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.

Paris Mayor Wins the Fight against Motorists – But Can She Do Better?

Paris is regularly a very sick city, full of spikes of pollution that practically erase the Eiffel Tower from the Parisian cityscape. The last smog attack happened this March (see photo) and sparked a series of actions by the City Council led by Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. One of these actions was the second edition of the “Journée sans Voiture” or “A Day without Cars” which happened this past Sunday, September 25th.  From 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, cars were forbidden in 46% of the streets of Paris (that represents about 400 miles of roads).  Pedestrians, bicyclists, walkers, joggers took over the avenues and, except for an hour or two of rain, enjoyed this slight hiatus from urban chaos.

Can you even see the Eiffel Tower through the pollution?
Can you even see the Eiffel Tower through the pollution?

But seven hours of clean air per year is not enough to stop the pollution and its consequences.  Mme Hidalgo has lots of other ideas.  And, due to her “Bras de Fer” attitude, one extremely controversial plan just received the go-ahead from the Paris City Council.

Here's what the Right Bank of the Seine will look like soon.
Here’s what the Right Bank of the Seine will look like soon.

 

It is now official that 3.3 kilometers (about 2 miles) of the Right Bank of the Seine will be transformed into a pedestrian zone.  This stretch of road (called Voie Georges Pompidou) runs from the Tuileries Gardens to the Henri IV tunnel near the Bastille and, on a normal day, has about 43,000 cars traveling on it.  It’s a great, easy way to cut through the center of Paris.  The fact that it is now inaccessible is causing massive traffic jams on the other Boulevards that drivers are forced to take, such as Rue de Rivoli.  Needless to say, many suburbanites who commute to Paris for their jobs, are not happy with the mayor’s plan.  But she doesn’t care.  They don’t vote for her anyway.  They don’t live in Paris. It was the Parisian Socialist and Green Party City Councilors who passed this measure.

The mayor has a lot of statistics on her side.  She has tweeted that there are 2500 deaths a year in Paris caused by bad air quality; up to 45,000 deaths in France.  The cost of the smog-related health problems is as much as 101 billion Euros annually.  It was time to do something. Yes, everyone agrees that something has to be done.

Enormous traffic jams in Paris due to the Right Bank closing.
Enormous traffic jams in Paris due to the Right Bank closing.

But the motorists and the politicians of the Right say that the pedestrian zone is not the appropriate move and will only displace and increase the pollution in other parts of the city.  That may be true but the decision is now official. The work crews will soon be constructing playgrounds, terraces and waterside gardens where pollution-charged vehicles used to tread.  Mme Hidalgo and the Parisians are taking back the Seine.  However, I have an idea to make this pollution-reduction plan even more effective.

I think that Mayor Hidalgo and her City Councilors can easily do more than just banning motorists.  They should also ban cigarette smoking from the riverbanks.  That would really make these two miles pollution-free.  Let the smokers puff away in the rest of the city but keep these new terraces and gardens that will be lining the Seine smoke-free.  If you have

An all too common site on Parisian streets. Do we want to see these in the Seine?
An all too common site on Parisian streets. Do we want to see these in the Seine?

ever walked around Paris and looked down, you have seen the hundreds, even thousands, of cigarette butts that line the city streets.  Now, just imagine the Parisians on the water’s edge.  Do you think they will throw their butts in an ashtray?  Certainly not.  They’ll throw them in the Seine and watch them float all the way to Normandy.  The mayor has a chance to stop that before it starts.  I know it could spark another mini-French revolution but having a pristine paradise in Paris, even if it’s just for two miles, would be well worth it.

 

The Dark Side of French Humor

Having been married to a Frenchman for sixteen years, I know a lack of a sense of humor when I see it.  His jokes weren’t funny to me; my jokes weren’t funny to him.  We eventually divorced due to this total humorless vacuum (and maybe for a couple of other reasons I don’t want to talk about here).  My point is that not being able to laugh together can definitely kill a relationship.  I just saw it happen on television this week when a French comedian-weather girl verbally killed her budding professional relationship with Jonah Hill, the American actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer.

Jonah was in Paris promoting the film, War Dogs, which was released in France this week.  He and fellow co-star Miles Teller were guests on “Le Petit Journal,” a French news and entertainment program.

Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.
Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.

Their interviewer, Ornella Fleury, was a pretty, young weather-girl who thought that ridicule and humor were synonymous.  She kicked off the live conversation with Jonah Hill with a daring proclamation of how she first fell under his charms.  These were her exact words: “It was when I saw you get sodomized by a 3-meter tall demon in This Is The End,” she said, “that I told myself, now THAT’S the man of my dreams.”

Now, please tell me, firstly, how does this statement makes any sexual sense and, secondly, how in the world did she expect Jonah Hill to react?  Well, he gave her the “right back at you lady” treatment with the following quote, said via his translator, “I heard you get sodomized quite often.”  That wasn’t enough to stop Mademoiselle Fleury as she pummeled through a very awkward live-TV moment with an even more awkward sexual fantasy of hers.  Here it is in all its glory.  “We would meet up in a hotel room at night. We would chat, you’d make me laugh… and then, all of a sudden, you’d bring your friends Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. And then you would leave.”

Jonah Hill was, as he should be, offended.  He said something about coming to France to promote a movie, not to be publicly ridiculed by a “local weather girl” and he left – the TV set and the country.  He subsequently canceled all his further appearances in France. The

Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.
Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.

weather-girl apologized to Jonah in front of the camera the next day, spurting out some lame excuse about how she mistakenly thought that she and Jonah were “friends” due to the fact that she has seen him in films for the last ten years.  So she was just messing around with him (well, her statements were certainly “messy”).  Jonah Hill has not responded and probably never will.  Her actions certainly don’t merit any sort of response on his part.  One more relationship has gone south due to a mismatch of senses of humor.

This incident got me thinking about the kind of “humor” the French feel comfortable with.  They don’t go in for self-ridicule; they need a target to mock.  Anglo-Saxon humor is often self-deprecating whereas the French think wit is funny.  That wit could be hostile, sarcastic, aggressive – and, in this particular case, just plain rude.  The French have an intellectual approach to humor, which is why they love Woody Allen.  And, the fact that they like to see people ridiculed is why they absolutely adore Jerry Lewis.  Most authentic French jokes get lost in translation and that’s probably a good thing.  American jokes get lost too.  For example, I just saw Jimmy Fallon tussle Donald Trump’s hair on live television and the audience thought that was hilarious.  Now if this weather girl dared to touch a French Presidential candidate’s hair on live TV, it would be seen as disrespectful, rude and uncalled for – anything but funny.

When you think about French comedy on a global scale, there aren’t very many names of French comics that come to mind.

Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman - the King of Mime.
Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman – the King of Mime.

To understand its wit and irony, you would need to be extremely fluent in the language.  French “comedy” works on a national level.  In fact, the only well-known Frenchman who could make people laugh in both the USA and France was Marcel Marceau.  Ah, but he was a mime. Maybe that young weather-girl should look him up.  She might learn something.  Something that was truly funny.

A French Summer Special – OVD (Obsessive Vacation Disorder)

It has always been amazing to me, scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August when the whole city goes on vacation.  It’s a

Paris in August - no hustle, no bustle and very few Parisians.
Paris in August – no hustle, no bustle and very few Parisians.

time-honored tradition (established in 1935) that gets everyone involved – from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials.  It’s probably the one single thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their undeniable right to a month’s holiday.  Good for them.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

However, this year, I have noticed a “condition” with some French vacationers that could be disabling and potentially dangerous.  I’m going to call it OVD (Obsessive-Vacation Disorder).  Here’s a little summary of its symptoms and side effects.

First of all, the concept and the word “Vacation” laces everyone’s conversations from the month of May to the month of October.  In May, it’s in the planning stages.People are obsessed with getting the best deal; repeatedly searching for bargains for holiday destinations online (and often at work).  Coffee breaks are longer as colleagues discuss where they might go and what they might do.  They leave work early to shop for their snorkels, walking shoes, tents, golf clubs, etc.  The French need extra time to plan and prepare.  Any boss can understand that a good vacation doesn’t just happen – he or she is probably using some of his work hours to do exactly the same thing.

The second stage of OVD occurs as the vacation date approaches.

The stress of preparing for vacation.
The stress of preparing for vacation.

The employee needs to leave his office in a reasonably organized state for his back-up.  And that is anxiety-provoking.  I have witnessed French colleagues stress out so much in this pre-vacation period that they drop sweat beads on their computers and forget all kinds of important details (such as passwords, essential documents, etc.).  Huge computer snafus usually happen in August, just like the one Delta Airlines is experiencing this year.  Could the root of that technological disaster be human error?  Was that human getting ready to go on holiday?  Remember, OVD is chronic, uncontrollable and potentially disabling.

Now, when a Parisian is on holiday in August, someone takes his place who is just returning from their four-week July holiday.  One would think that that person would be recharged and ready to go, looking forward to showing off their efficiency.  But no, OVD strikes the returning vacationer as well.  There are several ways the French “handle” their total lack of productivity upon returning to work post-holiday.  The most common one is to

The French Art of Complaining
The French Art of Complaining

complain – constantly, repeatedly, obsessively.  I went to the bank last week and listened to my banker tell me how overwhelmed she was because there were only three people working in her office.  She couldn’t even give me an appointment because of all the frenzy going on at her job.  She told me to stop by and she would “try to fit me in.”  This lady spent at least ten minutes talking about how understaffed they were during the August vacation period; how another colleague was on maternity leave; how that colleague forgot to leave her the information she needed for my account; how the new software they were using was slower than the old one and on and on.  When she finally shut up and did what she had to do, it took five minutes.  Five minutes.

Another OVD sign for post-vacation stress is the French art of using vacation as an excuse for inefficiency.  It happened to a friend of mine during a recent medical visit.  She had seen the same nurse for her ongoing cure – once a week every week in the month of June.  The nurse had completely forgotten who she was and began treating her as a brand-new patient at her August appointment.  She had my friend’s file in her hands but had not thought to read it.  When she finally realized her mistake, she apologized by saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just got back from vacation a few days ago.  You’ll have to excuse me.”  That’s it.  That’s an excuse that this professional thought was a reasonable one.  So, just how much time does an OVD-sufferer need to get back to the real world? Shouldn’t you be a better worker when you return from holiday?  Isn’t that why vacations exist in the first place?

Is there a cure for OVD?  I doubt it, at least not for any Frenchman worth his salt.

Happy Vacation Everyone - see you in September!
Happy Vacation Everyone – see you in September!

This ritual, these leisure habits are engrained in the French culture.  I simply can’t imagine any Parisian going to an Obsessive-Vacation Disorder support group.  For them, obsessing about vacation is just Business as Usual.  And, like I said earlier, good for them.

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!     

 

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.

Mad Dogs and Frenchmen – Animal Drama on a Parisian Sidewalk

Dogs are rock stars in Paris.  They are conversation starters and inseparable companions for over 300,000 dog owners here (that’s about one dog for every 7 people).  Dogs are the real “social animals” in this fair city.  They actually make people talk to each other.  A recent magazine poll states that around 40% of the French consider their dogs more important than their lovers!  Now that’s saying something.

I recently witnessed just how “social” dogs can be when I observed a French lady and a Frenchman tie their mutually cute dogs to a couple of shopping caddies outside a local supermarket. You see, it’s not legal to bring your dog into a food store and many customers just leave them outside.

Charley with a "Y" and Brigitte - before they got all excited.
Charley with a “Y” and Brigitte – before they got all excited.

(That’s actually not legal either; but like I said, dogs are rock stars.)  The man and woman, who had just met, exchanged small talk about their dogs’ names.  The bigger dog was named Charley, with a “y”, the man explained – as if the dog really cared about how its name was spelled.  The smaller dog, the lady’s pet, was named Brigitte, after Brigitte Bardot, the most famous animal advocate in France.  The dog owners instructed their pets to say “bonjour” to each other while they themselves exchanged flirty little glances.  I definitely thought those two (the humans I mean) would hook up later on, once they had brought their groceries and dogs home, but, as fate and “social animals” would have it, that was not to be.

The man and lady separated in the market and went about doing their individual food business.  Suddenly, from the outside, we all heard the crunching of metal against metal and a very angry male voice screaming obscenities in French.  Dogs were barking wildly and the flirty pet owners ran out of the store to see what was happening.  I did the same; I could sense something blogworthy was about to happen.  I was right.

It seemed that, even though the dogs were tied to the caddies, the caddies were not secured.

The scene of the "Dog Day Afternoon" in Paris.
The scene of the “Dog Day Afternoon” in Paris.

So, once the dogs got through saying hello to each other as their owners had requested, they got a bit excited (just like their flirty owners had).  One of them broke loose and the other followed. However, they were both still attached to their respective empty caddies.  It was a hysterical scene to see their shopping carts rolling around haphazardly and hitting the side door of a new, black, shiny Porsche Cayenne SUV that was parked next to them.  The dogs panicked as the car owner started screaming.  So they moved more quickly and the metal kept screeching against the car.  Quite a few scratches and a couple of good-sized dents made their appearance on that vehicle before the pet owners could get a hold of their dogs.

Charley with a “Y” and Brigitte were finally released from their caddies and under the control of their respective owners but not before considerable esthetic damage had been done to the Porsche Cayenne.  The car guy now redirected his screaming to Monsieur and Madame; saying how they would have to pay for the damages.  He was getting the forms out of the glove compartment to report this incident.  Monsieur immediately said that Charley had nothing to do with it; it was all Brigitte’s fault.  Madame glared at the jerk she was flirting with ten minutes before.  She raised her voice as well.  There was no way she was going to fill out any form.  Accidents happen, that’s it.  She pulled on Brigitte’s leash and ordered her to sit quietly (at least the dog listened to her).

This heated discussion went on for a while with the supermarket manager and a cashier joining in the argument.  Car guy asked me if I could be a witness but, thankfully, I had only looked at the dogs and the owners before the side door smashing.  I was in the market when the dogs broke loose.  The angry man said he would call the police.

The Angry Conversation that the Doggie Drama started.
The Angry Conversation that the Doggie Drama started.

“Go ahead,” Monsieur answered.  “See what good that will do you!  You should have parked somewhere else.”

“The dogs should have parked somewhere else.  You have no right to leave your unattended dogs on the public sidewalk!”

The three adults involved in this doggie disaster got nastier and nastier.  Monsieur took out his cell phone to take a photo of the man and his car’s license plate.  Madame took a photo of Monsieur’s dog; he did the same to her pet.  Car guy took photos of his damaged side door and also of Monsieur and Madame.  I didn’t manage to get a photo of anyone (I’m technically challenged).

In the end, the police were called but Monsieur and Madame went their separate ways with their pets before the officers of the law showed up.  They were both enraged and went off in different directions.  No cell phones numbers were exchanged and no groceries were bought.  The closeness I thought they would have shared thanks to their dogs dissipated in the gray Paris sky.  So, in this case, the Parisian dogs did their part as conversation starters.  They just didn’t know when to stop.

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!)