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!     

 

Turning Tables and Throwing Tantrums in Paris

The recent (and continuing) strikes in France with their subsequent acts of violence, provocation and just general unrest, set me thinking about French social behavior.  I am not talking about the politics of these demonstrations nor about who is right or wrong – there are plenty of other blogs that are doing that.

French demonstrator being pulled away by police.
French demonstrator being pulled away by police.

I am talking about how the French bring up their kids and what happens when these kids turn into adults.  Can their childhood education possibly have something to do with their grown-up comportment?

For years, I have participated in conversations with other Parisian mothers who stand by the strictness of table manners in bringing up their babies.  They are proud of the fact that their children do not throw tantrums at the dinner table.  They sit; they eat and they are not the center of attention.  I have seen mothers slap their children in public for slight misbehavior and no one even blinks.  (In the US, social services would have been on speed dial!)  The kids request permission to leave the table.  They go to bed and stay in bed when they are supposed to.  The parents have them under control and do not feel guilty about disciplining them.  But, then the kids grow up; turn into adults and regress like crazy.

When I watch the evening news and see the intense kicking and screaming of French demonstrators and police alike, I can’t help thinking of temper tantrums. The French are acting like toddlers in adult clothing.  When a 2-year-old has a fit, it is considered normal.

Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.
Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.

He is testing his limits with these outbursts.  Since he cannot yet master any language, physical wrath is common and is considered a normal part of child development.  Parents have to remain calm; be consistent in their treatment of these tantrums and NOT let the child win.  They are instructed to wait out the storm – let the kid storm off in a huff.  They try to reason with him only when he stops all that negative wrath and animosity. An angry child does not get a place at the dinner table.  An angry child gets a time-out.

Following this temper tantrum theory, I think that as French children grow (or not) into adults, the state replaces their parents and all the temper tantrums that were repressed in their childhood are now directed at the government (their financial provider).  They expect Mom and Pop to provide them with this and that.  They are used to their paternal government privileges and don’t want to lose them.  They certainly don’t want their parents to divorce.  There’s no way they could stand having a step-dad from the private sector.  They want their world to continue just as it is. Safe and secure and with them as the center of everybody’s attention.

I did a bit of research on what causes angry “episodes” in toddlers.  It seems that a feeling of intense anxiety, the kind you experience when you can’t get what you want, makes their bodies release cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone.  That makes them breathe faster; increases their blood pressure and causes confused thinking. They literally become “explosive” at the slightest provocation from their family and the world around them.  This sounds just like what’s happening in the streets of Paris.

The Parisians are acting out; melting down in perfect imitation of early childhood tantrums.  When the unionist “toddlers” come to the negotiating table,

Throwing over the negotiating table...literally.
Throwing over the negotiating table…literally.

the government parents can’t tell them to go to their room and come back when they are ready to talk sensibly.  These “parents” must stay calm and try to reason with them.  But, that doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked in the past and it isn’t working now.  The average child temper fit lasts for 3 minutes and, when it’s over, the tiny tot doesn’t remember anything.  Unfortunately, the French adult-child fit seems to be lasting a lot longer and spreading like a virus.

I am sure that the government Mom and Pop will “cave”; they will give in to their toddlers’ demands during any mediation.  As the unionist spoiled brats kick, scream and literally turn those negotiating tables upside down, the government parents will do what they have always done – give the children what they want so they can have a peaceful meal and/or get a good night’s sleep.  And they’ll do it quickly – right before the European Soccer Cup starts in Paris on June 10th.

 

 

 

 

This Week in Paris – Madness and Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When French Arrogance Pays Off – Vigilante Justice in France

I often write about how arrogant the French are and how they are so proud of that trait in their collective DNA.  I usually talk about it in a negative sense, having been married to a Frenchman for a while and remembering so many fights where he absolutely had to give me some kind of “moral lesson”.  I also come across daily French life lessons from disgruntled bus drivers, bakers, school teachers, administrative workers.  It can be exasperating sometimes, but, I just saw an example of where a crime was prevented and a very dangerous situation averted due to a French woman’s up-in-your-face attitude. You gotta love it.

The in-your-face attitude that the French are famous for.
The in-your-face attitude that the French are famous for.

This true story is about an attempted robbery which happened last week in a bar/tabac in a small town in Normandy, near Calvados. It was about ten in the evening and a hooded man toting a pistol and an empty bag burst into the quiet bar where there were about ten clients.  The manager and owner, Nathalie, was holding a month-old baby in her arms when the robber stormed in.  He shouted something about this being a hold-up and the first thing she did was to start yelling at him about how that wasn’t the way one should talk around a baby.  She calmly brought the baby back to his mother in the next room and then came back to handle this guy.

She yelled at the thug some more and told him he should take off his hood if he wanted her to talk to him.  He demanded to see the manager.  She kept on insisting that he show his face, all the while shouting that she was the manager.  Nathalie insisted that a real man wouldn’t hide behind a mask and threaten a baby. She advanced toward him; aggressively

Peaceful town of Champ-du-Boult where the robbery almost happened.
Peaceful town of Champ-du-Boult where the robbery almost happened.

pushing him out the door.  A shot was fired and then another one. (The shots, fortunately, turned out to be blanks).  A client picked up a chair and crashed it over the robber’s head while Nathalie picked up his empty bag and beat him a few times with it. The guy finally made it out the door and took off on his motorbike.

Now, the police, of course, don’t suggest that anyone follow Nathalie’s example.  They don’t advocate vigilante justice.  But, as Nathalie said in an interview afterward, she had no time to think.  Her French sense of civic education and her arrogant French attitude just took over.  No one acts like the robber did in front of a baby!

Bar owner Nathalie shouting at the robber wannabe.
Bar owner Nathalie shouting at the robber wannabe.

That was the first thing she preached to him.  Secondly, if you want to talk to me, take off your mask.  And thirdly, get the heck out of my establishment!  And take this stupid, empty bag with you!  At the time of this failed robbery, Nathalie didn’t know that the gun was shooting blanks.  But she didn’t care.  That guy’s actions in front of the baby were unacceptable.

The would-be thief actually came back to the scene of the crime since he had forgotten his charger.  The police were on their way and the young 21-year-old man knew he would be caught.  He gave himself up and Nathalie waited with him calmly in her bar for the police to pick him up.  She undoubtedly had time to give him a few more life lessons.  (One of them probably was that he should have been a bit more prepared and certainly not have forgotten his charger!)

 

Up Close and Personal on a Parisian Bus

The Parisians are naturally a discreet bunch; my French friends have more than once made fun of my American naiveté and openness.  They say Americans small-talk freely about money; ask total strangers their salary (a taboo subject at French parties); mention their psychiatrist; describe their abortion experience, etc. etc.  In summary, Americans are not at all reserved and, consequently, not as elegant as the French who keep their personal lives to themselves.  That may have been the case in the past – but things have changed here in Paris and I’m guessing, all over France.  Just take the bus.

I prefer taking the public buses to the Metro since you get to see Paris in all its splendor. It’s true that the buses are slower but you have so much more fun and they don’t have that urine-tinged aroma that the subway cars have.  In the B.C. era (Before Cell phones), the French passengers were silent, book-reading, shy people who looked right through you if you tried to strike up a conversation (their version of transparency).

Public bus and public broadcasting
Public bus and public broadcasting

However, now, everyone, literally everyone, is equipped with a cell phone and is turning them into a broadcasting service for their private lives.  They can provide some pretty spicy entertainment.  All you have to do is listen up.

Age does not seem to matter in this significant shift in French social behavior.  I have overheard conversations of teen-agers, middle-aged people and senior citizens.  Everyone is willfully exposing bits of their dirty laundry for whomever is curious enough to listen.  I am that curious.

Here are just a few examples of modern French life unveiled to the general public.  I overheard a 30-something woman explain that she would never use Facebook since it was an invasion of her privacy.  She then went on the say that yes, she did get that loan from the bank and will soon be buying her first apartment in Paris in the 19th district – not

Just one of the hundreds of rolling radio stations in Paris.
Just one of the hundreds of rolling radio stations in Paris.

too far from Belleville metro station (she even announced the name of the street). It ended up only costing about 200,000 Euros.  Her parents were co-signing the loan next Wednesday at Mr. X’s office, their notary public.  I don’t think her Facebook account would have been half as much an invasion of her privacy as this public litany turned out to be.

I once sat across from an elderly gentleman who held one of those slap-shut old-fashioned cell phones to his ear for at least five minutes.  In all that time, he didn’t say a word.  I suspected he was pretending to use the phone, as a pre-schooler might do. I knew for sure when, for the second five minutes of non-stop fake listening, he actually turned the phone upside down; put it back close to his ear; and kept pretend-listening.  It might be funny when a young child imitates his parents but this role reversal was a bit sad.

I have witnessed lover’s quarrels on public buses – one-sided ones.  It’s worth noting that the fights I have heard are mostly from women speaking.  Men tend to talk about money (a lot of it and often); business-related deals and what a horrible time they had visiting their mother for Sunday dinner.  Sometimes I have heard men working out an obvious extra-marital rendezvous on their way home.  But, that’s when they turn discreet on me; actually lowering their voices; covering their mouths and furtively looking around to see if they know anyone who might be on the same bus. At least talk of adultery gets special treatment on Parisian buses.

A couple of years ago, the French were not so loud and indiscreet on public transportation.  The RATP (the French public bus company)

The RATP campaign encouraging riders to speak softly.
The RATP campaign encouraging riders to speak softly.

has signs on the buses which encourage people to be quiet when they are speaking on their cell phones and to limit their conversations time-wise.  But that just isn’t happening.  Instead, everyone is chiming in; using their bus time to call and be called by their dentist, lover, wife, banker, lawyer, child, mother, etc. and (sometimes) their imaginary friends.  But, at least the French are talking – and perfect strangers are listening.  Now that’s up close and personal – Parisian style.

 

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.

Shopping for Love – The French Version of Retail Therapy

In last week’s inbedwiththefrench blog, I wrote about Valentine’s Day in Paris. I posted a suggestive photo of a sexy lingerie model who was staring at me at one of my usual bus stops in this city. She was obviously a vivid suggestion for a lover’s gift item. Well, Valentine’s Day is over and, at this same bus stop, the almost-naked lady is gone. She has been replaced by a light-pink poster with a sketch figure of a woman pushing a shopping cart and a man falling into it.

Here's the latest bus stop advertisement.  No frills.
Here’s the latest bus stop advertisement. No frills.

No words, just the stick figures. An un-hip Parisian tourist might think it was a weird advertisement for some new kind of shopping experience. And, in a way, that is what it is – women are shopping…for love.

The poster is from “Adopte un Mec”, an online, love supermarket where women take the lead. This fresh, different “take” is actually very successful as an innovative dating site. It works like this: ladies go shopping and put a potential partner in their caddy, right next to the frozen peas and Special K. They use any of the multiple criteria that the site offers such as style, location, age, body-type, etc. This idea of “The Customer is Queen” looked like fun so I forgot about taking the bus and rushed home to join and adopt this new manhunt technique. Hope springs eternal, they say.

I expected this business-oriented approach to have been developed in the States or in Canada, but I was in for a surprise. “Adopte Un Mec” was started in France by two French citizens in their mid-thirties. It is a bit of a paradox given that Paris is the romance capital of the world. This practical, right-to-the-point, anything-but-romantic website does not seem French at all. The pink logo that was at the bus stop is now so famous here that no words are needed to explain what it is.

Adopte Un Mec's pop-up campaign in 2012.  A man "in the box".
Adopte Un Mec’s pop-up campaign in 2012. A man “in the box”.

“Adopte un Mec” translates into “Adopt a Guy” (or “Adopt a Dude” for the cool ladies). It went live in 2008; first in France but it now covers other French-speaking communities such as Belgium, Switzerland and Quebec and has just expanded to Spain and Italy. Eighteen million women have already shopped at “Adopte un Mec”, looking for a man to “cuddle”.   And I just joined the ranks.

If you are used to internet shopping, you will find this site incredibly easy to figure out. You have the “Daily Specials”; “New Items”; “Product Comparisons”. There are always men in stock – in whatever category you are interested in. They are divided into age groups; social categories; style sets. You can find pierced or tattooed ones; hairy or smooth; fat or skinny. It’s fun and it’s free for the ladies.

You can register in record time and start choosing. Once you have filled up your shopping cart with your wish list, you wait for the men to come to you. That’s when the real marketing starts. It’s the guy’s job to seduce, charm and convince you to “adopt” him – for a night, a week or a lifetime. You keep exchanging emails until you decide to see him – or not. If, any point you want to stop communicating to the dude, you can block him. Simple as that. Just put that loser back on the virtual shelf.

I wondered a bit about how the male “products” feel about being reduced to objects, even if they are objects of someone’s affection. I mean, there is nothing romantic about going to Walmart’s. The male line-up on the website could be compared to a police station line-up, except there are names instead of numbers marking each photo. However, no one has forced these guys to sign up – they are all volunteers – virtual volunteers in the commercial marketplace of love. They all look happy to be there.   And, I might add, since the site is not free for men, they have already invested something besides their time.

So ladies, if you’re looking for that incomparable French lover, go to

There's someone for everyone at this site.
There’s someone for everyone at this site.

www.adopteunmec.com and start your search. With just your basic high school French, you can contact your own personal Monsieur Right. But be careful, you just might turn into a shopaholic.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Original French Swingers and Other Works of Art

I always knew that the French have a light-hearted view of adultery but I never knew just how far back that view went until I went to the museum. That museum, the Museé du Luxembourg, happened to be open on New Year’s Day in Paris, which is really the main reason I chose it. The expo’s title, “Fragonard in Love” was also intriguing. Fragonard was billed as an artist during the rococo period and I liked the way that word sounded. I thought that checking out something rococo would be the perfect, rosy way to welcome 2016. And rosy it was.

I must admit I did not know what “rococo” actually referred to so I did some background checking.   Rococo painting started in France in the early 18th century and was famous for

Just another Sunday afternoon outing in rural Paris (painting by Antoine Watteau)
Just another Sunday afternoon outing in rural Paris (painting by Antoine Watteau)

its curvy lines and its depiction of amorous encounters and fluffy, flirty, sensual scenes of love – usually happening in the grand outdoors on a Sunday afternoon (actually I just threw in that Sunday afternoon part; it could have been any day of the week.)  So, more than 200 years ago, the French were already immortalizing the pursuit of sensual pleasures and blatant adultery as a way of life. Wow.

I followed the crowd through the museum and stopped where they stopped. I lingered longer where they lingered longer just to see what caught their collective eye. Without a doubt, the erotic paintings were the most popular. I wanted to get a photo of one of them and had to wait about five minutes before the guy in front of me finished his picture-taking from every angle imaginable to man and woman alike. But the photo was worth it.

The paintings themselves are absolutely gorgeous. There are luminous pastel colors that draw your attention from across the room. It’s as if someone hid a light bulb behind

Here's the original swinging Happy Accident.
Here’s the original swinging Happy Accident.

the paintings and turned it on just when your eyes hit the canvas. I was particularly attracted to the subject of one work of art entitled “Les Hasards Heureux de l’Escarpolette” which literally translates as “The Happy Accidents of the Swing”. The canvas was pretty and feathery enough but I was drawn to what it depicted. It’s a good story.

This Happy Accident was a commissioned work for Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The wealthy man who paid for it (whose identity is uncertain) could, of course, choose the subject matter. What he wanted for all the world to see was his lover on the swing being pushed by her old, ugly husband in the gray background. The man on the receiving end of the push was hidden in the bushes watching the swing show – since, as the lady breezed through the air she had her legs spread open and was tossing off her shoe in a gesture of frivolousness. What she was exhibiting under her petticoat is anyone’s guess but her lover has a big smile on his face. This was solid proof that the French were into flashing long before Brittany Spears or Paris Hilton. Must be in their DNA. (I wonder if this painting from 1767 sparked the beginning of Swingers in general – never know).

I enjoyed this exhibit and happily (no accident) found another one in Paris dedicated to forbidden love (though not so forbidden in France). It is at the Museé d’Orsay, the gorgeous train station-turned-impressionist museum.

The poster painting of the Splendor and Misery Exhibit (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec).
The poster painting of the Splendor and Misery Exhibit (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec).

It is called “Splendor and Misery: Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910” and is a collection of paintings, drawings, peep-shows and objects that obviously have prostitution as its leitmotif. The time period is well over a hundred years after rococo but the subject matter is the same. Some things never change.

The paintings of masters such as Picasso, Van Gogh and Lautrec are shown here as well as lesser known artists with an eye and brush for Ladies of the Night. There is also a sectioned-off part of the exhibit which is for over-18 year olds only. This part shows the beginning of soft-porn – the first filmed peep shows, complete with red curtains and dimmed lighting.

It’s interesting how much the theme of illegal and illicit love is treated by French art and literature. I tried to imagine the same sorts of exhibits in the USA. I couldn’t – no happy accidents there – swing or otherwise.

 

 

 

Let’s Keep Those Parisian Butts Off the Ground

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

Parisians tend to use and abuse trees as urban ashtrays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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