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.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Global Politics of Parisian Public Toilets

The pretty-much localized Parisian institution of “Madame Pipî” is about to go global and it’s not a pretty site.  You would know who Madame Pipi is if you have ever used a public toilet in one of Paris’s mandatory monuments such as Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame or Etoile or in one of the main train stations like Gare de Nord, Gare de Lyon, etc.  They are the ladies who take your 50 centimes and give you a toilet token.

Madame Pipi at work.
Madame Pipi at work.

They clean and manage the city’s public toilet facilities.  In doing so, they represent a veritable French institution that dates back to the late 19th century.  Their thankless job is not an easy one – they work long hours in dark (and sometimes smelly) places; handle all sorts of strange clients. They are paid minimum wage and, obviously, their job is not a pleasant one.  But it’s a job they want to keep.  And eleven of these ladies are taking their case to court.

The court the cleaning agents solicited in September 2015 is France’s Prud’Homme, which is the Labor Relations Board.

The Sacre Cœur cleaning agents protesting the loss of their jobs.
The Sacre Cœur cleaning agents protesting the loss of their jobs.

This all started in July of this year when their old employer, “STEM”, a sanitation company, lost its municipal contract to “2theloo”, a Dutch firm. The women are demanding the salary they have lost since July and the restitution of their old jobs.  The French Labor Laws do state that if a company is bought by another company, the new boss is obliged to keep the old employees.  When the city of Paris awarded the sanitary facilities contract to the Dutch company “2theloo”, they hoped that would happen.  However, this new boss says that “2theloo” is not a cleaning company (as was the case with STEM), therefore, this law does not apply. The new guy in town says that “2theloo” is a concept store.

I thought that branding a toilet cleaning company as a “concept store” was a new concept in and of itself until I did a little research.  The marketing angle of “2theloo” is that they want your public bathroom experience to be better and more memorable than your private toilet usage at home.  They have themes for different bathrooms.

Now here's an interesting concept - relieving yourself with Bambi watches.
Now here’s an interesting concept – relieving yourself with Bambi watches.

They have fluorescent-colored toilet paper.  They charge more.  They sell toilet-related goodies (did I say that?) and need their employees to speak English, something that is not in “Madame Pipi’s” job description at the present time.

“2theloo” has an interesting slogan – “bigger, better, bolder”. Their toilets are more spacious, soundproof (now that’s a plus) and 100% non-touch (not quite sure what they mean by that). They even offer a make-up area. “2theloo” is selling a bathroom experience and Madame Pipi was only selling necessary physical relief that needed to be sanitary and

Just a sample of what you can buy at the concept store -- glow-in-the-dark toilet paper.
Just a sample of what you can buy at the concept store — glow-in-the-dark toilet paper.

efficient but not necessarily pleasant.  That approach has worked for a couple of centuries but that’s simply not the case anymore.  The keeping-people-employed concept has indeed changed.

I have not yet sampled the “2theloo” bathroom experience out of solidarity for these women and their ongoing trial.  The former STEM cleaning agents lost the first round in September but are appealing and should have their second court date shortly.  The city of Paris says they will offer them other employment within the municipality but that has yet to be formalized.  In the meantime, they are out of work even though they were doing their job.

With the demise of Madame Pipi, Paris will lose its unique, personal approach to the public toilet experience.  “2theloo” will replace the historic touch with a commercial, heartless one. “2theloo” might be bigger, better, bolder. But it just won’t be Parisian.  And that’s a global shame.

The French Animalistic Side to International Women’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidential Speeches in Paris and Chicago – Vive la Difference

Politics Everywhere

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

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

Obama and his family – up close and personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter and Tweets Invade French Politics

Junior High a la Francaise

The Presidential Kiss

I’m sitting here in my Parisian living room watching the French legislative election returns on television, and, for some strange reason, am having painful flashbacks back to junior high.  This is extremely disconcerting but when I explain to you what’s been going on in France this past week, you’ll understand (and you might start dreaming about your junior high school as well).

The biggest subject on campus is the electronic cat fight that started with a tweet and ended with the cat swallowing the canary.  So, the “cat” who won is Valerie Trierweiler, supposedly the first lady of France.  She is the “companion” of Francois Hollande, the newly-elected president of France.  She used her smart phone to scandalize the country this week by sending one simple tweet supporting the Socialist candidate who was running against Segolene Royal.  Now, Segolene Royal is Francois Hollande’s “ex-companion” and the mother of his four children and was also publicly supported by the president.  Are you following this?  I warned you – junior high.

What a Difference a Tweet Makes

As the week wore on, the tweet got more publicity than anyone’s political platform.  Insults were thrown all over the place; one of the girls had tears in her eyes and everyone had an opinion about who is really running this country.  The Prime Minister even publicly announced that this new first girlfriend should find her place and stay in it.  The French population had elected Francois Hollande, not his girlfriend, so she should just zip it and let Segolene get elected to the National Assembly so that she could hang out with Francois again.

In the end, Segolene lost – it could have been because of the tweet, but it also could have been because the voters liked the other guy better.  We will never know.  Segolene used the word “treason” in her concession speech.  Journalists asked her if she had been in touch with Francois Hollande to discuss her political career.  She avoided answering.  They asked her about the tweet; she avoided answering once more.

The President’s Avoidance Policy

But you know what I want to know?  Where in hell’s name is the president?  Is he watching the returns with the Tweet Queen hoping that she can wipe that smirk off her face?  Is he secretly texting sympathetic messages to Segolene from the presidential bathroom?  Why isn’t he on TV claiming victory for his party since they did a pretty job good in winning a clear majority in the legislative elections?  Is he afraid of the questions the journalists would ask him?

The fine line between public and private is all messed up in France right now.    The new girl in town might be modern and highly skilled in social media but she seems to be lacking in socio-political integration skills.  The old girl in town (sorry Segolene) seems to be lacking in political clout, especially after today’s significant loss.  It looks like there’s a serious chance that she might fade off into the sunset.

Who’s Afraid of Valerie Tweet?

And the new guy in all this?  Is he really running the show?  Is the President the one wearing the designer pants?  Is he going to go public and tell the whole junior high of France which girl wins his heart?  Or is he going to keep playing ostrich and wait until the tweet passes over?  Someone should tell him – one tweet can hide another.