How the French Election Contributed to the Globalization of Glee

Using the words “happy” and “French” in the same sentence rarely makes any sense but when the new president’s name, Emmanuel Macron, was announced on Sunday, 66% of the French voter population screamed with joy.  (Well, maybe a few of them screamed with relief but it was a blissful sound nonetheless.)  Mr. Macron, the Centrist Independent candidate defeated Marine Le Pen, the National Front contender.  The presidential campaign had been full of diabolical twists and turns.  Macron came out of nowhere and Le Pen came out of hatred and populism.  But, suddenly on Sunday, the French broke into a collective smile – a genuine one at that.

Ecstatic French voters at Macron's victory announcement.
Ecstatic French voters at Macron’s victory announcement.

The French were not alone in their euphoria.  The whole world seemed to join in this Globalization of Glee as congratulations poured in from all over Europe, Asia and even from the USA.  It was a landslide victory for a 39-year-old man who, until three years ago, was an unknown entity on the French political scene.  The polls had him favored to win but only by a slight margin.  Twelve million voters abstained, which was clearly a sign in Le Pen’s favor.  Four million more voted blank (but we wouldn’t know that until the evening) and another million voters “spoiled” their ballots.  However, 75% of eligible French voters cast their ballot and overwhelmingly repudiated hate and nationalism.  I want to address those voters and simply say Merci, Merci, Merci!

Firstly, thank you for restoring hope and good sense to this world.  All eyes were on France for this important election and you came through for us.  After Brexit and Trump, we knew a Far-Right French president would mean the unequivocal end to Europe and the beginning of social uncertainty. You saved us from that – at least for the next five years.

Secondly, thanks for your electoral system.  I know you think it was a long, annoying haul listening to the eleven politicians who ran for president but it was relatively short compared to the years of campaigning we go through in the USA.

The French voting system is surprisingly simple.
The French voting system is surprisingly simple.

It was just a question of months here in France.  You had only one primary for the Socialist party and one for the Republican party.  There were only two weeks between the first and final round of the presidential elections.  The new president won by a simple majority of votes.  A vote in Lille counted as much as a vote in Paris.  No electoral college.  Just old-fashioned, simple arithmetic.  And, the icing on the presidential cake, is that there is only one week between the election and the inauguration of the new president.  One week! Emmanuel Macron was elected on May 7th; he’ll take office on May 14th and nobody cares about who will be singing at his inauguration.

Thirdly, thank you for your election media coverage.  Although some channels are getting a bit “Americanized,” the overwhelming majority of French journalists and presenters are serious characters who do their homework.  They ask relevant questions and cover pertinent issues.  There are times when guests talk over each other during a discussion and no one can understand anything but they are still addressing political issues.  None of your journalists gossiped about anyone’s family members during the campaign.  When there was a wiki leaks story concerning one of the candidates two days before the election, you journalists decided not to make a big deal of it.  Such a welcome change.

No wonder "The Thinker" is French!
No wonder “The Thinker” is French!

Another thing I want to thank you for is your arrogance and unwavering intellectual superiority.  I know that might sound strange but the fact that critical thinking is in the French DNA can be a good thing.  It might also be exasperating and rude but, in this case, it worked for the common good.  You didn’t take the easy road of populism.  You spent some time and brainpower thinking your way through a complicated, divisive and serious situation.  You decided that even though the choices were not perfect, the consequences of a far-right president were too dreadful to let this happen.  You elected an intelligent person who reads and writes.  We elected a person who tweets.

And finally, French voters, thank you for embarrassing Donald Trump and the Americans in general.  Trump did send a congratulatory tweet to Mr. Macron but we all know he would have welcomed Marine Le Pen with open arms, considering her to be a blonde, French version of himself.  He would have insisted he helped her get elected.  He might even have planned a trip to Paris to see his imaginary friend “Jim.”

Merci beaucoup!
Merci beaucoup!

Thanks for showing the world that the USA is not the political center of the universe.  And, in the end, thank you for being so…French!

Mommy and Daddy Issues in the 2017 French Presidential Election

There are officially two candidates left standing in France’s extremely unpredictable May 7th presidential election – Emmanuel Macron for the center and Marine Le Pen for the far-right.  It’s going to be a historically close race.  And even though the candidate is supposed to be running alone and their family members shouldn’t matter, we all know that’s just not true.  Last week, Francois Fillon lost his bid for the presidency due to (among other things) the “Penelopegate” scandal where he was accused of using public funds to provide a fictional job for his wife, Penelope.  This week, no one cares about Penelope. This week, we care about Mommy and Daddy.

Let’s talk about “Mommy” first.  The media is paying a lot of attention to Emmanuel Macron’s wife, Brigitte Trogneux.  Brigitte is 64 and Emmanuel is 39.  They have been married for 10 years.

Young drama student Emmanuel Macron with his drama coach and future wife.
Young drama student Emmanuel Macron with his drama coach and future wife.

They have no children together but Brigitte has seven grandchildren.  So, the young Presidential candidate is already a step-grandfather.  They met when he was a student at a private Jesuit school where she was teaching.  She was his drama coach; they adapted a play together when he was 15 and she was 40.  He said he knew right then and there that he wanted to marry her and he eventually did.  A little bit unconventional?  Yeah, maybe, but that guy knows what he wants and went out and got it. I like that.  But not everybody does.

Now that Mr. Macron might be President, his wife is being seen as a cougar, a predator, someone who abused her position of trust as his teacher.  A tacky Taiwanese video portrays Brigitte ambling up the wedding aisle with a walker.  Another campaign alleges that Emmanuel Macron is a homosexual.  And, of course, there’s the more classic Oedipus complex angle of the man being in love with his mother.  Would any of these theories even matter if he were 25 years older than her?  Of course not.  Unfortunately, ageism and sexism are still alive and well and rearing their ugly heads during this election campaign.

Brigitte Trogneux (she didn’t take the Macron name when they were married) is the inspiration behind her husband’s bid for the French Presidency.  She is his trusted coach, his adviser – handling his agenda and helping him

Mr. Macron and his wife Brigitte in 2017.
Mr. Macron and his wife Brigitte in 2017.

with his speeches.  Emmanuel Macron constantly acknowledges her importance to him.  “Without her, I wouldn’t be who I am,” he has said.  The attention that the age difference is getting is turning out to be a distraction, one that his “En Marche” center party doesn’t need in the last remaining days before the election.  Hopefully, the French can look beyond that when they cast their ballot.

Now let’s walk over to the far-right side and talk about Daddy.  Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, is the youngest daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.  He is 89 years old; has run the party for four decades and founded it on racist, hateful, xenophobic tenets.  He was suspended from the party in 2011 after publicly stating that the gas chambers were just a “detail” of World War II.  Madame Le Pen’s Daddy is a polarizing figure in French politics who loves to be hated.  He was convicted 15 times and has paid more than 30,000 Euros in fines for hate speeches.  Marine claims she is “estranged” from her father.  But is she?  And, if she is, what does that say about her?

Marine Le Pen markets herself as the Populist candidate, the person who will speak for the working class of France.  She claims to understand the ordinary guys and is not one of the present “bourgeois elite”

Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie before their Family Feud.
Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie before their Family Feud.

who govern this country.  However, her Daddy inherited 5 Million Euros (about $5,450,000) and an 11-room mansion in 1977.  The donor was Hubert Lambert of Lambert Cement, a wealthy French Industrialist and an ardent National Front supporter who wanted Jean-Marie to become president one day.  (Mr. Le Pen ran for President and lost five times – in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2007).  Without this generous donation from a bourgeois elitist, the National Front Party would not exist.  Marine Le Pen clearly benefited and continues to benefit from this political inheritance.   Daddy, in a roundabout financial way at least, is the source of her rise to power.  So why is she trying to distance herself from him?  Why doesn’t she talk to him or answer his messages?

Marine Le Pen is trying to win a more moderate part of the French electorate.  Daddy gets people angry and she doesn’t want that.  She wants votes – this time enough votes to win the presidency.  She has toned down the racist hate-talk that her Daddy is famous for, but is still representing the National Front party, the one that has xenophobia and racism as its base.  If she really wanted a more moderate platform, why didn’t she just start her own party and divorce Daddy completely?  It’s an easy-enough thing to do in France.  Emmanuel Macron started his own party, as did seven other initial presidential candidates.  When Marine Le Pen won the first round, she didn’t mention Daddy.

And the winner is.....
And the winner is…..

He texted her a congratulatory note, she didn’t answer.  She also avoided him on May 1st, the traditional National Front speech day.  Daddy spoke in front of the Joan of Arc statue in the center of Paris and she picked a venue in a more modest area in the northern part of the city.  She used him to get where she is, a stone’s throw away from the presidency, the biggest Elitist office this country has to offer.

French citizens will go to the polls on Sunday, May 7th.  The whole world will be watching this extremely important election for France and for the future of Europe.  Mommy and Daddy will be watching too.  We’ll have to wait until Sunday to see which one wins.

Francois Fillon Turns the Tables in the French Presidential Election

With only seven weeks to go before the first round of the French presidential elections, no one is talking policy.  Everyone is talking “Fillon” instead.  And all the conversations and predictions are about whether this candidate should stay or go.  Three days ago, 100 political chiefs deserted him.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.
Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.

Yesterday, the Plan B candidate, Alain Juppe, officially proclaimed he would not run.  So today, Francois Fillon is back – and it looks like he’s going to stay.  His strategy is just to keep standing and let the others come and go as they please.  That seems to be working for him.  Is it working for France?  Only time and votes will tell.

Fillon hosted a rally on March 4th in Paris to insist publicly that he is still the Presidential hopeful.  The Fillon team said there were 200,000 people in attendance.  Now, that’s the French version of fake news since Trocadero, where the rally was held, can only hold 45,000 people, according to the French police. Polls show that more than 70% of French voters want Fillon to withdraw his candidacy.  They want him to resign; name a replacement and ride off into the sunset of a possible indictment that is facing him.  But, just like the Elton John song, he’s still standing.  Here’s how all this unprecedented mess started.

Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.
Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.

Back in November, 2016, Francois Fillon won the first-ever Republican party primary with a healthy score of 44%.Things were looking good for him and the party in general. Since this was the first time for a primary, no one thought about what happens if the candidate gets into a legal scandal before the election.  As it stands, the only exit for acandidate would be a resignation letter.  However, Mr. Fillon is adamant that he is in for the long-haul.  The scandal  he is now in is being called “PenelopeGate.”  He is supposedly about to be charged with creating fictitious employment for his wife Penelope (to the tune of almost a million euros, pretty much the same amount in dollars).  The suspicious employment he gave to two of his children while they were law students is also on the judge’s table.

So, for the French right party, the Republican Party, Francois Fillon is a candidate who might (or might not) be indicted on March 15th when he is summoned to court.  The far-right populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, has also been summoned for financial dealings concerning two members of her staff but she has “solved” her problem by saying she simply won’t go.  On the left side of the government, Francois Hollande, the current president, bowed out of the Socialist primary.  He chose not to run for the “good of the party” since all polls were saying he was sure to lose.  The Socialists had their scandal just before the last election in 2012 but theirs was a sexual one.  Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the left front-runner for president, was accused of raping a hotel maid in New York back in May 2011. He subsequently spent a night in Rikers prison and settled the civil case out of court for an undisclosed amount. The accompanying disgrace ended his chances of running for president and that’s when Francois Hollande came into the picture.  He was Plan B for the Socialists in 2012.

Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..
Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..

 

The French media like to compare their presidential candidates to Trump.  Up to now, they were consistently doing this only for Marine Le Pen.  She is France’s Populist candidate on the far-right. She is consistently anti-immigration; anti-European and anti-Muslim. However, this week, the media has started to compare Francois Fillon to Donald Trump since he attacked the judicial system which he feels is attacking him (something equivalent to Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judges” who stopped his Executive travel ban order).  Mr. Fillon also staged his public “feel-good” rally in Trump fashion and urged his supporters to “resist,” to “fight this strange combat” along with him.

 

Francois Fillon's latest Motto.
Francois Fillon’s latest Motto.

After Fillon’s anti-justice system declaration, his spokesperson resigned; his campaign manager bailed and many elected officials said that Fillon had “crossed the line.”  They all point to the fact that Fillon initially said he would pull out of the presidential race if there were to be a formal investigation.  There is a formal investigation and Fillon is still running.  France is on political hold.  The only thing is sure at this point is that Fillon is the candidate for the conservation Republican party.  He has managed to “divide and conquer” his party — just by running in place.

Parisians Join US Women’s March the Day after Trump Inauguration

There is usually a honeymoon period after a US presidential election, a time when the new guy can do no wrong; when Americans are happy with their choice and they allow him to get on with the business of governing the country.  However, the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, will have to be content with the honeymoons he has already experienced with his three wives. The unprecedented mass “Women’s March” protests

Women's March took place in more than 60 cities globally.
Women’s March took place in more than 60 cities globally.

held all over the world the day after his inauguration made it perfectly clear that the new woman in his life, the female American electorate, will be watching him very closely.  No honeymoon in sight for the new President. (In fact, his third wife, Melania, has already left Washington DC to return to New York to take care of her “Mom” duties.)

For a man who has tweeted his way into the Presidency, it seems only fitting that the Women’s March Movement started with a social media facebook invitation.  Teresa Shook, a retired attorney and resident of Hawaii, invited forty of her friends to a March on Washington with one little click.  Twenty-four hours later, that one click turned into a group with thousands of names.

The DC crowd itself was estimated at about 500,000 participants; over 700,000 people participated in Los Angeles (the biggest turn-out).  More than 5 million women activists around the world, including 7,000 women in Paris, used the morning after the inauguration to come together and “send a bold message to the new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”

A sea of pink as thousands of women sported "pussyhats".
A sea of pink as thousands of women sported “pussyhats”.

If you saw any of the Women’s March photos, you most likely noticed a sea of pink hats bobbing on the horizon.  Those hats come from the Los Angeles based “Pussyhat Project,” where knitters first began crafting little pink caps with cat ears as an angry rebuttal to Trump’s 2005 offensive remarks about grabbing women’s genitalia.  Many of the celebrities who attended and performed at the Marches wore a pussyhat as a symbol of protection of women’s rights.  Here is a non-exhaustive list of the stars in attendance:  Helen Mirren, Gillian Anderson, Jane Fonda, Charlize Theron, Cher, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Fran Drescher, Felicity Huffman, Amy Poelher, Madonna, Ashley Judd, Michael Moore and Scarlett Johansson.  When you consider that celebrities were conspicuously absent from the Presidential Inauguration ceremony and celebration, you have an idea of how divided the USA has become.

But you might wonder why French women (and men)Getty.A-demonstrator-carries-a-sign-reading-Pcame out in support of this American demonstration.  I mean, what happens in the USA stays in the USA, right?  Wrong!  Quite a few women who were interviewed at the Paris March stated that the subject of women’s rights concerns the whole world.  The French have seen female reproductive rights put into jeopardy once again in Poland, Spain and Portugal when those neighboring countries elected conservative leaders. France will be electing a new President this spring and women are worried about the National Front Candidate,

Marine Le Pen, coming into power.  Mme Le Pen is an avid supporter of President Trump. At a recent, unprecedented meeting of Europe’s rightwing party leaders, she was quoted as saying, “His position on Europe is clear. He

National Front Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is an avid admirer of Donald Trump.
National Front Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is an avid admirer of Donald Trump.

does not support a system of the oppression of peoples.  2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. I am certain 2017 will be the year when the people of continental Europe wake up.”

It’s strange that the organizers of the Parisian Women’s March also alluded to Trump’s election as being a wake-up call for France.  We’ll just have to wait and see which side wakes up first.

Explaining Inexplicable American Politics to the French

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

Texting for political explanations.
Texting for political explanations.

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

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

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

Historical statistics.
Historical statistics.

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

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

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

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

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

America votes green!
America votes green!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Dark Side of French Humor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A French Summer Special – OVD (Obsessive Vacation Disorder)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The French Art of Complaining
The French Art of Complaining

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Things You Should Know about Euro 2016 Soccer Tournament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This Week in Paris – Madness and Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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