What Happens When French Politicians Use the “F” Word

Hollywood Comes to Paris

Since last Sunday, Paris, and France in general, has become the backdrop for a political sitcom and, suddenly, every UMP politician who is interviewed on television says the “F” word loud and clear.  I have witnessed a lot of political drama in France over the past twenty years, but no one has ever gotten dramatic enough to use the “F” word.  Americans, on the other hand, use it all the time.  President Obama used it in his acceptance speech on Nov 6th.  Mitt Romney spit it out regularly on his campaign trail.  And now, it’s here in France.  That “F” word is Family – a new political concept for the UMP and one which is not holding up well at all.
Funny Family Guys
You see, it is common practice for the UMP, the conservative right-wing party, to elect a president, a leader.  The 2 candidates were Francois Fillon, the former Prime Minister under Sarkozy and Jean-Francois Cope, rumoured to be a candidate for the 2017 presidential run.  The elections were close (actually reminded me of the Bush/Gore debacle of 2000) and have not yet been officially settled.  UMPers are taking sides and shooting each other in the foot at the same time.  But they keep talking family – saying they have to find a solution that works for everyone so that the family stays united.  But, the way I see it, this family is getting more dysfunctional by the minute.
How They Got There
Here’s a quick overview of what the problem is.  The vote was close; Mr. Cope said he won before all the votes were counted.  Mr. Fillon protested and continues to protest the

and the winner is ….me!

validity of the election.  Mr. Cope said, “tant pis” (too bad), “I’m the president of the UMP and thank you very much.”  He offered Mr.  Fillon the VP position but that went over like a cold day in hell.
Who’s in Charge Here?
Mr.  Fillon officially filed a court order to review the results.  That is happening today, but the majority of the members of this Commission are friends of Cope.  So, one of Mr. Fillon’s supporters left the meeting – slamming the door behind him.  There is a mediator, Mr. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, who is supposed to sort this all out, but he might just throw in the towel. Now Mr. Fillon is talking about separating and

we’ll just see about that …

starting a new political party with his friends.  And Mr. Cope still says he’s the man in charge of this wonderful family and he will do everything in his power to keep it together.
What about Instant Replay?
A simple way of solving this would be to insist on another election and throw that supposedly-biased Commission out the French window.  It seems fair.  One poll says that 67% of UMP members advocate this step.   It would be a simple enough event to organize; everyone could wipe the slate clean and start over.  And no one should speak up until all the votes are counted.  But both family guys have to agree to this and, only one thing is sure at this point, they are not agreeing on anything.
Clowning Around
As this blog goes to press, I can’t tell you who won since the name-calling, finger-pointing, sulking and whining are still going on and on and on. The only thing I am sure of is that the “F” word doesn’t work in France.  The typical values associated with that word – such as support, love, sacrifice, teamwork – are nowhere to be seen.  In fact, the “F” word has actually turned the whole political scene into a show – a full-fledged, unprecedented circus.   What we need now is for someone to send in the clowns – quickly.  Oh wait, they’re here.

Presidential Speeches in Paris and Chicago – Vive la Difference

Politics Everywhere

From May 6th to November 6th, as an American living in Paris, I got to follow two political adventurers in their bout for their respective Presidencies.  For the French election of François Hollande the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were omnipresent.  For the American election of Barack Obama, the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were also omnipresent – and I live in Paris, France, not Paris, Texas.  Why the French follow the US Election almost as closely as their own is beyond me.  I was just happy to be able watch it live from this side of the pond.

Declaration of Love
As I listened to President Obama’s acceptance speech and heard the words “love”, “family”, “spirit”, “hope”, “God”, I thought about the wonderful differences between France and the US and started smiling away as I imagined President Hollande accepting his new job using the same buzz words – especially the love buzz. Barack made a public

Obama and his family – up close and personal.

declaration of love for his wife, Michele Obama.  He said he wouldn’t be the man he is today without her.  He even said how proud he was that America had fallen in love with her too during these past four years.  The President mentioned family as well – his view that Americans are all one, big American family.

Stand By Your Man – Maybe
As an American, this habit of using one’s wife as part of the political platform didn’t surprise me.  But, in the French mindset, that just wouldn’t happen.  I saw flashes of all of Mr. Hollande’s women during his candidacy, but they were always in the background, not in the forefront.  And, since Mr. Hollande is not married, and his girlfriend tends to be outspoken in a bad way, he would just not “go there.”  In France, the wives and/or

Here’s the French President’s girlfriend, close but not too close.

girlfriends of politicians are not running for office with them.  No one cares what happens behind closed Presidential doors.  This is so NOT true in the US where the wrong companion choice can make or break a candidate.

Family Guys
Calling the nation an “American family” may sound a bit corny but it did get a huge round of applause from the public at Obama’s acceptance speech.  I cannot even imagine the President of France addressing his constituents as a “French family” – it would seem ludicrous to the Parisians.  Such a remark might be greeted with shouts and tomatoes.  French families are blood-related, not ballot-related – no exceptions.
One interesting thing I noticed as I re-read Hollande’s acceptance speech is that there is a bit of flag-waving (but no French flag pin on his lapel) as he says, “we are just not any nation on this planet, or this world, We are France.”  He had also mentioned that all of Europe was watching the results of the French elections – for Obama, of course, it was the whole world (but who’s counting?)

Happy Endings
The difference in the endings of the speeches was striking, even if predictable. I think Obama was really over the top with “Together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.  Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.”  I mean seriously, “the greatest nation on Earth?”  Now who says the French are arrogant?
However, I re-read Hollande’s last words and noticed they centered on serving his country; enforcing the values that were made clear by his election.  The French President emphasized that these values will be heard all over France, Europe and the World.  And then he repeated the traditional “Vive la République et vive la France !”  It was a bit boastful, as close to patriotism as a Frenchman can get but subtle compared to Obama’s declaration.
Divine Separation
There was no mention of God, since there couldn’t be – one of France’s cornerstone values is the separation of Church and State.  They actually enforce that belief in their political system.
The political roller coaster ride on both sides of the Atlantic is over for now.  It’s funny how wives, girlfriends, family, flag-waving and God can be such relative matters in a Presidential election.  That’s why I say, “Vive la Difference.”

Office Erotica – Frenchie Shades of Grey

A Different Kind of Monday

I never, in my wildest dreams, could have imagined that the coffee break conversation at work (on a Monday morning no less), would center on erotica. The week was slowly getting underway – at this point we usually talk about sports, movies or politics – or the actual work that needs to get done during the current week.  So I was a bit surprised when one of my male colleagues, with a snicker of anticipation on his face, asked for my opinion on handcuffs.

I Got the Hint
I knew what he was talking about immediately.  The modern-day erotic trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” had already hit unprecedented popularity in the US.  The French edition made front page news – they all must have read the same newspaper on the subway on their way to the office.  So there was a simple explanation.
Jean-Jacques actually brought out the newspaper so everyone could see.  He showed us the handcuffs; I mean the picture of the handcuffs.
“You Americans are real masters of porn,” he said.  It’s funny because you’re all so repressed sexually – can’t even go topless at the beach.”

The Proof is in the Spelling
“E.L. James, the author, is British, not American,” I said.  “You can tell by the spelling of the word grey in the title.  It’s the UK spelling.”
“I bet you already read it then,” he said.

Grey – with an E

“A little bit, I read it over a lady’s shoulder on my flight from New York to Paris a couple of weeks ago.  I read something about a blindfold too – is that what you’re getting your wife for Christmas?”, I joked.

Blindfolds and Bragging
The four male colleagues all laughed and bragged that their wives didn’t need blindfolds or handcuffs.  French men know what a woman wants but, if their partners did express a desire to be bound to the bed post, that wouldn’t be a problem.  The French lover aims to please.  Jean-Jacques offered us all a second cup of coffee so that we could have time to continue this conversation.  No one was in a hurry to go back to their desk.
“What about toys?  Would you use sex toys too?”, I asked.
“Of course!  No problem with anything our lady desires.”
“How about a three-way?”
“This country invented the “ménage a trois” before you were even born!  Before your country was even born!”

Proud of Being French
We then got into a general discussion of whether or not this book would be a success in France.   My four colleagues all participated in the debate.  (They are usually very quiet, almost docile when they’re sitting in front of their computers.  Sometimes I jokingly pinch them as I walk by to make sure they’re still breathing.  I didn’t have to pinch anyone this lively Monday morning.)
They talked about Brigitte Bardot, the 1974 French erotic film, “Emmanuelle” and the swinging “free sex” clubs that are all over Paris.  In the end, these guys all agreed that that “Fifty Shades of Gray” wouldn’t do as well in France as it has in the USA simply because there is no need for it.  Their collective opinion was that French women were sexually satisfied – thanks to them.

A Friendly Wager
I didn’t believe them.  But, instead of saying that out loud and damaging any fragile male egos, I challenged that premise with a wait-and-see attitude and a little friendly wager.  I suggested that we go review this same topic four weeks from now and see how the French version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is doing.  If it is as successful as they assured me it would NOT be, they lose and I win.
“OK,” agreed Jean-Jacques, “what happens if we lose?”
“That’s easy,” I said.  “If you guys lose, you all have to buy the book for your wives – just think of it as marriage insurance.”
“And if we win?” they collectively asked.
“I’ll buy you all coffee – and an extra set of handcuffs.”
I’ll let all you readers know in a month how this works out.  I hope they lose since I have no idea where to buy handcuffs in Paris!

A Dog’s Life in Paris

Courtyard Intrigue
I ran into the concierge as I left my Parisian apartment the other day.  She had this “cat who swallowed the canary” look on her face.  I was in a hurry and would normally have breezed right by her with a quick “bonjour” but I was intrigued – my errands could wait.
“I finally did it”, she whispered, looking around with a furtive glance.  This was highly confidential, top secret info she was about to spill and it was for my ears only.
“I got her good this time, that Mme Blanc and her stupid dog, she is not dealing with an amateur here.”

Canine Disrespect
Now, for a little background information, Mme Blanc is a 70-something tenant on the ground floor who benefits from the post-war Rent Control Law of 1948, meaning that her rent was frozen in that year and has not been raised since(!).  So, in essence, she pays about 150€ monthly whereas other tenants in the same-size apartments would pay ten times as much, if not more.  Once she moves out, the rent will hit the market price.   But, I can assure you, Mme Blanc and her Yorkshire terrier, Rafa, (short for Raphael) are not going anywhere.

Here’s Rafa, the Parisian dog who is much smarter than he looks.

Nobody Likes Rafa
To be fair to Mme Rodriguez, the concierge, the fact that she herself pays more rent than Mme Blanc doesn’t matter.  What matters is the disrespect shown to her by the silly little mutt, Rafa.  Rafa barks, bites and poos in the apartment courtyard which is supposedly off-limits to pets.

Mme Blanc has a habit of sunbathing in the courtyard hardly dressed appropriately for a public place (but we don’t care about that here in France; what we care about is the dog).  When she does her sun-worshiping routine, Rafa is at her side trying to bite anyone who crosses his path (myself included).  Nobody likes Rafa.

Repositioning
“I couldn’t stand it anymore.  That dog continues to poo in the courtyard and she doesn’t pick it up.  It’s not my job to clean up after her dog.”
“So what did you do?  I know you did something,” I said.
“You’re freaking right,” Mme Rodriguez said.  “I picked up the poo and put in on her door mat.  Now she has to deal with it.”
This was a real Laughing Out Loud situation.  I couldn’t help it.  I could just imagine Mme Blanc’s face when she discovered her dog’s poo hand-delivered to her doorstep.  I wish I had been going up to my apartment at that moment and had seen/smelt it first-hand.  I bet Mme Blanc would not even suspect the concierge.  She would probably think it was one of the kids in the building.  The secret is safe with me (and with all of you now).

Taking Care of the Shituation
I was proud of my concierge that day.  She took matters into her own hands and handled the shituation (pun intended) in a very efficient way.  I’m sure that Rafa’s poo will be disposed of in a proper manner from now on – and not left in the courtyard.  However, I did run into Rafa on my way home yesterday.  We crossed paths and I was an eye witness to his peeing right at the entrance of the concierge’s apartment.  That dog is smarter than I thought!

The Supremacy of the French Lover – Fact or Fiction?

Romantic Priorities    

I was thinking about tackling the “Journee de Patrimoine” for my topic today (the day when French people get to visit national monuments that are usually closed to the public) but I decided to go with a different kind of French legacy, the romantic kind.  I got to thinking about why the French have a global reputation for being the best lovers on the planet.  I had a  discussion (somewhat heated)  with French friends, men and women alike and came up with a list of reasons why that reputation just might be well-deserved. Food for tender thought.

1.  The French Lover is a gentleman.  You could even call him gallant, chivalrous.  He knows how to flatter his partner.  He might not open the car door, but he will probably pay for dinner, the first dinner that is.  What happens later is, well, up to you.

2.  He cooks – with love.  The Frenchie cooks because he loves to, not out of obligation.  It seems that watching your apron-clad French boyfriend get all happy and excited in the kitchen is a real turn-on.  I don’t know if watching you do the dishes is as exciting.   In any case, at least you won’t go to bed hungry.

3.  He kisses – a lot.  The name, “French kiss” is no accident.  It seems that the French lover beats all European records for kissing duration.  And, don’t forget, almost everyone here kisses to say hello, goodbye and lots of other things in between.  Heck, it’s almost a national sport.

Kisses galore

4.  He knows how to dress.  Yes, clothes do make the man.  And the devil is in the details as you can see by the Frenchman’s shoes.  Even if he is dressed in jeans, the jeans are ironed with a crease down the middle and the shoes are gorgeous.  In a suit and tie, everything matches with a subtle, gracious taste.  He’s got style, a very seductive style.

5.  He doesn’t need Viagra.  Why take Viagra when France has more than 365 cheeses?  It seems that smelly, unpasteurized French cheese acts like an erotic booster shot.  Experts recommend the super-strong ones such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.  They say cheese stimulates endorphins and encourages couples to couple (after brushing, I imagine).

6.  He likes older women.  I’m not speaking about cougars here; it’s just that French lovers appreciate sexual maturity.  Supposedly, they are still attracted to their partners as they get older – comparing them to wines that get better (not older) with age.

7.  He enjoys culture.  Your French boyfriend does not have to be coerced enhancing his cultural intelligence by visiting a museum or two, he actually likes it.  If not, Paris itself is a living museum with plenty of exciting nude statues and beautiful artwork everywhere.  Not to mention bridges, towers and other national monuments that are the perfect backdrop for a romantic kiss in the moon (or sun) light.

8.  He will say “Je t’aime” (“I love you”).  He will also call you “ma cherie”, “mon amour” or other lovely French romantic nicknames.  If he does stick to English ones, saying “darling” with a French accent is a real winner.

No Romance in Numbers

I could have gone into statistics in this article – you know writing about how many times the French “do it” compared to other countries, but there’s nothing romantic about numbers. Let’s keep the romance in the cheesy kisses and chocolate – and let’s keep it in France.

Back to School in France – Where The Teacher Rules

“La Rentrée” is looming over Paris this week, that fabulous time of year when everyone goes back to school and most people go back to work.  School starts on September 3rd for the teachers and September 4th for the students but the headaches associated with this event have already started for the parents.  Just visit the school supplies section of any department store – you’ll see several parents with lists in their hands and children at their feet trying to make sense of just what they are supposed to buy for their child for the first day of school.

Stress and Shopping for Supplies Go Hand in Hand

The stress factor in this shopping aisle is high, extremely high.  This is attributed to three things.  First of all, the List is extremely complicated and precise.  You cannot just buy any old notebook – Mom or Dad has to check the number of pages, the color, the binding, the size, and the squares or lines that are depicted inside.  It’s the same story for pens, pencils, bookbags, markers, scissors, calculator – even the glue!

Secondly, the parents cannot usually find everything in one place.  Either the store is out of stock already or the super-creative, impractical primary school teacher has requested something that is nearly impossible to find.  There is not much standardization in the area of school supplies so each teacher can pretty much ask for what he or she wants and the parents had better provide it from Day One.  No substitutes allowed.  (Let me just mention that, here in France, the teacher rules, not the parents.  They literally dictate what the students have to bring to class.  Nothing is up for discussion.  Teacher school supply rules are meant to be followed by children and parents alike.)

Here’s who really rules when the French Go Back-to-School

French Government’s Role in School Supplies

Thirdly, every little thing that is thrown in the shopping cart adds up – often to a substantial amount – money that families who are just returning from vacation simply do not have.  Fortunately, the French government does help out with the school supplies allocation.  With the newly-elected Socialist president, Francois Hollande, the subsidy has even increased by 25%.  That means families who meet the income limit (23,300€ for one child; 28,554€ for two children and 33,908€ for 3 kids) will receive from 356€ up to 388€ per child to help pay for their back-to-school clothing and supplies.  Eligible families automatically receive the check on August 21st, plenty of time to go shopping before the first day of school.

If you don’t have school-age children yourself and want to have fun in Paris, just go to the school supplies section of a big department store between now and September 4th.  I was there by accident this past weekend (didn’t stay long though) and was amazed to hear how loud and ludicrous the debate could be about something as simple as paper.  Couples were arguing in front of their children and befuddled clerks; angrily waving the school supply list like a flag they wanted to burn.  It was sad and a little scary.

Is There an Easier Way?

I don’t understand why some graduate student has not yet put a website together that would save all this hassle.  Wouldn’t it be great and oh-so-modern if parents could just submit their list; pay online and the supplies would be delivered magically to their doorstep.  It is 2012.  It is possible.  This could probably save a lot of marriages.  But, on second thought no, it would take away all the fun of watching how the French teacher rules – even before school begins.

 

Just When Will French Male Politicians Grow Up?

Macho Macho Men

Male chauvinism roared its ugly head here in Paris this week and this time it showed up in the National Assembly, the political home of France’s elected officials.  Here, in the gold and red sumptuously decorated meeting room, these guys (and a few women) are supposed to handle serious debates about the present and future of the French citizens who respected them enough to choose them as representatives.  Well, this week, they really blew it. With just one whistle (literally) they blew all that respect out the National Assembly window.

The scene that inspired this macho manifestation was a simple one; it was really business-as-usual.  The Minister of Housing Equality, Mme Cecile Duflot, rose to address the Assembly.  As she approached the microphone and tried to speak, she was greeted with whistles and jeers from masculine members of the Assembly, from the right and left alike (but mostly from the right).  It seems Mme Duflot was wearing a dress – yes, that’s correct.

Adolescent Angst

Here is the outfit that rocked the National Assembly in Paris

The Minister was fully clothed in a modest dress that covered everything that needed to be covered.  So why all the fuss?   Well, my own personal opinion is that, in their childhood, when French politicians hit puberty, their growth was stunted.  By growth I mean the part of their brain that governs dignity, respect and honor.  That part stayed in the seventh grade.  They manage to hide it most of the time, but once in a while, when you least expect it, the 13-year-old stupid adolescent they thought they used to be, shows up and embarrasses the entire country (not them remember, they’re 13 – they don’t care).

And the Point Is…?

What’s the use of France putting more women in office (half of the country’s ministers are female) if the rest of the Assembly members are going to treat them like children?   Does it fill some kind of entertainment quota?  Are the men listening or laughing when the female ministers speak?  How can they possibly get down to matters at hand and rule the country if something as commonplace as a flowered dress tickles their funny bones?

There was even a deputy who defended the hisses by saying that there were “admirative” ones.  He added that if the Mme Duflot was that sensitive and couldn’t handle it, then she should stay out of politics.  Wow!  Let’s just add a bit of macho arrogance to their adolescent behavior – the true colors of French male politicians are not pretty.

By the way, these men, these same men, are the ones who are deliberating and voting on the sexual harassment legislation that will soon become effective in France.  This is a pretty scary thought, scary because it’s true.  If they can treat a Minister so lightly and laugh right in her face, then I’m guessing they are not highly motivated to come up with a fair and just sexual harassment law.  What 13-year-old thinks everyone is created equal?

Order in the House

The President of the Assembly had to use his gavel to call the legislative body to order.  He hammered it on the table saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, actually gentlemen, silence please.”  Mme Duflot was astonished, but kept her cool.  She spoke but I’m sure no one was listening.  (They were probably already tweeting their mistresses about the incident.)  One critic said that a high percentage of male French politicians are still living in the 19th century.  I disagree.  Like I said, they didn’t stay in the 19th century, they stayed in 7th grade.

 

The French Bus Whisperer Gets Angry

I have changed myself into a bus commuter these days.  I realized that the French public RATP bus system is really quite good – a bit slower but much less stressful than the Parisian metro – and I get to see Paris unfold before me on my way to work.  I always take the same line at about the same time so I have started to run into the same faces.  Some of these familiar faces even share a polite nod of acknowledgement with me.  Some of them don’t.  The Bus Whisperer is one of them.

A Self-Appointed Chastiser
The Bus Whisperer is a 60-ish ordinary-looking, French lady who I suspect is retired and doesn’t want to admit it.  She rides the “92” bus around 8:30 AM Monday through Friday and has taken it upon herself to enforce cell phone etiquette (as if such a thing existed).  She chastises offenders with a sharp whisper like a parochial school nun would use on her students light years ago. I bowed to her self-imposed authority the first time she got me.
“Psstt, Madame,” she whispered.  “Vous n’etes pas toute seule ici!”  Basically, she was telling me that I wasn’t alone on the bus, which is French for “Shut the hell up!”  Her comment surprised me in the way it made me think of my third grade teacher Sister Mary Humilitas.  I hung up on my boss immediately and texted him an apology.  I also put my phone on “silent”.  The Bus Whisperer was satisfied, grinning smug, righteous satisfaction.  I had made her day.

Her Daily Yell
Since then, I have witnessed her whispering technique on several occasions.  She’s pretty good at what she does.  I have even come to enjoy it since it helps pass the time on the way to work (now that I don’t dare to talk on my cell phone).  She gets to yell at someone almost daily.  I watch her closely and can almost predict, to the second, when she will jump in.  Some people give her dirty mind-your-own-business looks but that doesn’t stop her at all. She continues to harass them, her whispers increasing in sound and intensity.  The Bus Whisperer ultimately wins.

When Whispers Come to Blows
The Bus Whisperer met her match one day in the form of an arrogant French teen-age girl who would not bow to her authority.  The girl was talking quite loudly that morning so this time I was on the Bus Whisperer’s side.  She ignored about four of the lady’s searing whispers and then interrupted her conversation (but not ending it) to tell the Whisperer to go do you-know-what to herself.

RATP bus 92
Here is Parisian RATP bus 92 - the Scene of the Crime

The Bus Whisperer got out of her seat. All the passengers (about 20 or so) turned their heads to watch how this conflict would play out.
And play out it did.  When she realized that the girl would not yield to her whispery warnings, the Bus Whisperer got louder.  She made a bee-line for the offender and pushed her towards the door.  She yelled about the teen-ager not respecting her fellow passengers.  The teen-ager yelled back – calling her a crazy old lady who should leave her alone; mind her own business.  The fiery exchange lasted about two minutes.  The driver kept driving; the passengers kept watching and the ladies kept yelling.

And the Whisperer Wins!
The Bus Whisperer pushed the girl harder and harder.  No one stepped in to stop her.  When we came to the next stop, the adolescent hopped off quicker than an Easter bunny.  I’m sure it wasn’t her stop, but, to her credit, she could not push the Bus Whisperer back.  She took the high road and left, cursing all the while.  The Bus Whisperer put a snarly grin on her face.  Someone’s cell phone rang.  No one answered.