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.

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.

 

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.

Moo’s, Boo’s and Whistles in Paris – France’s Cash Cow Industry Speaks Out

     Even though the French equivalent of the Oscars, called the “Césars” and the Oscars themselves were happening this weekend, the real star of the show in Paris was not Leonardo di Caprio in LA or Michael Douglas in Paris.

Meet Cerise - Best Head Shot Ever for a Farm Fair Mascot
Meet Cerise – Best Head Shot Ever for a Farm Fair Mascot

The real star was “Cerise”, otherwise known as Cherry, the Bazadais cow from southwestern France who was the official mascot for this year’s International Agricultural Fair, a prestigious Parisian annual event which attracts about 700,000 people and a whole lot of animals.

Cerise must have been a bit surprised at the reception she received on the pre-opening hours of the Farm Fair – at 6:45 on that Saturday morning. She was expecting to have a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with Francois Hollande, the president of France. The President made it to the Fair, but could not get anywhere near her. Cerise heard the boos and whistles and the insults that invaded the Expo Hall that morning. She knew that was not a good sign. Cerise also heard the destruction of stands that had just been assembled the day before. She looked for her owner, Bernard, to explain the chaos to her but she was left alone in a corner for a long, long time. (She later saw Bernard on the evening news. He was an integral part of that chaos. He could have let her in on it before he took off like that.)

The Salon mascot looked up at the television monitors and witnessed the pandemonium. She felt bad for the President. She was looking forward to meeting him. That’s pretty much why she accepted this role as mascot – for the prestige of getting a nod, a compliment and maybe even a pat on the behind from the Head of State. But Cerise knew from the conversations she overheard back home that these were very difficult times for her family of farmers. She knew they were justified in giving the President and the Agricultural Minister such a hard time. But, Cerise still wanted to see the President in person. Since she couldn’t, she listened to his speech instead.

No one could get near the French President at the Farm Fair.
No one could get near the French President at the Farm Fair.

Mr. Hollande said that he heard the cries of distress from the farmers and that he would do something about it. He blamed the overproduction of wheat and the Russian embargo. He would change the laws to make it better. “The whole country of France suffers when agriculture suffers”, he said. Cerise agreed with that comment. Her milk was worth less and less every day. But it was really good quality stuff. How could France continue to make the best cheese in the world if it did not also produce the best milk? Something had to change.

Cerise saw more police in one hour at the Agricultural Salon than she had seen in her entire lifetime. They were blocking the way of the President and steering him in a direction far from her. She saw on the TV that he was actually petting a different cow on the other end of the fair. She was beginning to regret ever having entered this mascot beauty contest. What was the point of winning first prize if she didn’t even get to say hi to the First Guy of France?

The beautiful, pregnant Ayem Nour speaking for all the cows of France.
The beautiful, pregnant Ayem Nour speaking for all the cows of France.

Then she saw a TV presenter who wanted to send a message to the President.  The lady’s name was Ayem Nour and she was very much pregnant. Her message to Francois Hollande went like this – “In the name of all the cows in France, please know that we are very happy to see you. Love you President.” Cerise agreed. But she still hoped the President would come back to see her for that “tête-à-tête”. After all, she was the Star of the Show.

What Happens When French Taxi Drivers Throw a Tantrum? Nothing.

On Tuesday, January 26th 2016, I saw burgeoning, black smoke in Paris; smelled burning rubber; heard a French radio announcer talk about Paris being under siege. Hostages were taken; civilians were attacked and immobilized. There was shouting on the streets; many schools were closed; hospital staff was greatly reduced; 70 % of flights in and out of Paris were cancelled; police were everywhere.

Teachers peacefully protesting in Paris on Black Tuesday 2016.
Teachers peacefully protesting in Paris on Black Tuesday 2016.

The Parisian population was being encouraged to stay home or go underground since the subway was the only thing working. Oh yeah, and France is still under an official state of emergency due to potential terrorist attacks. But this had nothing to do with terrorism. This was France’s socio-political business as usual. This was Black Tuesday.

Taxi drivers, teachers, public hospital workers and air traffic controllers were on strike, holding major protests throughout Paris and other big cities. Even though it was the fourth strike in nine months for teachers, they were quite calm. There was no violence – only some speeches, marching and even a bit of singing here and there. The taxi drivers,

Taxi drivers burning rubber at Porte Maillot in Paris.
Taxi drivers burning rubber at Porte Maillot in Paris.

however, were not. They were angry, young, and not so young, men throwing tires onto innocent people who were only trying to get to work. After that, they burnt the tires on the highway and blocked the roads, putting those poor commuters in physical danger. Then they got to meet with the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, in an emergency noon meeting at the French Presidential Palace. Burning rubber opens doors.

There were more than two thousand taxi drivers in Paris protesting against the unfair competition that Uber, Le Cab and other private companies present to their trade. Yes, it’s a bum deal but if there was no need in the marketplace for an alternative to the taxis that were often absent, arrogant and not at all skilled in customer service, Uber would not flourish. I was a supporter of the taxi cause in the beginning and for a while. I purposely did not use the Uber app and defended the classic French taxis in dinner conversations. After this last demonstration, I have definitely changed my mind. I would rather walk than ever again take a Parisian taxi.

Grown men throwing temper tantrums and taking innocent bystanders hostage is no way to win anyone’s heart or wallet. The taxi drivers’ demands are simple – only two possible choices for the government. The first one would be to eliminate the competition by outlawing all alternative forms of taxi transportation.

A message to Uber to get the hell out of Dodge!
A message to Uber to get the hell out of Dodge!

The second one would be to reimburse every taxi driver for their license (which could cost up to 250,000 euros; about the same price in dollars). Neither of these demands are realistic. Taxi drivers have to wake up and smell the coffee before someone else drinks it.

The unfair competition battle cry just does not cut it any longer. The market has changed, that’s it. Smart phones have taken over our lives and our transportation. When the internet practically totally eliminated the need for stamps and letters, the post office (even the French one) changed. They adapted to the market and created other services that the public might want – banking, sending mail via internet, easier pick-up and delivery services. The post office didn’t try and make people still write letters so they could still sell stamps and deliver them. They found a way out.

The license part is a little tricky since not everyone has paid the same price for it. But I’m sure there is some way around that and, in the end, the government will find a way to compensate the drivers who are losing their big investment. Let’s just remember that, in the first place, it was the taxi drivers themselves who wanted this license to be expensive and limited so that their jobs would be “protected”. Looks like that plan backfired.

The taxi strike and highway barricade lasted for three days in and around Paris. Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, has agreed to appoint a new mediator to resolve this conflict. (No tow trucktaxi driver thinks that will do any good.) On Friday, the police-ordered tow trucks removed the last of the cars that were blocking the entrance to Paris at Porte Maillot. I am sure the drivers will have to pay a hefty fine to get back their impounded cars. And I can also imagine that they will most likely take a Uber to go to the tow yard. Taxis are scarce and too expensive anyway.  Back to Square One.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can a French-Speaking Dummy of Donald Trump Save a French TV Show?

“Les Guignols”, a political satire show starring life-size muppets on French CanalPlus cable television network, went away about six months ago for lack of audience; lack of pertinence and just plain old out-datedness. However, it came back with a new boss, a new look and a new hero. The new boss is Vincent Bolloré, a wealthy French businessman who initially said he would get rid of “Les Guignols” show but then changed his mind. The new look is one of globalization, including a fast-paced opening theme song that flashes head shots of political leaders from all over the world.

Donald Trump as a muppet on "Les Guignols".
Donald Trump as a muppet on “Les Guignols”.

The new hero, at least one of them, is none other than Donald Trump, a Republican hopeful for the American presidency. What the heck is he doing there?

Mr. Trump is not the only new dummy on the show. In their quest for extending their media reach, Canal Plus has also added muppets of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. “Les Guignols” show is hoping to expand its audience by gravitating towards

A dummy of Kim joins Donald Trump on the French muppet show.
A dummy of Kim joins Donald Trump on the French muppet show.

the United States. They think that presenting American subjects tailor-made for public ridicule will up their ratings. The show will be translated into English and Spanish and will eventually be exported. Now, how ridiculous does this whole idea sound? Canal+ starts with an English-speaking Donald Trump politician wannabe. They turn him into a French-speaking dummy who says outrageous things and acts in an unflattering manner. Then, they translate him back into English and try to sell that to the American market! Why would Americans buy that? We already have the real thing we can make fun of. (Hmm…maybe they should try Canada).

I, however, was curious enough to watch one of the episodes with the Trump dummy. It definitely re-enforced my belief that this is one export that will never fly. What is funny (like in political satire funny) here in France is not always funny in the USA and vice versa. Same goes for political correctness – definitely not a global quality. I am posting the following video as an example but, just in case you cannot watch it in the USA (lucky you), I’ll explain what happens.

Coiffure extrême de Donald Trump – Les Guignols du 20/01 – CANAL+

The opening scene takes place in a business-like waiting room where several 30-something muppet men with shaved heads are sitting quietly. A woman carrying a small dog with longish, blondish hair walks in. One guy gets inspired; steals her dog and a fancy razor blade that just happens to be hanging next to her and hightails it to the men’s room. Once there, he shaves the animal and manages to paste the dog’s hair on his own head. He combs it over to the extreme right (of course) and goes back to the waiting room. Trump comes out of his office. When he sees the candidate who has adopted his hair-do, he points and shouts, “Wow, that’s great!” The voiceover now closes in on Trump proudly sporting his comb-over and says in French, “The extreme hair of Donald Trump – the worst hair-do in history.”

So, as you can see, it barely passes for funny in French and will certainly not be laughed at in the USA. His hair is not the problem though it doesn’t surprise me that the French would make that an issue. It’s a cheap, easy shot. Another point is that shaving a stolen dog is not politically correct in the USA. The skit would be banned for that reason alone.

My advice to the producer of “Les Guignols” would be to drop the Trump dummy. He won’t expand the show’s audience. There is really no time for that since Donald Trump won’t be in the political spotlight for much longer.

Kanye West muppet has staying power as a 2020 US presidential candidate.
Kanye West muppet has staying power as a 2020 US presidential candidate.

Keep Kim and Kanye though – they’ve got staying power. Kanye already announced his plans to run for President in 2020.   That means Canal+ has four more years to figure out how to make that funny.

Let’s Keep Those Parisian Butts Off the Ground

     It’s no contest that Paris, the City of Light, is a visual splendor. Ornate monuments enhance the skyline and decorate the Seine.  However, if you spend even just a few minutes checking out the sidewalks of Paris, you will see that they are decorated with other kinds of lights.  In between dog crap, papers and spit, there are literally millions of cigarette butts lining the city streets.

Parisians tend to use and abuse trees as urban ashtrays.

When the Parisians are done huffing and puffing and looking really cool,  they just throw their butts away — out of windows, cars, stores and into the streets. It is a grand example of the Parisian paradox.  They care about looking good themselves but they don’t care about how their city looks. So, the politicians took over and made a law.

     In theory, this new law went into effect in Paris in September 2015.  Well, at least you can see posters explaining it on the city’s garbage trucks.  I have yet to see it be enforced.

350 tons of cigarette butts per year in Paris alone!
350 tons of cigarette butts per year in Paris alone!

The law says that you will be fined 68 Euros (the price of a carton of cigarettes) for each cigarette butt you throw on a public street.  (You would, of course, have to be caught in the act by one of the more than 500 agents who have been hired to enforce this legislation…not an easy thing.)  The city of Paris is installing 10,000 municipal ash trays – stylish and chic metal garbage cans to make it easy for smokers. I honestly don’t think that will help. It would be easier to totally ban smoking in the street than to make people be responsible for their own trash.

     When I moved to Paris in the 80’s, I was culturally shocked when I saw people throw their cigarette butts on the cafe floor while they had their cup of coffee.  Where this would be unacceptable in the USA, here it was considered normal behavior.  A waiter would come and sweep them up every couple of hours or so.  The individual Parisian was not responsible for his own trash.  Private society took care of it.  Now that you can no longer smoke inside cafes, smokers, having kept the same gesture of flicking their butts away, just move their flicks out onto the streets.

Ready, set, flick!
Ready, set, flick!

It’s not irresponsibility; it’s a reflex…a smoker’s reflex that they learned when they started smoking.  Old habits die hard….or just get passed on from generation to generation.

     I have seen Parisians throw butts out of their balcony windows and onto the street – sometimes barely missing a baby in his stroller or a bald-headed pedestrian.  Not only is this disgusting but it’s also dangerous since these butts are often still lit.  An unenforceable law is not the answer. The new law says the “flicker” needs to be caught in the act..an act that takes only a second or two to complete.  That’s never gonna happen. However, I did get to thinking about how the French managed to get their drivers to slow down on the highways.  The police hardly stop speeders anymore.  They just photo-flash them and send them fines in the mail.  OK, they do happen to have the license plate as an indicator of whom to send the fine to but we could get creative here.
     What if the city of Paris set up cameras targeting the most butt-filled places in Paris?  They could position discreet cameras outside of popular bars and spy on the litterbugs. Then the police could just ask for the person’s identity card and send them the photo and the 68 euro fine in the mail.  For repeat offenders, the fines would be tripled and soon the litterbugs would be financing their own clean-up or, better still, there would be no need for it.  Or, how about the city of Paris paying for the return of cigarette butts to specified places?  They could pay-by-the-kilo to people who help clean up the streets – they could

Do the right thing -- pick up your butts.
Do the right thing — pick up your butts.

assign them specific streets in their neighborhood.  I’m sure that would be cheaper than trying to enforce the new law.  Or how about smokers being able to buy a new pack of cigarettes only if they brought back the butts from their last pack?  That’s certainly thinking out of the box!

      It is a New Year and time to make new resolutions.  Instead of resolving to stop smoking, the Parisians could just promise to pick up after themselves and make their personal smoking a private matter.  They could simply keep their butts off the ground of this beautiful city.

Dealing with Terrorism in the New French Way of Life

In the aftermath of the November 13th horrific terrorist attacks on Paris, there have been many political speeches and social networking conversations that are using the word “war”.   They say we are at war here in France.  That the assault on Paris was a “game changer”.

The very much respected French way of life.
The very much respected French way of life.

That nothing will ever be the same.  That we all have to change our attitude.  We all have to be vigilant.  We all have to work together to catch and neutralize the barbarians who have threatened the French way of life, the French “joie de vivre”.

One politician said we urgently need a French Patriot Act.  The same one said we should also follow the post-911 guidance of “See Something, Say Something”.  I believed him.  So, when I actually did see something a few days after the Parisian murders, I did say something.  And the whole process scared the wits out of me.   Here’s what happened.

I was walking on a Parisian avenue in the middle of the day and happened to notice a piece of paper on the ground in the middle of fallen leaves.  I don’t really know why I picked it up but I did.  It had something written on it that, in line with the recent terrorist events, was more than a bit troubling. I put it in my pocket and went home to think about it.

I called a few family members and friends and asked them if they thought I should bring it to the attention of the French authorities.

Logo of the National Police in France.
Logo of the National Police in France.

They all agreed it would be a good idea and encouraged me to call the police.  When I called the police and explained what I found, they told me to come to the station and do a “declaration de main courante”, which basically means going on record.  I have had reason to do that sort of thing before when I had my checkbook stolen; lost my passport, etc. and it was always an excruciating exercise in witnessing the inefficient French administration at work.  But I thought it would be different now – now that we were at war and we all have to work together towards a common goal of saving this country and its citizens.  I was wrong.

First off, there was a waiting period of at least an hour while I witnessed one policewoman yelling at an adolescent who fabricated an aggression just so he could cut class.  He now wanted to come clean and take back his declaration.  She had no idea how to handle this and was, of course, upset that the kid lied in the first place (as was his father and everyone else in the station).  In the meantime, I felt my possible evidence should have given me priority over this teenager who actually came in after me.  But I have lived in France for 25 years now; I have learned to be patient and polite in administrative situations.  So I waited.

Finally, a policeman came and led me into a back office to type up my declaration.  I spent an uneasy 10 minutes telling him who I was; where I live; why I live in France, etc. while he typed away at 1 mile an hour.  I was anxious to give him the paper and spar the police into action.  I had what could be an important clue in my pocket.  Could he please hurry up?

“So what is it you have?” he finally asked me.

I showed him the paper.  He looked at it with a puzzled expression on his face and showed it to his boss, the policewoman who had been yelling at the teenager.

She replied sharply, with a typical French down-putting attitude in her voice, “What the hell do you expect me to do with a piece of paper?”

I told her she might want to show it to the people who were taking care of the attack investigation and she just clicked her tongue and snarled, pretty much calling me an idiot for even thinking that this could be useful.  And, might I remind you, she was the police station chief.

When the boss turned her back on me, I thought it was time for me to leave but the police officer took my statement and kept the paper.  So I did go on record but I was totally convinced that this was an exercise in futility and that disturbed me almost as much as the threat of more violence in Paris.  Perhaps what I found was useless but perhaps not.  In either case, I was doing my civic duty and, even if she thought it was useless, she could have been professional about it.  The fact that my life might be in her hands at this time was definitely unsettling.

French Hotline number to call with any terrorist-related information.
French Hotline number to call with any terrorist-related information.

In the end, I called the Terrorist Attack Hotline number which has been put into place in France (it is 197).  I explained once more what I had found and, at least, the lady I spoke to sounded interested.  She took all the information I had already put on record and assured me someone would follow up on it.  As I mentioned before, what I found could be nothing but that’s not for me to decide.  I saw something and I said something. And, finally, someone in authority actually listened.

The moral of this story is, if France is at war, everyone needs to change their attitude.  That includes the politicians, the citizens and the local authorities. peopleIf this is a game changer for us all, police administrative business-as-usual cannot work.  Citizens need to be alert and report potentially dangerous or strange situations.  True, we all have to walk that fine line between paranoia and vigilance.  But, as part of dealing with terrorism, we all have to pay attention in our daily lives.  And the police have to listen.

 

The Full Monty Steals the Show at the French Molières

French politics went back to basics last week when a Parisian actor decided to show his stuff – and I mean ALL his stuff .  This politically incorrect man, Sébastien Thiéry, actor and playwright, proud and naked, strolled onto the stage of the annual Molières Show, France’s Tony Awards dedicated to excellence in theater. This event was broadcast live on France 2, a national television station. It wasn’t cable or pay-per-view but it was total frontal

Stark naked actor Sebastien Thiery making a point.
Stark naked actor Sebastien Thiery making a point.

(and back) nudity on prime-time TV on a Monday evening. I was amazed…no, thunderstruck would be more like it. I absolutely could not believe what I was seeing for a multitude of reasons. Let me verbally paint this provocative picture.

The Molières Show started out as boring as usual and I was ready to surf the channels when suddenly a butt-naked man started walking down a spiral staircase. That man was Sébastien Thiéry, an actor in his mid-forties (and I’m guessing here but I actually did have visual clues). He had a very serious look on his face even though his birthday suit brought the house down in laughter. Sébastien got behind the podium and put on his glasses, the only speck of wardrobe he was wearing and started reading a serious politicized speech directed at Fleur Pellerin, the Minister of Culture, who was there in the audience.

This particular minister was exactly the reason Mr. Thiéry took his pants off.

An embarassed Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin.
An embarassed Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin.

Now, you can interpret that any way you want, but it’s the truth. He began this political speech and stared her right in the eyes. At one point, he even left the podium and approached her up close and almost personal. The Minister was obviously surprised and embarrassed but smiled discreetly.

The actor’s message was about how authors should also be part of the special governmental statute that French artists have which is called “intermittent spectacle.” Actors, stage and sound crew, wardrobe people, make-up artists, etc. can collect unemployment benefits in-between shows thanks to this statute. He was asking for the same rights for playwrights. The naked man did not smile once. This was supposed to be a serious political statement. He was lobbying in the buff. Well, even though his intentions were good, let me tell you what I think was wrong with this indelicate statement.

photo4.indexFirst of all, the spectators were not warned that this show would have what some people might call “adult” content. Just ten minutes before Mr. Nude came on stage, France 2 posted the warning that the show was not recommended for children under 12. They did not black out Mr. Thiéry’s private parts. It was four minutes of the Full Monty at the Molières . Now, why would anyone listen to what that guy had to say while they were checking out his anatomy?

I kept thinking, “Only in France, this could happen only in France.” In the USA, someone would have escorted him off the stage in a second. Whether he wanted to impress a minister or not – that wouldn’t matter. I also wondered, “What if the Minister of Culture was a man? Would we have seen the same show? Would this guy’s wife come out on the stage instead?”

In the end, it seems that the shock value of this display did not bear any political fruit. Ms Pellerin issued no statement. She did not talk about this after the show and certainly did not go backstage to shake this guy’s (cough) hand. What will she remember from that evening? Probably the fact that she was embarrassed in public. Will that change any legislation? I doubt it.

What did I take away from that one naked man show or one man naked show? That, whatever anyone says about Mr. Sébastien Thiéry, I know for sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’s got balls!