Surprising French FaceOff as Presidential Primaries Begin

All I can say is that political polling seems to be really off its rocker in both the USA and France. No one saw Trump coming; most of the polls wrote him off early, but then Voila! – he’s here. A similar thing just happened with Francois Fillon

One Happy French Camper - Francois Fillon.
One Happy French Camper – Francois Fillon.

in the first round of the presidential primaries of the “Republicans,” the center right party of the French government. On November 20th, an unexpectedly high turnout of voters, (4 million Frenchmen and women), surprised all the pundits by putting Francois Fillon at the head of the race and ending Nicolas Sarkozy’s political career.
All the predictions were for Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, to come in first; Sarkozy second and Fillon third – but a long way behind Sarkozy. However, the results were 44.1% – Fillon; 28.6% – Juppe and 20.6% – Sarkozy. Since the Cartesian French keep their elections simple, that means Sarkozy is out, and on November 27th, there will be a face-off between Fillon and Juppe. The victor of the run-off, by a simple majority, will be the candidate for the right-wing Republicans. That winner, Fillon or Juppe, will be in the global spotlight until the elections on May 7th 2017 since so many people are looking to see if he will be able to defeat Marine LePen, the far-right, Front National candidate who is hoping to ride the Brexit/Trump wave.
You can read up on these candidates in other political blogs, in this article, I wanted to talk about how this first French Republican presidential primary was conducted. It’s so different from what happens in the USA that it’s worth a closer look. Any registered voter could participate in the primary as long as they signed a “Republican” charter and paid two euros (about $2.12). Here’s what the charter stated, “Je partage les valeurs républicaines de la droite et du centre et je m’engage pour l’alternance afin de réussir le redressement de la France”.

French voters (including Alain Juppe) waiting in line to sign the Charter.
French voters (including Alain Juppe) waiting in line to sign the Charter.

In English, it translates to something like this, “I share the Republican values of the Right and the Center and I am committed to the change of power so that the recovery of France will succeed.” That sounds a bit flowery and, when you analyze it, it’s a pretty general statement, not really requiring a great deal of thought on the voter’s part. Kind of like a “goes without saying” situation. And, after signing the charter, you had to pay.

I, for one, was taken aback by the fact that the French voters had to go to the polls with a two-Euro coin in their collective pocket. (The pre-voting publicity was very clear about not making change nor allowing for electronic payments.) However, after reading about the reasoning behind the contribution, it started to make sense. The primary costs between 6 – 9 million Euros to run. The rules say if the voter contribution

The price to pay for voting in the French primary.
The price to pay for voting in the French primary.

is not enough to pay for those costs, the Republican party will make up the difference. If there is more than enough, the extra amount will go to the winner of the primary to be used in his campaign. Since there were four million voters who contributed two euros each, the costs were largely covered by the eight million that was collected and the lucky winner of the November 27th run-off will get the overflow.  Surprisingly, none of my French friends protested paying to vote in the primary. I can’t even imagine that system being allowed in the US – not even for a second.

So, what happens on the left once the center-right candidate has been chosen? Well, between December 1st and 15th, the Socialist candidates who plan to run for president must make an official announcement.  It’s still not certain if Francois Hollande, the incumbent, will run, since his popularity rating is at an historic all-time low of 4%. The Socialist primary is on January 22nd and the first round of presidential elections on April 23rd. If no candidate has the majority of votes in April, the second and final round between the top two will be held on May 7th 2017. And that’s it, the new French presidential primaries and elections take place within a span of seven months! For once, the French touch is an efficient one. Let’s see if the polls can get this one right. We’ll have to wait and see.

Explaining Inexplicable American Politics to the French

Text messages and phone calls from my French friends started invading my cell phone around midnight on Election Day.  The messages all subscribed to the same theme of extreme surprise and overwhelming curiosity.  “How could Trump even be the nominee?”  “He just won Florida – does that mean he could win the election?”

Texting for political explanations.
Texting for political explanations.

“Will I need a Visa to visit the States now?”  I shut my phone off to gain some extra time.  But I knew, as an American living in Paris, that the French wanted answers.  Answers that could be understood.

Then, the next day, as if explaining how Donald Trump won the Presidency wouldn’t be a daunting-enough task, I saw that Hillary Clinton won the majority of the popular vote.  That meant I had to EXPLAIN the Electoral College, the “only-in-America” voting system, to the demanding French.  You see, when you’re the only American they know here in Paris, they think you know everything.  But I don’t.  So, as a first step, when I finally got my head cleared, I went with the numbers.  Now, that’s something everyone can understand in any language – at least that’s what I thought.

I started returning my phone calls and messages with statistics.  I told the curious French that 46.9% of eligible American voters did not vote (this was less of a voter turnout than in 2012 and 2008).  I told them that Trump got 279 electoral votes; he needed 270 to win.  Clinton got 228, so she lost the electoral votes.  Now, that could look like a big win for Trump.  But, for the popular vote, where every person counts, Hillary beat Trump by 238,087 votes.  That means that Trump got 59,704,847 and Clinton received 59,942,934 votes.

Historical statistics.
Historical statistics.

If the US election followed French rules, Hillary would be President.  And, by that same token, Al Gore would have been named President instead of George W. Bush in 2000 since Al Gore had more than half a million votes over Bush.  I gave my French friends the numbers and they all asked the big question, “Why don’t you Americans change the voting system?  Using the majority system is fair and easy.”

Using the majority system might be easy, but changing the electoral college requires an amendment to the Constitution.  Even though the electoral college began in 1804 and times have changed since then, US lawmakers have only tried once to change it to a direct vote election.  That attempt failed in the Senate by only by 2 votes.  And that was in 1934.  There is another movement, started by John Koza, a computer scientist and lead author of the book “Every Vote Equal.”  Professor Koza has proposed legislation to change to a direct voting system state-by-state, thereby circumventing the need for a constitutional amendment.  Each state would pledge its votes to the winner of the popular vote.

John Koza is the lead author of "Every Vote Equal".
John Koza is the lead author of “Every Vote Equal”.

So far, eleven states have adopted this – not yet enough for repeal of the electoral college.  My French friends scratched their heads in disbelief.  I was getting tired of feeling responsible for the US electoral woes so I changed subjects.

“You know, we voted for some interesting issues on the Presidential ballot,” I told them.  I mentioned how some states voted for the legalization of marijuana.  Now that took them by surprise.  “What, you can do that in America?  Vote for marijuana and the President at the same time?  That’s strange.”  Strange as it may seem, I explained that on November 8th, California, Nevada and Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana use.  Three other states – Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas – voted yes to medical marijuana.  I threw another number at them.

America votes green!
America votes green!

Now 21% of Americans live in a state where there is legal recreational marijuana.  “Put that in your pipe and smoke it,” I added, quoting an age-old expression my mother used to say (though, I must admit, she was never referring to marijuana!)

Talking about the marijuana referendum issues with my French friends was so much more fun than trying to explain the electoral college.  I won’t have to try and deal with our voting system for another four years, when its ugly head will reappear for the next presidential election.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy helping French friends plan their future vacations to California, Nevada or Massachusetts.

The Americanization of French Presidential Campaigns

Oh no, it’s happening in Paris too.  Just when the US presidential campaign is almost over and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief; the French contest is starting and local TV is trying a new thing – producing political “shows a l’américaine”.  I saw one last week and couldn’t believe my eyes or ears.  It was a horrible harbinger, an omen of how bad the French presidential campaign just might become.

The name of the show is “Une Ambition Intime,” which translates to “A Private Ambition.”

This photo certainly sets the tone of the program.
This photo certainly sets the tone of the program.

The presenter is a beautiful, sexy lady named Karine Le Marchand, who usually hosts a popular reality show where she helps French farmers find love in the comfort of their own home.  (It’s called “L’Amour Est dans Le Pré” or “Love is in the Field”.)  She oversees the matchmaking of the contestants and interviews them in their country surroundings.  It’s a stretch to go from hosting a heartfelt, love-farm program to interviewing political candidates.  However, Karine does it while sitting on a couch and drinking wine.  She even makes the politicians cry and give up family secrets.  So, in the end, it’s not such a stretch.  And, in the end, it made me cry too – but for different reasons.

Karine Le Marchand is the producer of this show. Television rumor has it that she threatened to quit if the M6 channel, which broadcasts the program, didn’t give her the chance to host something else besides the Farmer takes a Wife.  The first airing of “Une Ambition Intime” received some bad reviews but the head of M6, Nicolas de Tavernost, defended Karine’s show saying that people would be surprised at the number of politicians who want a place on Madame Le Marchand’s sofa (that’s right; that’s what he said).  He added that he was proud of her.  Critics claimed that Karine doesn’t know anything about politics.  However, knowledge of French politics is irrelevant since, in “A Private Ambition,” Karine exposes the human side of the presidential candidates or, rather, lets them expose themselves.  A lot.

Karine asking Nicolas Sarkozy about his feminine track record.
Karine asking Nicolas Sarkozy about his feminine track record.

The objective of the program is to unveil another facet of the presidential candidate – one the audience would not see on a typical political program.  There is absolutely no discussion of current issues, social problems, the deficit, security or jobs.  Karine Le Marchand doesn’t grill the candidate as to what the basis of their political platform is and how he or she would accomplish their goals.  Instead, with sappy pop music in the background, (appropriately chosen by her 13-year-old daughter), Karine coyly asked the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, if she should call him “Nicolas” or “Mr. President”.

She cuddled up on the couch; poured him a glass of red wine and asked him about the ladies in his life.  He told her he had an “enormous track record” with women and she then asked if that was the only “enormous” thing he had.  She followed that with a pathetically fake giggle.

It got worse.  There were three more candidates to go.  The emotional highlight of Arnaud Montebourg’s interview was when he got all teary-eyed thinking of his premature baby.    The next candidate, Bruno Lemaire, shed tears when he talked about his wife (she’s fine, by the way).  Then Karine Le Marchand had a conversation in the garden this time (no couch) with Marine Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate.  With Marine, she evoked favorite recipes and flowers and commiserated about how both Karine and Marine are single moms.  She offered wine again (white wine, this time) and they toasted to life.

Jugging down the wine in an attempt to get "cozy".
Jugging down the wine in an attempt to get “cozy”.

Madame Le Pen went on to talk about her difficult, if not impossible, relationship with her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who used to be the head of the National Front party.  She threw him out of the party a few months ago and they haven’t spoken since.  Marine said that was an extremely painful thing to do – second only to childbirth.  Wow.

That politicians have turned into entertainers in the United States is not a new phenomenon.  But this is new is for France and, personally speaking, I hope it stops right here.  However, “A Private Ambition” attracted 3.1 million viewers; that’s 14% of the Sunday evening market so it looks like it will probably continue.  The French are voluntarily lowering their standards of political campaigning and the candidates are letting them do it.  Why, oh why, did these potential presidents agree to do such a program?  They could have all nipped this trend in the bud by just saying no.

Let’s hope that one day we will all pick our presidents in the same way we choose a doctor.  For example, if you were going to have a knee operation, would you care about your surgeon’s romantic liaisons?  About his or her favorite recipes, gardening talents, musical preferences?

Let's talk about skills, not stories, please.
Let’s talk about skills, not stories, please.

No, there’s no time for silly small talk and, truthfully, you would just want a skilled professional with experience.  You would probably check out his team; the reputation of the clinic; his or her surgical success rate.  Let’s face it, we’re all human and we all have stories.  But, when it comes to deciding who will govern a country, there are some stories we just don’t need to hear.

The Disrespecting Women Effect in Presidential Elections

Everyone I have spoken to about the upcoming US presidential election, both in France and America, is shocked at the incredibly low level our presidential debates have sunken to.  The French news media broadcast both debates live but it’s really the second one that is the most embarrassing.  You see, when you’re an American living in Paris, your French friends and family feel it’s absolutely necessary to badger you with their opinions and questions about the elections.

The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.
The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.

They ask you how Donald Trump could have been nominated in the first place; why do Americans dislike Hillary Clinton so much; how does the electoral college work; why don’t the candidates talk about their policies during the debates; why is sex so important in the election and on and on.  Explaining the electoral college system to the French is boring and useless so I’ll just skip it.  Let’s talk about sex – and its part in both French and American recent and future elections.

The latest sexual development in the American campaign is, of course, the sound track of Donald Trump’s offensive comments regarding having a license to grab women’s private parts.  This caused Republicans like Paul Ryan and John McCain to withdraw their support of Trump, saying he had crossed the line.  This also gave hope to Hillary supporters who believe that the indecisive voters will now be on her side or not vote at all – which in the end is good for her.  I just want to remind everyone that Trump crossed the line with racist comments many months ago.  He also insulted families of soldiers who have died for their country.  But fellow Republicans didn’t raise an eyebrow until he was exposed as a sexual aggressor.  Just goes to show how women, or rather disrespecting women, could make or break this election.

Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.
Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.

Now the French have their sexually-related political problems too.  Remember Dominique Strass-Kahn?  He was the Director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) who was supposed to have run as the Socialist candidate for president of France in 2012 but encountered a major obstacle in 2011. That was when he was taken off an Air France plane in New York and arrested in connection with the alleged rape of a hotel maid.  His subsequent trial and eventual settlement blew his chances for political success and cleared the way for Francois Hollande’s win in May of 2012. Another potential-president bit the dust due to a woman-related issue.

Again back in the USA, the Trump campaign is hitting Hillary hard with claims that Bill Clinton has sexually attacked and abused women for many years.  The fact that Bill Clinton is not running for president doesn’t seem to deter Mr. Trump.  For the second debate, he brought in three women, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey who have all alleged that Mr. Clinton sexually assaulted them

Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.
Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.

during different points of his career.  Their claims range from sexual harassment to rape.  Mr. Trump thought he would show that Hillary is not a defender of women’s rights.  He said and I quote, “Hillary was an enabler and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward.”  The second debate seemed like more of a reality-show-gone-horribly-bad or, even worse, a horribly bad TV show that suddenly becomes real.  I have never seen anything so hard to watch.

The French have now begun their debates in view of the presidential elections which will take place in May of 2017.  France is hosting primaries for the first time in its political history and the first meeting of seven candidates of the center-right party was held this week.  It was a tame, polite meeting compared to the Trump-Clinton debates, but it’s only the beginning.

The first French Presidential primary debate - a calm affair - for now.
The first French Presidential primary debate – a calm affair – for now.

The current president, Francois Hollande, has not yet announced his candidacy and will not do so until December.  That makes for only five months of French political campaigning, which seems like heaven at this point.  Women-wise, we’ll see what happens.  So far, so good, no major sexual scandals have emerged.  But, like I said, it’s just the beginning.

The French Work Ethic – Something to Sing About

The French often get a bad rap for their work ethic, or, rather, what the outside world sees as a lack of one.  They are usually shown demonstrating on the streets of Paris and other major cities; striking or threatening to do so or just plain old vacationing.

The French take to the streets - often.
The French take to the streets – often.

(After all, they have between five to nine weeks a year during which they can spend their free time.  And they do spend it, proudly.)  The French also take long lunches; hardly work on Sundays (since Labor Laws prohibit them from doing so) and are not ashamed to call in sick. Good for them.

With all this free time to enjoy themselves, it seems strange not to see smiling faces when you walk around the city.  That’s a Parisian paradox I still don’t understand – the fact that the French can stay home from work and get paid for it should make them jump for joy.  But that’s just not the case.  They are a discreet, dressed-in-black, serious bunch.  Last night, however, I saw about two thousand French men, women and children dancing and singing like crazy.  What were they all excited about?  Work, of course.  Well, actually, not working.  But smoking, lots of smoking.  Let me explain.

It was a Pink Martini concert at the Olympia Theater in Paris that inspired this fit of French celebration.  Firstly, let me tell you that the Olympia Theater in itself is a French musical icon of the highest order.  It opened in 1888, founded by Joseph Oller, the creator of the Moulin Rouge.  As you might have guessed, it is very red and has a sublime art deco theme. All the people who work there are extremely pleasant, doing their best to make you feel welcome.

The iconic Olympia Paris concert hall.
The iconic Olympia Paris concert hall.

The Olympia hosts rock bands, pop music, jazz and comedy.  I will name just a few of the legends who have played there and you will understand how important this stage is to the musical world – Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Marlene Dietrich, the Beatles, Charles Aznavour, Josephine Baker, Diana Ross, the Grateful Dead and on and on.  And last night, it was Pink Martini.

Pink Martini is an American jazz/pop/eclectic musical orchestra based in Portland, Oregon, whose first album, “Sympathique” included a song in French that rejoiced in not working.  The title means “Nice” in English.  The chorus, the popular refrain of the song translates to: “I don’t want to work, I don’t want to have lunch, I only want to forget and so, I smoke.”  The intro describes a hotel room in the form of a cage and the sun that’s filtering in through the windows – and the urge to light up a cigarette.

Some of the lyrics to “Sympathique” (also known as “Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler”) were taken from a poem called “Hotel” written in 1913 by the famous French poet,

Apollinaire's take on happiness.
Apollinaire’s take on happiness.

Guillaume Apollinaire. The rest of the lines were penned by the Pink Martini bandleader, Thomas Lauderdale, and the group’s singer, China Forbes.  However, the smoking instead of working idea was definitely Apollinaire’s.  “Sympathique” quickly became an international phenomenon, nominated for the “Song of the Year” award and France’s “Victoires de la Musique” in 2000.  The French car company, Citroen, used it for the soundtrack of an extremely popular television commercial for its Xsara Picasso model. (You can watch the video of that ad at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiDoOMXNdg8).

In the course of the evening, Pink Martini performed many wonderful, catchy numbers but none of them could get the French spectators out of their seats and into the aisles of the gorgeous Olympia concert hall. Staying put is pretty much business-as-usual for French

Pink Martini - the group that got the French moving.
Pink Martini – the group that got the French moving.

concert-goers.  They don’t move much.  In fact, they usually yell at the people in front of them who stand up and start gyrating.  They want them to sit down and stop twirling so they can sit comfortably and see the musicians on stage.  In this case, in the “I-don’t-want-to-work” theme song case, the French audience really got into it.  They spread out.  They were everywhere.  They ran from the balcony to the orchestra seats and onto the stage – singing and dancing, dragging their children along with them.  It was fun to see them so happy and exuberant.  Even if the inspiration for this was all about not working and even if they would be snarling in the streets the next day.  For one night, just this one night, they were all happy campers.

A Few Things You Should Know about Euro 2016 Soccer Tournament

The EURO Cup 2016 is quickly approaching its final game, scheduled for Sunday, July 10th here in Paris and, so far, it has been an interesting and entertaining event – with a couple of surprises (such as England exiting, thanks to Iceland, just a few days after Brexit).  As an added bonus, France is still in the running for the championship.  The Euro Cup began in 1960 and is second only to the World Cup as far as popularity and sportive importance is concerned.  You can follow the scores and schedule on the UEFA official website (www.uefa.com), but here I would like to give you a few Fun Facts you can toss around at the pub as you’re watching a game.

  1. Whistle Swallowing as It Applies to Trophy History – The coveted prize the 24 soccer teams are fighting for is named the “Henri Delaunay” trophy. Henri was the first General Secretary of the French Federation of Football and, basically, the Euro Championship was his idea, way back in 1927.
    Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of what is now UEFA (and a Whistle Swallower).
    Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of what is now UEFA (and a Whistle Swallower).

    After playing soccer for the Paris team, Étoile des Deux Lacs, Henri became a referee.  He stopped that, however, when a soccer ball struck him full in the face, forcing him to swallow his whistle and breaking two teeth in the process.  He turned to a much safer job of Football Club Administrator. Unfortunately, he died in 1955 and didn’t get to see his dream come true when the first Euro Championship was held in France in 1960.  His son, Pierre Delaunay, who replaced him as UEFA’s General Secretary, named the trophy after his father.

        The silver trophy weighs 8 kilos (18 lbs.) and is 60 centimeters high (23.6 inches).  It had a “makeover” in 2008 by the Arthus Bertrand Company.  The winners are engraved on the trophy and the winning team gets to keep it for four years, after which time they have to pass it on to their successor. Spain was the first team to hold the newly-designed trophy in 2008 and, since they won in both 2008 and 2012, they kept it for eight years.  This is not happening this year – Spain lost to Italy 0-2 in the second week of the tournament.

  1. Soccer and Scandal – Now, one might ask, who’s running this giant sporting event? Who’s at the head of UEFA? The answer, as it applies to the UEFA management, is no one.  There is no UEFA president to preside over the most prestigious once-every-four-year happening of this soccer organization.  Not at this time, anyway.  The latest UEFA administrative head was Michel Platini, a famous soccer
    Former UEFA president, Michel Platini, who resigned in May 2016.
    Former UEFA president, Michel Platini, who resigned in May 2016.

    player who was part of the French team that won the Cup in 1984.  He was forced to resign in May of 2016, following an ethics investigation of an alleged “disloyal payment” of two million Euros (about 2.2 million US dollars) back in 2011.  The payment to Platini was from Sepp Blatter, his former FIFA counterpart.  UEFA has decided not to appoint an interim-president and will hold an election in September.  We’ll have to wait and see who will give the trophy to the winning team on Sunday.

  2. “Make Love – Not War” during Euro 2016 – In an effort to stop the spread of AIDS, Euro 2016 has launched a daring marketing campaign using naked soccer fans whose bodies have been painted in unexpected places with their country’s national colors. There are four posters of different couples adorning the subway halls in Paris as well as covering social media networks.
    A daring marketing campaign to stop the spread of AIDS.
    A daring marketing campaign to stop the spread of AIDS.

    AIDES, the non-profit organization which is behind this campaign has said that the message they want to convey is to “Celebrate the universal value of love and sexual diversity, while at the same time reminding people of the importance of protection.”I thought these photos were a bit risqué when I first saw them, but, in general, I think sexual healing is a good thing and why not as part of a sporting event?  Also, people get to brush up on their geographical knowledge as they try to guess what flags the models are (kind of) wearing.

  1. The Best Euro 2016 Fans are the Irish – Please take a few minutes to watch the video with examples of the best fans ever – the singing Irish.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CC-X-I3hlHc  Sure, they were drunk but they weren’t disorderly.  They were singing incessantly – serenading a nun on the train to Bordeaux (that’s right, spontaneously breaking into a rocking version of “The Lord’s Prayer”); chanting and smiling with the French police and flattering a pretty French girl with their version of “I Love You Baby.”
    Irish soccer fans serenading a pretty French girl.
    Irish soccer fans serenading a pretty French girl.

    There was also a group rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the Parisian subway, which delighted a little baby and overwhelmed the parents – just a little.  Some Irish fans helped an elderly couple change a flat tire.  They picked up their own trash.  The Irish lost the tournament but they won the respect of a lot of French people – and that is not an easy thing to do.

I will miss Euro 2016 when it’s over.  I’ve enjoyed the variety of nationalities that have floated through Paris proudly dressed in their national colors and creatively silly costumes.  I like the fact that all the soccer players have to play with their “Homies” – even if they make exorbitant salaries with the professional teams they have chosen, the Euro Cup makes the players return to their home nation and play with their fellow countrymen.  (This reminds me of Thanksgiving Homecoming American football games. Sniff, sniff.)  But the best thing I like about the Euro 2016 is that for a few weeks, we don’t have to look at non-stop bicycling.  Hardly anyone is talking about who’s in the lead for the Tour de France, which started a few days ago.  It will stay that way – at least until the final Euro 2016 soccer game on Sunday evening.  Allez les Bleus!     

 

Turning Tables and Throwing Tantrums in Paris

The recent (and continuing) strikes in France with their subsequent acts of violence, provocation and just general unrest, set me thinking about French social behavior.  I am not talking about the politics of these demonstrations nor about who is right or wrong – there are plenty of other blogs that are doing that.

French demonstrator being pulled away by police.
French demonstrator being pulled away by police.

I am talking about how the French bring up their kids and what happens when these kids turn into adults.  Can their childhood education possibly have something to do with their grown-up comportment?

For years, I have participated in conversations with other Parisian mothers who stand by the strictness of table manners in bringing up their babies.  They are proud of the fact that their children do not throw tantrums at the dinner table.  They sit; they eat and they are not the center of attention.  I have seen mothers slap their children in public for slight misbehavior and no one even blinks.  (In the US, social services would have been on speed dial!)  The kids request permission to leave the table.  They go to bed and stay in bed when they are supposed to.  The parents have them under control and do not feel guilty about disciplining them.  But, then the kids grow up; turn into adults and regress like crazy.

When I watch the evening news and see the intense kicking and screaming of French demonstrators and police alike, I can’t help thinking of temper tantrums. The French are acting like toddlers in adult clothing.  When a 2-year-old has a fit, it is considered normal.

Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.
Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.

He is testing his limits with these outbursts.  Since he cannot yet master any language, physical wrath is common and is considered a normal part of child development.  Parents have to remain calm; be consistent in their treatment of these tantrums and NOT let the child win.  They are instructed to wait out the storm – let the kid storm off in a huff.  They try to reason with him only when he stops all that negative wrath and animosity. An angry child does not get a place at the dinner table.  An angry child gets a time-out.

Following this temper tantrum theory, I think that as French children grow (or not) into adults, the state replaces their parents and all the temper tantrums that were repressed in their childhood are now directed at the government (their financial provider).  They expect Mom and Pop to provide them with this and that.  They are used to their paternal government privileges and don’t want to lose them.  They certainly don’t want their parents to divorce.  There’s no way they could stand having a step-dad from the private sector.  They want their world to continue just as it is. Safe and secure and with them as the center of everybody’s attention.

I did a bit of research on what causes angry “episodes” in toddlers.  It seems that a feeling of intense anxiety, the kind you experience when you can’t get what you want, makes their bodies release cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone.  That makes them breathe faster; increases their blood pressure and causes confused thinking. They literally become “explosive” at the slightest provocation from their family and the world around them.  This sounds just like what’s happening in the streets of Paris.

The Parisians are acting out; melting down in perfect imitation of early childhood tantrums.  When the unionist “toddlers” come to the negotiating table,

Throwing over the negotiating table...literally.
Throwing over the negotiating table…literally.

the government parents can’t tell them to go to their room and come back when they are ready to talk sensibly.  These “parents” must stay calm and try to reason with them.  But, that doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked in the past and it isn’t working now.  The average child temper fit lasts for 3 minutes and, when it’s over, the tiny tot doesn’t remember anything.  Unfortunately, the French adult-child fit seems to be lasting a lot longer and spreading like a virus.

I am sure that the government Mom and Pop will “cave”; they will give in to their toddlers’ demands during any mediation.  As the unionist spoiled brats kick, scream and literally turn those negotiating tables upside down, the government parents will do what they have always done – give the children what they want so they can have a peaceful meal and/or get a good night’s sleep.  And they’ll do it quickly – right before the European Soccer Cup starts in Paris on June 10th.

 

 

 

 

This Week in Paris – Madness and Meditation

This week in France, there were not one, not two, but many social strikes and demonstrations.  The demonstrators included truck drivers, post office employees, oil workers, street cleaners, Parisian airport employees and, finally, the French police themselves. Some of these marches were peaceful – so, of course, they’re not worth talking about.  What everyone is focused on, however, is the violence and growing intensity of these movements.

Only one example of Parisian social unrest.
Only one example of Parisian social unrest.

The Molotov cocktails, tear gas, rocks and other projectiles being used in the streets of Paris turned certain parts of this beautiful city into domestic war zones.  A police cruiser was set on fire by a few demonstrators who made sure (at least) that the police themselves had time to get out of the car before the smoke invaded their vehicle.  France is in the midst of social chaos – it is a country full of frustrated, angry, young and old men and women.  It is certainly not the only country in crisis at this time, but it is the one I am trying to understand.

I was watching the news on one of the most socially-chaotic days of this week as the journalist went over the “Strike Agenda”.  He gave a rundown of the who, what, why, where and when of the social movements – it was a long list detailing the parts of Paris to avoid.  I had a sudden thought about how calm the newscaster seemed even though he was obviously discussing a country that was “out of control”.  He was showing footage of hooded trouble makers breaking store windows and throwing stones at people’s heads.  He announced that more than 350 French police officers have been injured in demonstrations in 2016 alone. I was stressed out just listening to him and thought about staying in my pajamas all day.  Then, he talked about someone peaceful – Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra just happened to be speaking in Paris on May 17th at the Grand Rex theatre, a famous venue usually reserved for movies and musicians.  Mr. Chopra, a meditation, wellbeing and human relations expert, who is also a celebrated author, was to

Grand Rex stage ready for Deepak and group meditation.
Grand Rex stage ready for Meditation.

give a conference on “How to Live Better Today and Tomorrow.” He wanted to meet the French public after the horrible events of 2015 to “share an overall global review of ourselves and our future.”  The conference was to be followed by a group meditation led by the guru himself.  They even showed a short interview with Deepak while he was walking around Paris the day before.  When the reporter asked him what he thought would help with the unrest in France, he answered simply that the French should learn how to meditate. A little bit of calm energy and introspection seemed like a good anecdote to the volatile tension in the Parisian air.  So I got out of my pajamas and set my sites on Deepak’s meditation instead of the social madness.

I didn’t think there would be any problem getting a ticket to the conference given the public transportation strike and the feeling I had that the Parisians were just not a meditative bunch (especially not this chaotic week).  But I was wrong.  I tried on both the web and by phone and could only get the highest priced ticket – at 150 Euros (about the same in US dollars).  Now, that was a high price to pay for silence and introspection but I thought I might be able to find a cheaper one at the Grand Rex just before the show.  So I headed out.

In the end, I couldn’t get there because of the very reason I wanted to go there in the first place.  I wanted solace from the social turbulence but the social turbulence got in the way.  Roads were blocked so buses could not circulate; the metro was stopped.

Pink smoke in Paris is not a good sign.
Pink smoke in Paris is not a good sign.

I tried walking for a while but saw pink smoke in the distance and changed my mind.  I carefully treaded back home and put my pajamas back on.

I read the next day that more than 2,000 people attended Deepak’s conference.  I don’t know how they managed to get there but I’m glad there was some peaceful karma in the Parisian air this week.  Wish I had had enough money and enough foresight to be part of the Meditation instead of the Madness.

When French Arrogance Pays Off – Vigilante Justice in France

I often write about how arrogant the French are and how they are so proud of that trait in their collective DNA.  I usually talk about it in a negative sense, having been married to a Frenchman for a while and remembering so many fights where he absolutely had to give me some kind of “moral lesson”.  I also come across daily French life lessons from disgruntled bus drivers, bakers, school teachers, administrative workers.  It can be exasperating sometimes, but, I just saw an example of where a crime was prevented and a very dangerous situation averted due to a French woman’s up-in-your-face attitude. You gotta love it.

The in-your-face attitude that the French are famous for.
The in-your-face attitude that the French are famous for.

This true story is about an attempted robbery which happened last week in a bar/tabac in a small town in Normandy, near Calvados. It was about ten in the evening and a hooded man toting a pistol and an empty bag burst into the quiet bar where there were about ten clients.  The manager and owner, Nathalie, was holding a month-old baby in her arms when the robber stormed in.  He shouted something about this being a hold-up and the first thing she did was to start yelling at him about how that wasn’t the way one should talk around a baby.  She calmly brought the baby back to his mother in the next room and then came back to handle this guy.

She yelled at the thug some more and told him he should take off his hood if he wanted her to talk to him.  He demanded to see the manager.  She kept on insisting that he show his face, all the while shouting that she was the manager.  Nathalie insisted that a real man wouldn’t hide behind a mask and threaten a baby. She advanced toward him; aggressively

Peaceful town of Champ-du-Boult where the robbery almost happened.
Peaceful town of Champ-du-Boult where the robbery almost happened.

pushing him out the door.  A shot was fired and then another one. (The shots, fortunately, turned out to be blanks).  A client picked up a chair and crashed it over the robber’s head while Nathalie picked up his empty bag and beat him a few times with it. The guy finally made it out the door and took off on his motorbike.

Now, the police, of course, don’t suggest that anyone follow Nathalie’s example.  They don’t advocate vigilante justice.  But, as Nathalie said in an interview afterward, she had no time to think.  Her French sense of civic education and her arrogant French attitude just took over.  No one acts like the robber did in front of a baby!

Bar owner Nathalie shouting at the robber wannabe.
Bar owner Nathalie shouting at the robber wannabe.

That was the first thing she preached to him.  Secondly, if you want to talk to me, take off your mask.  And thirdly, get the heck out of my establishment!  And take this stupid, empty bag with you!  At the time of this failed robbery, Nathalie didn’t know that the gun was shooting blanks.  But she didn’t care.  That guy’s actions in front of the baby were unacceptable.

The would-be thief actually came back to the scene of the crime since he had forgotten his charger.  The police were on their way and the young 21-year-old man knew he would be caught.  He gave himself up and Nathalie waited with him calmly in her bar for the police to pick him up.  She undoubtedly had time to give him a few more life lessons.  (One of them probably was that he should have been a bit more prepared and certainly not have forgotten his charger!)

 

Up Close and Personal on a Parisian Bus

The Parisians are naturally a discreet bunch; my French friends have more than once made fun of my American naiveté and openness.  They say Americans small-talk freely about money; ask total strangers their salary (a taboo subject at French parties); mention their psychiatrist; describe their abortion experience, etc. etc.  In summary, Americans are not at all reserved and, consequently, not as elegant as the French who keep their personal lives to themselves.  That may have been the case in the past – but things have changed here in Paris and I’m guessing, all over France.  Just take the bus.

I prefer taking the public buses to the Metro since you get to see Paris in all its splendor. It’s true that the buses are slower but you have so much more fun and they don’t have that urine-tinged aroma that the subway cars have.  In the B.C. era (Before Cell phones), the French passengers were silent, book-reading, shy people who looked right through you if you tried to strike up a conversation (their version of transparency).

Public bus and public broadcasting
Public bus and public broadcasting

However, now, everyone, literally everyone, is equipped with a cell phone and is turning them into a broadcasting service for their private lives.  They can provide some pretty spicy entertainment.  All you have to do is listen up.

Age does not seem to matter in this significant shift in French social behavior.  I have overheard conversations of teen-agers, middle-aged people and senior citizens.  Everyone is willfully exposing bits of their dirty laundry for whomever is curious enough to listen.  I am that curious.

Here are just a few examples of modern French life unveiled to the general public.  I overheard a 30-something woman explain that she would never use Facebook since it was an invasion of her privacy.  She then went on the say that yes, she did get that loan from the bank and will soon be buying her first apartment in Paris in the 19th district – not

Just one of the hundreds of rolling radio stations in Paris.
Just one of the hundreds of rolling radio stations in Paris.

too far from Belleville metro station (she even announced the name of the street). It ended up only costing about 200,000 Euros.  Her parents were co-signing the loan next Wednesday at Mr. X’s office, their notary public.  I don’t think her Facebook account would have been half as much an invasion of her privacy as this public litany turned out to be.

I once sat across from an elderly gentleman who held one of those slap-shut old-fashioned cell phones to his ear for at least five minutes.  In all that time, he didn’t say a word.  I suspected he was pretending to use the phone, as a pre-schooler might do. I knew for sure when, for the second five minutes of non-stop fake listening, he actually turned the phone upside down; put it back close to his ear; and kept pretend-listening.  It might be funny when a young child imitates his parents but this role reversal was a bit sad.

I have witnessed lover’s quarrels on public buses – one-sided ones.  It’s worth noting that the fights I have heard are mostly from women speaking.  Men tend to talk about money (a lot of it and often); business-related deals and what a horrible time they had visiting their mother for Sunday dinner.  Sometimes I have heard men working out an obvious extra-marital rendezvous on their way home.  But, that’s when they turn discreet on me; actually lowering their voices; covering their mouths and furtively looking around to see if they know anyone who might be on the same bus. At least talk of adultery gets special treatment on Parisian buses.

A couple of years ago, the French were not so loud and indiscreet on public transportation.  The RATP (the French public bus company)

The RATP campaign encouraging riders to speak softly.
The RATP campaign encouraging riders to speak softly.

has signs on the buses which encourage people to be quiet when they are speaking on their cell phones and to limit their conversations time-wise.  But that just isn’t happening.  Instead, everyone is chiming in; using their bus time to call and be called by their dentist, lover, wife, banker, lawyer, child, mother, etc. and (sometimes) their imaginary friends.  But, at least the French are talking – and perfect strangers are listening.  Now that’s up close and personal – Parisian style.