All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Life in France, as it is seen.

A barricade in the Paris Commune, March 18, 1871.Image via Wikipedia

The regional elections are coming up and the ruling party of the right, the UMP, has issued a little propaganda film, showing how France is changing and how the regional structures must change as well, with clips of multiracial groups of children, an eco house and families flying kites.

Well, as it turns out, the film is flying a kite as well, since most of the clips were bought in from an American firm and were shot in various parts of the U.S.A. Thanks to the non subscription bit of Canal Plus television for the revelation.

However, it brings me back to my old chestnut, the difference between the image projected and the reality of living in France, and I feel that my point can only be reinforced when the UMP, who are, after all, running the show, find it easier to use American clips in their election campaign than to show France as it is.

Any PC inclined readers might like to cover their eyes for the next paragraph, but, be reassured, there is a purpose in including it in this post. For those still with me, endeavour to look past the word and look at the underlying argument.

I do not have my copy of Love in a Cold Climate with me....bring it back, you know who you are...but I believe it was Uncle Matthew - after all, who else could it have been - who claimed that

'Wogs begin at Calais'....

Take away for the moment the derogative nature of the remark and look a little deeper. British culture is not that of the continent of Europe. It has developed differently and produces a different mindset.

In my youth, brought up in a left leaning household which was regarded as normal then and would probably now be the object of government surveillance, 'wog' governments were viewed as corrupt, inefficent and oppressive of their peoples, while the tragedy of the end of colonialism was that the colonial powers, in their haste to drop their financial burdens to pay off their war debts to the Americans, left the ordinary people of their colonies prey to these vultures.

Well, living in France, I feel that it is run by a 'wog' government, as defined above. It is not what you expect, fed on the diet of 'common European values' and other EU nonsense, nor what the magazines and television programmes show you. In fact, they show you little if any of the political and fiscal structure of France, content with allowing their advertisors to offer financial advice on your pension arrangements and sell you houses. Thus the soft definition articles and presentation.
Thus the shock when you discover what you have come to.

I am prepared to believe that some British immigrants adapt quite happily.....drowsy from wine at lunchtime, the peace of retirement after a working life, total ignorance of the language...they pay what is demanded of them and congratulate themselves on their escape from full of 'wogs' in the view of many of them.

Others, mainly those who wish to work and enter the French system, find out the hard way that enterprise in France is sternly discouraged unless you are of a certain class and French to boot, and with the depression, the fall in the value of sterling against the euro and the lack of work, some of these people are finding that they cannot make ends meet and are returning to the U.K. to start again.

I find it distasteful that the retirees with their secure pensions regard these people who have tried to set up their own business with failures. I would like to see some of these smug nonentities try do something on their own initiative and see how they get on.

If any of them wish to take up the challenge, might I suggest that a 'pay as you gossip' internet site might do well as it would be cheaper than providing the wine and nibbles for the usual suspects and would also widen the field.

So what do I find so shocking about France?
The strength of nationalism. It suffices to put anything in French v anyone else terms and no reasoned argument can prevail. France is always right. Everything French is best. Clearly it is not, but the education system, in which there is not only just one answer, but also just one question, does nothing to produce minds open to reason. Amazing, that the heirs of the 'siecle des lumieres' have been reduced to the status of mynah birds.

In its' turn, this nationalism arouses antagonism among immigrants, a refusal to become 'French', which only serves to wind up nationalism to a higher pitch. People who came to France for a better life for their families, willing to do the jobs the French refused as being of too low status, asked for nothing more than to be able to integrate, while keeping their own cultural references. Treating them as 'wogs' has resulted in a second and third generation turning their backs on a society which doesn't wish to employ them in higher grade jobs and turning their backs on its culture. While the French football team were cheating the Irish out of a World Cup place, young men from immigrant families were rejoicing in the victory of the Algerian football team over Egypt - their loyalties lying far from the place in which they live.

What else disturbs me?
The institutionalised cronyism and all too familiar in the U.K. once its' politicians became acquainted with the practices of the European Union. On the basic, local level, you, as a foreigner - which can mean in some places coming from the next department or even the next village, never mind the other side of the Channel - might have problems getting planning permission to put in a window. A friend of the maire can rely on his agricultural land suddenly becoming open to construction, spoiling the views from a whole slew of houses.
You want a 'cattle crossing' sign? You can't just go to the local works department and put your case. You have to write to the President of the Conseil General, the departmental council, to get what you have to ask a politician for something which should be a straight administrative job.

The multiplicity of elected posts held by politicians....maire, local councillor, national deputy...where the work is done by subordinates, but which keeps their local power - and perks - intact.

What, to me, is the most discouraging is that this is accepted as a way of life...thus the refrain
'Nous sommes pour rien'...we count for nothing
among ordinary people.
The older ones grew up in an era where, if you were not seen at mass on Sunday, you would not be employed. Their children know that if you, as a local councillor, do not dance attendance on the local deputy, your village will not be getting any handouts.

To call the French legal system a 'justice' system is to take the word 'justice' in vain....I suggest the blog of Maitre Eolas to those who read French. All is form and nothing is substance, giving inappropriate power to the prosecution in criminal cases and inappropriate liberty of action to the police before a suspected person has a chance to consult a lawyer. Coming from a common law background, it is unthinkably incompetent if the aim is to arrive at a result approximating to the realities of the case. I am not at all convinced that that is the aim of the system.

I suppose what disturbs me most about France is that French people know their place.
In the U.K., that notion was overcome first, in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the serving soldiers recognised the mess that those in high places had created in peace and war and voted them out.
With the expansion of higher education in the sixties, 'place' was what you created yourself, not a construct created for you.

These processes have not taken place in France. Postwar, the eagerness to keep the Communists at bay reinstalled to power the same hidebound nonentities who had led France into disaster, now more keen than ever to regain control.
Education in France has never been a way for the intelligent young of the lower classes to escape their station....if successful, they aim to become beaurocrats, not entrepreneurs, reinforcing the weight of the State in society, not reducing it.

These things may not disturb you, but they disturb me. Our ancestors fought, starved and died to obtain liberty and justice in British society and we kick up when we see liberty and justice eroded.
The French, heirs to 1789, 1830, 1848 and the Commune, respond with the Gallic shrug.

It is dispiriting.

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  1. All politics is dispiriting. I have given up - seriously, truly, given up and I have a degree in politics, wrote about it, cared about it, worked ion its edges - but now I just care about 'planet charlton' by which I mean isolating myself from the bloody lot of em. Only area I'd still campaign over is international / development policy - even green politics is waste of time.

    So there's my two-penorth as they say!

    Have you ever read Arthur Koestler's Scum of the Earth - ostensibly an escape story, it is a brilliant essay on why the French collapsed in WII and the malaise of their society at that time.

  2. You know, it was a toss-up for me between Spain and France, and really, if I'd been left to my own devices I would have chosen France due to various romantic notions I held at the time(which you are kindly deconstructing for me).

    Your blog shows me a side of France which I really had NO idea about, but rings all too true. Does any country adapt well to loss of influence? Years ago I read a seemingly paradoxical hypothesis: A country/nation secure in its identity will be open to outside influences (and internal ones in the form of immigrant culture), and therefore, to change, whilst a country/nation with an insecure sense of identity will retreat into old images and values, and will stagnate. It's an interesting perspective to apply. As an intellectual exercise - it offers no answers.

  3. Mark, no I haven't. I'll order it.
    I was always a political animal...but the development of the party system disgusts down politics, just what I have always argued and fought against. I could turn my face to the wall when I see young people deprived of the sort of education I was lucky enough to have had, fed bullshit about the value of some 'degree' which would not fit them for rational thinking and pushed out to 'sell themselves' to an employer.
    It is considerably worse when, as in France, I see a sector of the population just pushed aside as being of no interest unless as cleaners, purveyors of unskilled labour, and something with which to rouse the nationalist rabble around election times.
    Life in France can be, architecture, food and wine...just don't use your brain or your eyes.

    Pueblo girl, yes I've come across the hypothesis and to some extent agree. The problem comes with lack of confidence in what society is doing and how it is doing it. A confident society can afford change, it can adapt.
    Sarkozy came to power promising change, and soon found out that change was not what his supporters really wanted. They wanted the fruits of change, but not the means to obtain those would upset too many cherished applecarts. (Sorry)!
    I have been lucky to have made French friends who are concerned about politics in the widest sense, are concerned about what is happening in their country and outside and through them I have discovered a lot more about how France works for the ordinary French man or woman than I could ever have done unaided.
    I value my friends in France, I can't say I value the society.

  4. In all honesty, I truly believe that Britain as a whole has begun to pay the terrible price of the empire. I too value my friends, but to hell itself with the dregs of the new society.

  5. Jimmy Bastard, the price of Empire has always been paid by the poor. The poor in the colonies, the poor in the homeland, going soldiering to earn a crust. Those who benefited and those who now benefit live at their ease on the results of exploitation of the poor, past and present.
    The present society disgusts and dismays me.

  6. FitW, please keep telling it how it is. We left France because I realised that as non-French there was little future for my children there.They suffered years of racism at school but don't get me started on French schools anyway. After years of paying tax and contributing to the economy on a local and national level, when we fell on hard times we were treated like scum, like the poor Beurs.Of course the retireds (or is it retards) whose sole reason for living in France seems to be because the wine is cheap and they can boast to their friends back in Plague Island that they have 'such a bit house but it's so tiring having to look after all the land' will never believe you but then they get their information on life in France from the BBC and the tabloids.

  7. PVLiF, how nice to hear from you...I have been trying to find where you went - webwise - but, as Ayak will understand, my competence in webland is severely limited.
    How is the book going?
    I will be catching up with your blog over the next few days and will be fascinated to learn about the differences you find between the two cultures.

    Thank you for the award...three random things about myself...the mind boggles!

    I am a bit sour these days, despite having made resolutions to put unpleasantnesses behind me - but I am grateful to my French friends for enlightening me as to the nature of the society into which I had thrust myself all those years ago.

  8. Fly: As you know politics isn't my thing, but I do find this post incredibly interesting nevertheless. I like the way you portray France in such an honest way..warts and all. Of course we have a similar ex-pat mentality here...those who have settled because housing and cost of living is cheap. They don't integrate. Instead they complain to each other about how bureaucracy in Turkey makes life difficult for them...whilst they're knocking back the Efes beer and Raki and getting sun burnt.. and not bothering to try to learn the language. comment has gone a little off the topic of your post.

    What I meant to say is at least you make a huge attempt to understand what's going on in France..and I'm sure this is the best way to make a life in a different country.

  9. over here the poor are going soldiering. sigh.

  10. Ayak, I do try to understand what goes on and why, but it is easier if you have local friends to give you a clue or two.
    Tell me, do you know if kids at school in Turkey still start the day with chanting in unison
    'I am Turk, I am proud to be Turk..' because Turkish friends here don't know if it still goes on, but explained that it's not quite what it seems. It dates from Ataturk's endeavours to get people away from the old Ottoman culture and adopt new votes for women, long before French women obtained the vote!

    Zuleme, it is heartbreaking to see these young people having no future except in the armed forces. Says a lot about the state of society.

  11. Fly: Yes the kids do still start each day with the chanting. Lined up in the playground. At the beginning and the end of the week they also sing the National Anthem. I can't see this ritual ever stopping. If I'm honest, I like to see the discipline involved in it. Maybe I'm a bit old-fashioned, but Turkish kids do as they are told, they have the utmost respect for their teachers...and all adults.

    I think it was around 1926 that Ataturk introduced votes for women, along with the plans for education for all children. He also encouraged sport and exercise. He was quite a man...way ahead of his time.

  12. Ayak, my father told me all about Ataturk long before I'd been there or met any Turks. To get Turkey on its' feet after the disasters of the First World War took some doing.