorkers. However, a Parisian on summer vacations can make a New Yorker seem like a Quaker at a Buddhist retreat by comparison. You must beware all cars with license plates that have department numbers 75, 92, 93 or 94 as there is a really good chance that they will try to force you off the road just to release all the aggression that they have built up since their last summer break.

Author: Julie Anne Workman; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Julie Anne Workman; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Survival tip … Go to Paris for the summer holidays as it is an even more wonderful city when the Parisians are not there. The few restaurants, museums and art galleries that do stay open are not crowded and are mainly being frequented by foreign tourists who tend to be on their best behaviour, although this is not true if they are backpackers from Australia, NZ or South Africa.

North Africans … On the last weekend of July all North African families who are living in Europe pack up their entire households into large boxes, strap them to the roofs of their cars and head for one of the ports in Italy, France or Spain, where they can catch a car ferry to North Africa to vacation and visit their families. The challenge for them is to squeeze as many people as possible into each car, to get as much baggage on to their car roof as the laws of physics will allow and to try and get from their home to the ferry terminal stopping only for fuel. As many of them are driving to southern Spain from as far away as the Nordic countries, this can involve driving up to 30 hours without sleep.

Survival tip … If you see a car coming towards you that is crammed full of people and which has a load tied to the roof of the car that is larger than the car itself, usually under a blue tarpaulin held in place with some old tyres, you should drive your car into the nearest telegraph pole thus sustaining less damage than the inevitable encounter.

Russian tourists … Russians have discovered the joy of visiting other countries where suitcases full of US Dollars are welcomed, and where there are restaurants other than “Yelke Pelke”. You should however never get between a large Russian and a food buffet. Many Russian tourists feel that they need to make up for having lived through the food shortages after the war, so they will trample anyone that gets in their way when they are barrelling towards a large serving plate of prawns or pickled beetroot. They are recognisable because they only wear globally recognisable fashion items, but always with the designer labels showing. The Russian men all have bushy eyebrows, at least 2 shadowing security guys, gold Rolex watches, and hairy chests covered in gold chains and medallions a la 1960s disco-ites. The women are all small, blonde and beautiful, and are less than half the age of the men they accompany, quite often with an IQ that matches their age.

Author: Benutzer:WALLI1912; GNU FD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Benutzer:WALLI1912; GNU FD license; via Wikimedia Commons


Survival tip … Under no circumstances should you attempt to eat in any restaurant in any French resort that is frequented by Russian tourists in August, such as Cannes, Nice or St. Tropez. If you must visit these resorts you should stick to only eating room service meals.

Chinese chateaux buyers … Every mainland Chinese resident is in the process of trying to buy a wine chateau in France, and they are continually travelling around the country in Mercedes 4x4s armed with an interpreter and looking out for a bargain. As there are approximately 1.4 billion Chinese and significantly fewer chateaux available for sale, it can make for some frustrations. This “sell the country to the Chinese” strategy is all encouraged by President Hollande’s government, as it may help to solve the dilemma of what to do with the extra 210,000 public sector jobs he has created in the last year, if only they could all speak Mandarin, and knew something about wine.

Author: Ra-smit; GNU FD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Ra-smit; GNU FD license; via Wikimedia Commons


Survival tip … Do not consider buying any of the for-sale chateaux in France, as they have all been designated as being for Chinese buyers only, except for mine which is available to all nationalities, with payment accepted in all currencies.

I hope that I have helped with any plans that you may have to visit France in summer. As English comedienne Jenny Eclair said “The only way to go on holiday is with your expectations at ground level. Convince yourself before you go that the weather’s going to be dreadful, the roads jammed, and that there will be nylon sheets on every bed. You’ll then be pleasantly surprised.” Consider yourself warned !

Advertisements

VIVE LE FRENCH RETAIL SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Shopping in France is a wonderful adventure for the uninitiated, particularly if the visitor is from a country that actually has a culture of customer service. (see “Vive le French customer” posted 22 August, 2011). The French tend to associate “service” with “servitude” which they consider demeaning, and as the entire population of 66 million actually participated in the French revolution (1787-1799), they feel that they have earned the right to not serve anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Author: J.P. Coulpier; PD-US; via Wikimedia Commons


This does make retail shopping in France somewhat unique, and it is important that tourists undertake this activity well-armed and knowledgeable beforehand. To facilitate surviving this particular excursion, I have stolen some pages from the “French Training Manual for Retail Shop Assistants”, and have translated these instructions into English, published here for the first time outside the secretive and hallowed halls of the “Secret Order Divine of French Factotums” (SOD-OFF).

Understanding these will help you to understand the whole shopping experience in France.

________________________________________________________________________________________

SOD-OFF rules for those employed in the Retail Industry (pages 1&2 of 200)

1. If you are faced with the challenge of someone entering the store where you are employed as a shop assistant, it is critical to remember that the first answer to any question is “no”. Even if the question is as non-aggressive as “I see that you have underwear displayed in your window, can I have a look around your store?” Only if they do not leave immediately, and persist in asking more questions, should you change your answers to “maybe”. The only time you should ever answer “yes” is to the question “Would you prefer me to leave?” Under no circumstances should you ever ask any questions such as “Can I help you?”, although if they are a regular customer you are permitted to say “hello” when they first enter.

Author: Discoverretail; via Wikimedia Commons


2. You should openly display only a minimal amount of what you actually have available for sale, as this will deter people from spending too much time in your store. Most of your goods must be kept in a cluttered back-room, where everything is stored at random. This will ensure a high probability of people in the store running out of vacation time while waiting, as you continue to rummage through the piles pretending to look for something that you know does not exist, and hence them rushing out to get to the airport in time.

3. If the customer is still at the counter when you resurface from the back room, the chances are that they live locally and are just on a cigarette break from their own job and hence have all the time in the world. If they ask you to order something in for them, acquiesce grudgingly, but make them write down all the details of their request themselves, in your book for “New Orders – Wanted Any Year” (NO WAY). Wait for a minimum of 5 weeks and then call them to say that the warehouse has advised that this particular product/style/size/colour is not being manufactured any more. Try not to giggle hysterically when delivering this news.

4. Ensure that any bags that you have available for customers to use are always smaller than your smallest item for sale, so that nothing will ever fit in them. This will save you a large amount of expense by not having to give away a bag with every purchase, and will provide you with a chance to rearrange these bags whenever a potential customer enters the store, ensuring that they have to wait for you to finish this critical task and establishing that they play no importance in your priority list.

Author: Paul Robinson; via Wikimedia Commons


5. It is critical that you only load the credit card payment machine with extremely small rolls of paper (ideally just enough for 2 or 3 payments only). This will mean that you can regularly stop the need to deal with a customer desperately trying to give you some money, and hence provide you with a living, but who is diminishing the valuable time that you need to artistically arrange things in the store, such as the bags (see 4 above) or the 6 thongs hanging from the artificial cactus display in centre-store (see 2 above).

Author: Rojypala at ml.wikipedia; via Wikimedia Commons


6. You must learn the etiquette involved in the use of the in-store telephone system. SOD-OFF runs regular 3 day live-in courses in phone usage, now fully paid for by the Socialist Government. The basics are as follows:
– Friends are allowed to call you at work any time during work hours but no calls should exceed more than 30 minutes, and you should limit your personal calls to no more than 10 per day. This limit can only be exceeded on the first day of the work week whether this be Monday (most stores usually closed for Recovery Day) or Tuesday, when there is a lot to discuss about what you did over the weekend.
– Calls involving customer queries always take priority over customers actually in the store, particularly if they involve you having to spend time in the back store room.
– When involved in an interesting or complex conversation you may ask all the other shop assistants to leave their customers and join you in the discussion to ensure that you do not have to repeat the story to them afterwards.

7. You should close the store exactly at noon every day for 2 hours to ensure that you can have a nutritious and rejuvenating lunch break with at least 4 cigarettes. This lunch closure rule is mandatory even if you are working in a takeaway lunch bar. If people want to eat lunch they must learn to plan ahead and buy their food before the lunch break, otherwise they could be denying another citizen from needed nourishment.

8. Trust no-one, as tourists are notorious shoplifters. As well as all items having electronic tags (always placed where removal will create the most damage), with an alarm system at the exits, you should also carry out searches of all bags as well as conducting random full body frisking. Cavity searches however can only be used in stores handling high-cost but small items.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Just remember that if you find retail therapy in France less than soothing, the Guillotine is the only true French chopping centre.

via Wikimedia Commons: PD-US


VIVE LE FRENCH FOOD

You never know how many friends you have until you buy a chateau in France.

With summer almost upon us, we are girding our loins for the usual influx of visitors. France is a favourite destination for millions of holiday makers from around the world, whether it’s the Dutch in their caravans, the Germans covering themselves only with oil and then covering all the beaches, the English heading for their second homes in the Dordogne or the Antipodeans trying to escape their winters and looking for free accommodation with their “mates”, often “incredibly close friends” that they haven’t spoken to in over 20 years.

“Time just passes so quickly … is it really 20 years ?”

But they are all, apart from the Dutch, mainly here for the French food. The Dutch are different from the other visitors to France as they are here to clog up the roads, and tend to bring all their food with them so that they don’t actually have to spend any money while they are in the country.

French cuisine is amongst the best in the world, though one does have to be very selective, as the days when the majority of restaurants in France actually had a well trained chef are fast declining (see “Vive le French cuisine” posted May 23, 2011).

Great French cooking is all about wonderful sauces, spectacular desserts and artistic presentation, but it is also about not wasting any part of the pig, or whatever animal has been sacrificed for the plate. Most visitors have by now heard of the French love for frog’s legs, snails and foiegras, though often with the mistaken belief that these make up a large part of our diet, rather than being an occasional delicacy.

Many visitors to France are surprised to learn that the most common and most popular meal in France (other than a Grand Mac et Coca) is steak and chips, though because the French do not believe in ageing their beef, this can be an interesting exercise in testing tooth strength. Despite this penchant for what would generally be considered an American meal choice, there are some unusual dishes that are more typically French and that first time visitors to France may need to be aware of before they decide to choose their meal in a restaurant using the “blindfold and pin” method of selection when faced with a menu that they do not understand.

Here are a few to test your culinary courage:

Andouilette is a sausage made of pig’s intestine with a distinctive taste and smell of faeces, making it the French equivalent of the Malaysian Durian. Andouilette is graded from A to AAAAA, being how much time has been allowed for a hose to wash the intestine out before cooking it. At just a single A rating, the intestine has been shown the hose but it has not actually been turned on, and every subsequent A in the rating seems to be equivalent to about 1 second of cleansing, but this will vary greatly based on available regional water pressures. The only way to eat this is in response to a dare involving a large amount of money andwhen you have a bad head cold. You should also never order Andouilette that has a lower A rating than France’s economy at the time, which according to Standard and Poor’s, is declining annually.

Tete de Veau is the face of a baby calf with the skin, hair and fat removed, as the taste is said to be revolting if this is not done properly (go figure), so if you are really desperate to pass as a local, you should only try this dish in a 3 star Michelin restaurant where the chef will have the skill to rip the face off the bone, wrap it around a tongue, prepare it in bouillon and then serve it garnished with the brains (and often with the ears) with a caper and vinegar sauce. As it is actually hard to find free available calves’ heads you should generally order this well ahead of time, allowing about 2 years, which will also give you enough time to rethink.

By Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0; via Wikimedia Commons


Tripe is not just a French dish as one can also find tripe and onions in the UK, which is not necessarily a recommendation. Tripe Lyonnais however is very French and is quite unusual in that Lyon is considered a wonderful culinary centre, so I have no understanding why they would lay claim to a dish that tastes like wallpaper paste, and if boiled long enough could actually be used as such. Tripe is the stomach lining of animals, generally beef, sheep or even goats at a push, which has been bleached and partially cooked by the time it gets to the consumer. If you wish to cook it in your holiday cottage, it should be well washed again, and then boiled for at least 4 hours or until tender, which will give you an immediate idea as to how good a meat it is to start with. You will need to sauté some onions the entire time that the tripe is boiling just to hide the smell, and then combine the onions with the boiled tripe after it has been sautéed in butter for 20 minutes, andadd some vinegar. Remember to garnish with parsley to make it even more delectable.

By Lissen; via Wikimedia Commons


Coeurs de canard en brochette are duck hearts on a stick. I have always believed that “meat on a stick” is an area that has been largely overlooked as a true culinary fast-food takeaway, which could compete directly with “Le Colonel” and “Macdo’s”, as many French foods are well suited to potential stick-dom. I see a huge potential market for finger-licking delicacies such as “Rocky Montagne Huitres en brochette” and “Yeaux de Cochons en brochette”.

Author: Roman Bonnefoy (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As Lucretius, Roman poet and philosopher (95-55 BC) said “What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others”, and he had never even been to Australia and tasted witchetty grubs.

By User:Sputnikcccp; via Wikimedia Commons


CAPITALISTS USE MONEY, SOCIALISTS THROW IT AWAY

Winston Churchill said

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”.

The average voter in France appears to be heading towards handing over the country to the Socialists, seemingly more as a way of showing their distaste for Nicolas Sarkozy, the Centre-Right incumbent President, rather than any specific appeal of the Socialist agenda nor its candidate Francois Hollande, nicknamed Monsieur Flamby (Mr. Pudding), as much for his flabby political beliefs as for his long time rotundness. (See “A Dummy’s Guide to French Politics” posted 28th November, 2011).

By David Monniaux; via Wikimedia Commons


If he does win it will mean that France will join the only four other countries in the world who currently openly describe themselves as Socialist being China, Laos, Vietnam and Cuba … a great club to join, and with even some other French speakers in the group.

Author: Jake Choules; via Wikimedia Commons


Hollande’s answer to solving France’s economic difficulties, like all socialist governments worldwide before him, is to increase taxes and to massively increase the number of public sector employees, seemingly in an attempt to ensure that any incremental tax trove is spent without delivering any increase in productive useable output nor any nett national value.To make it even harder for France economically he has also said that he will roll back the retirement age from 62 to 60, heading in the opposite direction to every other country in the world generally moving to 67 based on inreasing life expectancies and diminishing workforces.

Author: Jackolan1 (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Earners over € 1 million annually in France will be taxed at 75% but not in an attempt to “soak” high income earners, but as a way of allowing them to be patriotic (Hollande’s words not mine). The standard marginal tax rate will also be increased from 41% to 45%, as well as proposed increases in Capital Gains tax and Wealth tax, which I consider to be one of the greatest despicable examples of state sponsored theft.

Taxes will also be raised on evil (but as yet undefined) “big business” to ensure that they do not have the ability to generate any jobs that would actually add to the country’s wealth or long term well-being, and which will ensure that businesses keep moving everything that can be moved to overseas locations, including their executive teams who will be branded as non-Patriots because they do not wish to pay 75% in income tax.

Interestingly, I believe it will also have quite some impact on France’s second most popular sport of soccer (the first being the holding of national worker’s strikes) as high paid French soccer stars have to weigh up the price of this new definition of patriotism, being the right to pay the 75% income tax on their inflated salaries(which only they and a diminishing number of executives will have to pay).

I had always believed that patriotism needed to be a widespread national initiative rather than just the sorting out of some individuals from the herd for a sacrifice that others will not be asked to make.
London already has a French expatriate population of 400,000 making it France’s sixth largest city, and Hong Kong which had a handful of French expatriates 10 years ago, now has over 10,000 and is growing at an estimated rate of 60% annually. In fact whereas the French long had a reputation of not readily leaving home, beyond the occasional colonial foray, France now has nearly 3 million expatriates globally, who I am sure will think twice before rushing back home, despite the strong attraction of foiegras and boudin noir, which can now be sourced anywhere in the world anyway.

Hollande’s fundamental platform also includes hiring 210,000 additional civil servants including creating 60,000 new teaching positions, as well as rescinding the Sarkozy government initiative of allowing only one replacement for every two civil servants who retire. In a country where over 20% of French workers are in government sponsored jobs, with another 20% in the educational sector, plus more in government owned enterprises (compared with 8% total in US), it is hard to understand the benefit to the country in increasing the number of jobs somehow paid for by the taxpayers.

The last time the Socialists had control of the country was when Francois Mitterand became President in 1981 and the Socialists dominated all aspects of French politics after having been in opposition since 1958. They immediately nationalised 12 of the largest industrial companies in France giving the government control of industries as diverse as telephone and telecommunications, iron and steel, electric power, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, electronics, aeronautics, gas, coal, railways and transportation as well as large parts of the banking sector such as the BNP. They also implemented a major spending spree that quickly brought the country to its knees and by 1983 had to be curtailed and replaced with an era of austerity to try and bring the country back to some measure of fiscal stability.

Author: Tangopaso; via Wikimedia Commons


After having seen so many socialist governments get it so very wrong so many times, in so many countries, how can the French people not see past Hollande’s crash diet, new suit and hyped up marketing, and remember that socialists always tend to fatten up again when they do get their snouts into the trough? (See “Are we Students or Prisoners of History?” posted 13 February, 2012).

It is unfortunate that Sarkozy managed to create an image that made him look like a lightweight playboy to French voters, as he has shown considerable leadership in many ways including attempts to contain the euro crisis and to keep France afloat despite the loss of the AAA rating during his term. The Socialists, in contrast, have already announced that they will renegotiate the EU Fiscal Compact which will deal another blow to weakened European unity and to the health of the ailing Eurozone currency.

Author: Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil; via Wikimedia Commons


Francois Hollande has also said that he will pass legislation that will allow euthanasia for the terminally ill.
Unfortunately, in France, euthanasia may also become one viable exit option for more than just the terminally ill, as the socialists never seem to learn that there will never be enough tax-take that can be squeezed from its citizens nor from a diminishing and penalised business community needed to support an exploding public sector with its incumbent spiralling costs and bottomless pensions pit.

David Horowitz, American writer and reformed Leftist, said it best

“In practice, socialism didn’t work. But socialism could never have worked because it is based on false premises about human psychology and society, and gross ignorance of human economy”

VIVE LE SYSTEME DE JUSTICE

Over 2000 years ago Plato said

“Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of its citizens.”

via Wikimedia Commons


I have long believed in the ideal of Justice as represented by Justitia the Roman Goddess of Justice, frequently shown globally at courthouses and courtrooms. She is most often depicted as holding a set of scales in one hand representing a case’s support and opposition, blindfolded to show impartiality, and carrying a double edged sword symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice which can be wielded either for or against any party.

via Wikimedia Commons


The ideal is that every person irrespective of colour, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, handicap or nationality will be treated equally under the law.
I have lived as an expat resident for over 30 years since leaving New Zealand in 1981, and recently have had some instances that have made me wonder whether the ideal, whilst it may be enshrined in a country’s laws, is ever achievable based on the way that this is interpreted and implemented by the general populace, including the public officials who are actually tasked with the upholding of the tenets of Justice.

Whilst I cannot speak for all countries, I have had come across some situations recently in my own life in France that have brought me to the conclusion that at times, Lady Justice does let the blindfold slip somewhat to have a look at who are the antagonists, and then exhibits some bias.

Situation 1.

Some weeks ago I was returning from the local building supplies centre in our Boxer van with a load of sand and cement when, on a narrow country lane, I happened to barely touch side mirrors with another large van travelling in the opposite direction. I had no damage at all, but the side mirror on the other van was broken. When the other driver realised that I was a foreigner, he refused to sign the accident report unless I would state that it had been my fault. As I had been well within my side of the road I refused to do so, at which point he insisted on calling the local Gendarmerie. When the French constable saw that my French license (which I have had for about 10 years) had been exchanged from an Australian one, he took the side of the French driver, pointing out to me that he was aware that Australians drive on the left side of the road. He then gave me a lecture on the fact that in France we drive on the right side of the road, despite the fact that I have lived and driven in France for a decade, had a clean driving record, and despite the fact that the glass from the other van’s mirror was actually on my side of the road. The gendarme then endorsed the accident report stating that the accident had been caused by a foreign driver.

By Corvettec6r (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Situation 2.

I bought a property in France and the agent for the seller was an Insurance Broker. After taking possession I received a visit from an employee of a large French Insurance company who announced that he had come to inspect the property for insurance purposes, based on the fact that the insurance broker had organised insurance on my behalf acting as my agent. I advised that I did not know him personally, that he was not my agent in any way and that I already had insurance cover organised through my normal broker. A few days later I received an invoice from the French insurance company, to which I responded with a letter advising the fact that I was well insured and had no relationship in any way with them or with the Insurance broker who had arranged the insurance (and been paid his commission). After a number of threatening letters from the Insurance Company, I sought legal advice and was told that I should give up, pay the invoice and send a letter by registered mail cancelling the policy after this one annual payment, otherwise the invoices would keep coming, initiated annually by the Broker, who had somehow become my agent in this unsought for relationship. The reasoning was that though I was totally in the right, and despite the fact that the broker had no document to show that he had the authority to act on my behalf, a foreigner could rarely win an action against a large French company and that the legal costs in trying to do so would be considerably more than the invoice.

Situation 3.

I renovated our second floor apartment in Megeve in the French Alps using an English company owned by a friend. At the same time as we were doing the renovations a blockage occurred in the plumbing of the apartment below us resulting in some flooding and water damage in the restaurant below on the ground floor. Even though no-one could show that we had had anything to do with it, and the fact that our water had been turned off during the renovations, the Body Corporate hit us with the bill for the damage to the restaurant. Their reasoning was that we were renovating at the time, and that we had used an English, rather than a French, company for renovations and despite thisbeing totally legal under EU law, an English company would know nothing about French plumbing. The fact that the apartment below us was extremely run down and badly maintained and had been rented out for years was not taken into consideration at all when trying to allocate the blame for the blockage.
I do not mean to just pick on France as the negative example as I am sure that foreign residents struggle with the same issues wherever they live, and I am sure that this was never the intent of the French justice system, but any justice system is only as good as those that administer it, and as long as the average French person resents the presence of foreigners in their country, particularly Anglophones, justice will always be administered as being different for citizens than for residents.

It is not surprising for me to see the growing popularity in France of Marine Le Pen and the French Nationalist Front Party, which is the far right challenger for the French presidency and which is anti-foreigner, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti- everything but that which is totally French, whatever that may mean.

I find it sad that in my adopted country, that I have grown to love in so many ways and at so many levels, so many people have this attitude to foreigners, as I believe that the mingling of cultures is what gives a country its richness in every way … sadly it is one of the things which, together with the taxation system, may ultimately make me decommit to France.

A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO FRENCH POLITICS

Over 200 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte said “In politics stupidity is not a handicap”.

via Wikimedia Commons


To an outsider French politics can be incredibly confusing … just as it is to French people.

The political right in France is not in any way recognisable as belonging to the right side of politics that one would find in any other democratic country, being more accurately only just marginally to the right of the left. The current flag carriers for the marginally right of the left is the UMP (Union pour un Movement Populaire), which is currently very “unpopulaire”, hovering at about 30% approval, and which now could more accurately be an acronym for Unreelectable Maddening President.

Nicolas Sarkozy moved from leader of the UMP to France’s 23rd President in May 2007 on a platform based on the need to revitalise the French economy and need for change, and immediately brought to bear the entire power of the office of the French Presidency to changing his marital status, getting divorced from Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz in October 2007 and marrying Carla Bruni in February 2008. On taking office he also immediately changed his own annual salary from € 101,000 to € 242,000.

Source: Whitehouse Blog; via Wikimedia Commons


These 2 major changes so tired him that he has rested ever since, though he did find a small burst of energy which enabled him to impregnate his new and attractive wife, who has now given birth to a Sarkozy heiress.

The far left French socialist party (Parti Socialist) has had some leadership setbacks since its first successful run at the Presidency in 1981. Its leader is Segolene Royale … no, it’s Francois Hollande … no, it’s Martine Aubrey … no, it’s Harlem Desir … no it’s Francois Hollande again. The only obvious person who is definitely not the leader of the PS is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-head of the IMF. He committed the ultimate sin in French politics, which is not the having of affairs, nor the having of mistresses, nor even of being a sexual predator, but is the unforgiveable sin of having it all make headlines in the newspapers thus embarrassing the French populace by being caught by foreigners doing all these things. The reality is that many French people actually admire and envy him his sexual energy, but will not tolerate his lack of discretion.

The far right is represented by the Front National (National Front) founded by Jean Marie le Pen (see “Vive l’European Parliament” posted September 20, 2010), and now led by his daughter Marine le Pen. The FN is a classic right wing party allied to the British BNP, and who wish to stop all immigration, impose stronger law and order initiatives by bringing back the guillotine, drop out of the EU and go back to the franc, build a fence along France’s borders with all other countries, ban all foreign films, make the use of any languages other than French a punishable offence, expel all foreign residents back to their home countries giving their renovated houses back to French nationals, and change McDonalds from serving hamburgers into duck-in-a-crepe takeaways thereby rejuvenating the French agricultural sector. Their popularity is growing daily as France continues, together with Germany, to support Greek lifestyles thus forcing the French to move their retirement age to a staggering 62, leaving an average of only 20 years of being supported by the State in their old age, but whilst retaining the 35 hour work week.

Author: Charles14082011; via Wikimedia Commons


The far far left is mainly represented by the Parti Communiste (PCF) which is still strongly Stalinist as no one has actually told them that Russia has moved away from traditional communism since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. PCF support has fallen from a high of 20% to about 5% currently as most people in France watch television and know that both Russia and China have been moving away from actual communism towards a more open market form of -ism, whereas true French communists eschew foreign capitalist consumerism and thus are not able to watch television but just keep re-reading old Karl Marx pamphlets for their news updates.

Author: Jaume Ollé; via Wikimedia Commons


There are also a few aging and declining far far far left parties such as Lutte Ouvriere (Workers’ Struggle) and LCR (Revolutionary Communist League), who are giving way to Parti de Gauche (Party of the Left) who actually have 2 seats in the Parliament and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-capitalist Party) who, together with Cuba, are the last who still believe in the pure ideals of collective farms and state ownership of all assets, including berets.

There are some small centrist parties such as the Nouveau Centre which is allied with the right of left UMP, so no-one is quite sure about what it sits in the centre of, as it is hard to position any party apart from those on the farthest extremes. The others seem to be able to float around at will, much akin to the streetwalkers in Bangkok these days. Francois Bayrou (a former presidential candidate) has also formed the Mouvement Democratique, to sit somewhere between the Left and Right and thus spends all of his time trying to work out where they actually are, and what they actually believe would be best for themselves, and maybe even occasionally for the rest of France, so he can actually define where he should sit politically.

Plato summed it all up over 2000 years ago when he said

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are not.”

via Wikimedia Commons


YOU KNOW YOU’RE BECOMING FRENCH WHEN YOU….

I actually understand and accept that no matter how long I live in France, or how much my speaking of the French language improves, I will never be considered French enough by the French, and will always be considered “un etranger”.

Author: jimmy.lavoie; via Wikimedia Commons


This is very different to Australia where you become an Australian as soon as you land as a permanent resident, and understand what is the meaning of “… our home is girt by sea …”, or New Zealand when you are immediately considered a “Kiwi” when you get really angry and depressed if the All Blacks get beaten by the Wallabies (fortunately not very often).

via Wikimedia Commons


I have a friend who is married to a Frenchman, has lived in her village for over 40 year, speaks perfect French and is still called “l’Anglaise” by those in her village, even those younger than 40.

So, after 15 years of owning a home in France, and over 10 years of living here permanently, I have been wondering about at which point your attitudes become more predominantly French than just reflecting those attitudes of the country you originally came from.

I have therefore decided that you know you are becoming more French when you:

1. …shave, shower (optional) and get dressed up when you go out to do some shopping, even if you are just going to the hardware store to buy a new drill bit.
2. …use a piece of baguette as an item of cutlery rather than just using a knife and fork combination.
3. …sulk into a bad mood if the host serves a wine that you would never buy even if you were dying of thirst.
4. …really believe that foie gras is a healthy food item with life enhancing properties.

Author: Feth; via Wikimedia Commons


5. …believe that it is acceptable to have steak that needs to be cut with a chainsaw, as that means it has been raised naturally, rather than the tender aged steak that the rest of the world eats.
6. …believe that when it comes to food, it is a shame to waste any part of a pig.
7. …believe that the only rule for parking a car is that you do not block a driveway.
8. …are certain that where you live has a microclimate that differentiates it from anyone else living more than 1 kilometre from your front door.
9. …believe that the government should cut spending but not in any way that would affect your pension, medical care, education of your family or anything else to do with you.
10. …know that a GP’s skill is in direct proportion to the number of prescriptions with which you leave his surgery.
11. …believe that part of the fun of a vacation is to start and finish on the same day in August as the rest of the country, and that 4 hour traffic jams are a great way to meet new people.
12. …are not fazed when a poodle at the next table has a napkin around his neck and is perusing the menu.

Author: Pleple2000; via Wikimedia Commons


13. …see garlic as being the one condiment that goes with everything including desserts.
14. …know that any lunch has to be at least 4 courses, and include at least one glass of wine, or it should be considered as just having a snack.
15. …believe that no matter in which direction you drive, the food will deteriorate the minute you cross a border.
16. …tell someone with a bad haircut that their hair looks terrible.
17. …know that French letters are actually not French, but are English hats.
18. …refuse to hand back a microphone once it is in your hands.
19. …know that a dinner party has not been successful unless at least one guest leaves angry.
20. …vote for a President only if he is known to have at least one mistress.
21. …are prepared to drive 20 kms daily for the perfect baguette if you feel that those that are available close to you are not quite good enough.
22. …consider the Renault Twingo to be a medium sized car.
23. …are angry that Napoleon sold Louisiana to the Americans.
24. …believe that your mother was the best cook in the world, and that if she had cared to open a restaurant it would have immediately gained 3 Michelin stars.
25. …are not surprised when a 10 year old at a neighbour’s family lunch can beat you in the blind tasting of a local red wine.
26. …can sit through the entire Wagner ring cycle opera without needing to go to the bathroom.
27. …consider toothpaste to be a con by the US consumer manufacturers just to make more money.
28. …think that working a 35 hour week is still too much.
29. …know that whilst two kisses on the cheek are acceptable in the southwest, you will need four in most of northern France.
30. …believe that queuing for anything is a waste of time and energy, and that it makes more sense to just do a herd-press towards any narrowing point of access.
31. …realise that a street being marked as one-way should not stop you from getting a good parking spot.
32. …believe that cheese can be counted as one of the 5 serves of fruit and vegetables needed for a healthy eating plan.

Author: NJGJ; via Wikimedia Commons


As the author of the American Declaration of Independence, and 3rd President of the US, Thomas Jefferson said “France is every man’s second country”.