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.

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!

Hell (and Paris) Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

        It seems that, in some political circles here in Paris, Valerie Trierweiler, the 50-year-old ex-First Lady of France, has a nickname. When she was hanging out in the Elysees Palace with her pal, Mr. President, Francois Hollande, she was known as “Rottweiler”, supposedly due to her extremely short, growling temper.   And now, even though she is no longer romantically associated with Mr. Hollande and no longer lives anywhere near the glimmering Elysees Palace, she continues to show the public that the nickname was well-deserved.

About ten days ago, Valerie allegedly slapped a man in a bar in Paris.

France's Ex-First Lady supposedly gets slap-happy.
France’s Ex-First Lady gets slap-happy

Why? His version of the story is that he asked her a simple question, “How is Francois?”. He said he did not ask it in a sarcastic manner; he was just making conversation. She snapped; asked for an apology which she did not get. She decided to leave and, on her way out, spun around on her high heels and smacked this guy’s face. She got her vengeance and he got a lawyer.

Valerie Trierweiler is allegedly being charged with assault. The victim’s lawyer has requested that Ms Trierweiler be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine her “dangerousness”. The man she struck is Mohamed Rizki, a 33-year-old junior right-wing politician.   He’s not famous…well, he wasn’t before he got hit. Now he’ll probably be in her upcoming movie. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a bit – about six months.

Mohamed Rizki, the 33-year-old alleged victim
Mohamed Rizki, the 33-year-old alleged victim

Six months ago was when Valerie allegedly slapped a woman in a bar. This woman was the ex-wife of the Minister of Finance. She seemed not to like the kiss-and-tell- all autobiography that Valerie had just written about Francois called “Thank You for This Moment: A Story of Love, Power and Betrayal.” (Ms Trierweiler lost her place as First Girlfriend when Francois cheated on her with Julie Gayet, a 42-year-old actress).

Valerie found out about the affair at the same time as the rest of the world did, when Mr. President was seen on a scooter, clandestinely leaving the new girlfriend’s apartment (and looking pretty silly in the process – I mean really, a sushi delivery man has more class than that). In the woman-slapping incident, it seems that Mr. Trierweiler did more than slap the critic; she scratched her face and pulled her hair – a real public display of why her Rottweiler nickname is not so far off mark.

I notice that the journalistic tides are changing in France. When I first moved here 25 years ago, the press would not cover a story about the President’s women (not any of them and they all had mistresses, kids born out of wedlock, etc.).

Valerie and Francois under happier skies.
Valerie and Francois under happier skies.

The French strongly believe that the private lives of politicians are not public property. But, Valerie’s book, which belittles the President in a very effective way, sold 730,000 copies in France and has made Ms Trierweiler an estimated two million Euros. A paperback version, with more juicy details will be out shortly. Besides the book’s success, the movie rights have been sold to a French film producer, ensuring more compensation for the First Lady who came in second.

As you can see, someone has been buying the book so someone cares about how Mr. Hollande is doing. That would lead to the conclusion that the victim of the slap-happy ex-First Lady was only being curious. Why oh why should Ms Trierweiler care, or even worse, get upset, if someone asks her how Francois is. If no one cared about Francois, no one would buy her book.

The Power of Publicity.
The Power of Publicity.

In retrospect, Ms Trierweiler should probably say “Thank You for This Moment” to Mr. Rizki.  As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

The French Animalistic Side to International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day today, March 8th, and Paris is hosting many activities ranging from races to exhibits; films to flash mobs. The theme this year is “Make it Happen” and the Parisians seem to be doing just that. At least, that’s what I thought when I looked up the ambitious program on paris.fr. But soon after, I also picked up a copy of the women’s magazine “Marie Claire” and was a bit surprised to see an article about International Women’s Day with the photo of a prominent young French politician holding a hen (that’s right, a live hen, the rooster’s female counterpart) and posing very seriously for the camera. Huh, what’s that all about?

I knew the French had a difficult time understanding Obama’s Presidential pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I remember trying to explain that tradition to my colleagues, only to have the discussion finish with yet another, “You Americans are crazy” comment. So, what was this? Some kind of statement connected to the cock being the symbol of France? Was the politician rooting for replacing the rooster, a male symbol, with the hen, a female symbol? Was it time to make this happen? Were the French the crazy ones now?

The man in the photo is Jean-Vincent Placé, a the president of the Ecologist Party in the Senate. It seems this photo was staged as his personal statement against sexism and, specifically, against sexism in politics.

The Ecologist protecting his hen.
The Ecologist protecting his hen.

It directly relates to a recent incident where an extremely impolite UMP (French center-right political party) politician “clucked” at a woman speaker, a colleague of Mr. Placé.  She was insulted and retorted with, “I am not a hen!” And that’s how this French version of Animal Farm started.

Mr. Placé also states in the article that the French political world is primarily old and macho – a bunch of unenlightened sexagenarians (think Dominique Strauss-Kahn). Is he right about that? Oh definitely. Will holding a hen change any of the old geezers’ way of treating women? I doubt it.  Even though there are quite a few women in the French government, they are not respected by their peers. A few months ago, a female minister was actually whistled at when she addressed the Senate because she was wearing a dress – that’s right – an unprovocative flowery dress. Mr. Placé does have some work to do.

However, getting dressed up in a nice suit and holding up a hen in a protective gesture is just as ridiculous as clucking in the French Senate. This Senator is actually part of the legislative system. He can propose laws; lobby laws; change laws. He can introduce sanctions for politicians who disrupt their colleagues and the business-at-hand. (There is nothing like a hefty fine or a suspension to make anyone think twice before he opens his beak.) Mr. Placé can find a legislative solution and, in doing so, demand respect for everyone – men and women alike. He can leave the hen in the farmyard and show us a law that deals with this problem. That’s part of the job.

Let’s hope that this hen party is the last one for the French government. Let’s hope that in 2016, on International Women’s Day, we can see a photo of Mr. Placé holding up legislation that sanctions disrespectful and unproductive public behavior on the part of  politicians. We can all cluck to that.

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.”