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.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Scum rises to the top of the terroir

CAT combine harvesterImage via Wikipedia
I am not fond of the French farmer.

He pollutes my water, he kills my bees and he has his hand in my pocket, here, whether times are good or bad.

France is finally facing up to trying to balance its' budget, something successive governments have managed to ignore, and ministers have been charged to root round their cupboards to see what measures can be taken, after wheezes like moving civil servants from the central government payroll to the local government payroll have been exhausted.

As usual, however, vested interests have to be consulted and spin doctors employed to put the best face on things.

One of the vested interests, the unions who, with the government and the industry bosses, form part of the unholy trinity which reigns over French working conditions, have turned out their members by the many thousand to demonstrate against the proposed reform of the pension regime, which would raise the pensionable age from 60 to 62.

Already, the government is ready to 'make exceptions'...for those whose job is regarded as 'penible', which might be understood to mean that the nature of the job is such as to wear one down.

What it really means is that the unions can use this exception to maintain the early retirement privileges which their members already going on until 62 for train drivers, for example, or nurses.
The government had proposed a little hurdle for this particular 60 the person seeking to retire had to show that he she or it was twenty per cent incapacitated compared with he she or its' condition at the entry into employment.
Howls of fury.
Now he she or it only have to show ten per cent incapacity to qualify.
A swift examination of the liver after years of long ritual lunch breaks should suffice for that.

And guess which other interest group has been accommodated in like fashion?


Now, 'penible'...'wearing'..... to me means the life led by the inter war generation.....ploughing with horses or oxen, out in all weathers, cutting wood to keep warm, long before the wartime black market enriched those who participated and even longer before subsidies rained on their privileged heads as, with their dubiously acquired cash they became owners as opposed to tenants and assimilated to the bourgeoisie - thus qualifying for the good things the land of 'equality' reserves for the few.

No one in their right mind would seek the return of those whose bodies were twisted by labour, women old before their to call modern farming conditions 'wearing' is going a long way too far.

Mechanisation has seen to that.

The 'care' of pigs and poultry in their concentration camps takes little physical labour on the part of the aptly known as the 'exploitant'.
Feed and water on self dispense, automatic flushing away of the waste under the grids that serve as flooring...the only time physical work is involved is when they are sold and transported away.....the rural night air resounds with the lorries carrying them off to the Nacht und Nebul of the slaughterhouses.

More and more cattle are being kept permanently indoors, providing better returns, while their old pastures are turned over to hay and silage, maize and sunflowers....sown, weeded, sprayed and harvested by machine.

The cereal plains are crawled by air conditioned  tractors, where the driver might even be guided by gps while listening to music on Skyrock  Radio.

Boring, yes. wearing, no.

Perhaps it is mental anguish which is in question.

How will you get your hooks on your share of the latest sums to be thrown to you by the government, who seem to think that they are in a sled outrunning the wolves, throwing down bribes to retard the chase.
But when you're dealing with French farmers, their appetite is unbridled.....the bribe just gives the government time to assemble the next one before the wolves are howling at the runners again.

Thus the agriculture minister has just announced another 330 million  euro bribe....and still daren't visit the agriculture salon at Rennes for fear of flying eggs and physical attack.

How will you pay off your debt to the bank for the purchase of the latest all singing all dancing combine harvester which would serve to bring in your harvest and the harvests of half the farmers in the commune, but which, since none of you trust each other, you cannot buy in common to serve everyone.
It looked wonderful the last time you took it out to block roads in the town on a demonstration, but it has, at some point, to be paid for.

Not that this is a real worry. There are mechanisms in force to allow the banks to carry your debt for years longer than they would to oblige people in any other sector, so you can carry on regardless.

Is it then.....the ISF?

The Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune is payable by those with a personal fortune of 790,000, shares, land, whatever, with a discount on the value of the principal residence.

Larger farms would easily come within the reach of this tax.....but, of course, they don't. They are exonerated.....until the farmer comes to retire!

Not to worry....let but the farmer...or any other person subject to the ISF.... invest 50,000 Euros in a company not quoted on the Paris bourse and the discount on the ISF will be such...according to a friend who was working out the examples offered by the taxman....that until he is mad enough to declare that he is worth over 4,000,000 Euros he will not pay a penny of tax......whereas if he declares 79,001 Euros he will be liable to pay 6 Euros.
The mind boggles...well, mine does.
I still find it incredible, but friend assures me she was sober, can count on her fingers and can read French.

So what is 'wearing' about the farmer's life? What entitles him to yet another privilege to add to those of

a) polluting his neighbourhood with chemicals.....

b) blighting the landscape with his industrial buildings....

c) invading supermarkets to check what meat they are stocking...

d) relative freedom to build a house anywhere on his land while the rest of us fight a losing battle with the planning department to paint our shutters grey in a blue shutter area...

e) a light tax burden....


f) the delight of messing up other peoples' arrangements by driving at a snail's pace through towns to register his displeasure at not having enough of

g) grants, subsidies, baksheesh, them what you will.
I call it money transferred from my pocket to farmers' pockets via government.

As far as I can see, the farmers' only claim to special treatment is that they will make a nuisance of themselves if they don't get it.

So what's new?

I am aware that, like Mr. Dick in David Copperfield, I have my King Charles' head...and French farmers are it.
I am aware that not all are greedy polluters...but a great many are.
I am aware that upland farmers have difficulties not faced by their cereal growing brothers....let them do something about the appallingly unrepresentative nature of the French farming lobby.

In fact,let the whole pot and boiling of them be made to live in the conditions that face less protected sectors...where if your business is badly run, or faces adverse economic circumstances, it goes down.
It might concentrate their minds and keep them off the streets.
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  1. Well, Fly, I've the opposite situation. I can't get what I need because of an almost perverse pre-occupation with fraud. Our so-called safety net is a joke, too.

    I came across the term French Leave in a novel by Diane Johnson. Interesting...

    Thanks for your visit earlier.

  2. One wonders who exactly is in power in this country.
    People vote for a bunch of political types who are mere figureheads shackled to look after the interests of a small percentage of the population, and woe betide them if they step out of line or try to balance the books.
    If French farmers have no need to balance them, why should the government?

  3. More amazing revelations about this country that we live in. Thank you.

  4. I remember that French farmers always got an appalling press in England when I lived there, for demanding special consideration and imposing impport restrictions that flew in the face of EEC policy.

    Sounds like nothing's changed there.

    As you know, I have enormous sympathy for the farmers in my area, who do none of the things you mention, have none of the benefits, and who do have wearing lives. My neighbour, a 55 year old dairy farmer, has developed exactly the same back problem as I had. He can't afford to have the operation, because there is no-one to look after his small herd of cows for the 9 months or so of consequent disability (his wife is practically crippled after a cow kicked her in the knee four years and three failed operations ago). He's too young for early retirement. He struggles on, using crutches and a brace, and I am appalled at how little Spain looks after its farmers.

  5. Indeed - I thouught country air was rejuvenating and good for you!

    Perversely, here in the UK, I would actually welcome measures to help British farmers - the whole industry here has suffered greatly over the decades and many UK farms these days barely break even, let alone make a profit. Now that is wearing.

  6. e...but then you need something...and in modern advanced societies people who need don't get.
    Public money is chanelled through 'agencies'...supposedly to avoid fraud...which effectively use the money before it reaches the supposed recipients.
    It is a similar situation in France....a woman whose husband left her to look after their three small kids had her benefit removed because she couldn't get to the benefit office for a 'motivational' interview.....she lived miles away and only had a scooter for transport.

    Sarah, it does make you wonder.
    It has always made me wonder too, why, with all the 'security' measures, the drug trade hasn't been wiped out.

    Rosie, it's great fun sorting out who runs what...if you can switch off from the fact that you're paying for the whole shebang.

    Pueblo girl, yes, I do appreciate that the situation differs in Spain and I do know that there are sectors of farming in France in a parlous state, too...the ones without clout.
    Didier's generation were in the same boat as your poor neighbour...and the difference between their life style and that of the new breed is eye opening.

    Steve, it depends where you live.
    In areas of mass pig production, the slurry is spread over fields about twenty kilometres around and the smell of it, the transport and spreading therof can be throat catching.
    Laundry can't be dried outside...the residual smell in the airing cupboard doesn't bear imagining.

    If EU rules were applied in France as in the U.K. you would find a similar situation...but they're not.
    The government will always find money to haul them out of their problems...some of which are EU induced, but a lot of which are down to sheer incompetence.
    The neighbour breeds Charolais. To get a big calf he breeds to a bull a couple of scales larger than his cows. Nearly every birth involves a caesarean because the calves' head will not pass down the birth a vet call out and fees plus a cow not on top form for nursing the calf.
    This happens every year.

  7. You know how it is in France, the people who complain loudest get the attention and the money.

  8. Fly, it makes my blood boil that the small farmers here don't even get the aid (financial or practical) that would allow them to take essential sick leave, when other farmers in other EU countries are living the life of Riley on undeserved subsidies whilst polluting the land and water around them.

  9. Pueblo girl, it would make mine boil too. It is so unfair....but I suppose Spanish farmers didn't have the same chance to enrich themselves during the war...which gave them the clout they have in France.
    In both societies, I think it's the money, no get the shitty end of the stick.
    The pollution sickens and infuriates me. Brittany is now a place of polluted rivers and coasts thanks to their activities and a lot of the rest of France is not far behind.

  10. It's all very complicated, isn't it?!


  11. Pearl, takes a bit of unravelling, but if you've got a century to two to spare.....

  12. Fly, only yesterday I was at a local cattle market, surrounded by farmers, none of whom drive the top of the range 4x4s that my neighbouring farmers in France had, most of whom are worn out and worn down by the stress of trying to keep their heads above water, worrying about the winter after such a dry summer and poor harvests, most have already sold all their summer stock because they were having to put them on hard feed in the middle of the year. I wrote much and often about the polluting nature of the the French farmer when I lived in France but the irony is, your average expat thinks that the pesti/herbicide ridden produce they are eating is more healthy than in the UK. France is the biggest user of chemicals in farming after the US and an EU survey on chemical residues in both fresh and processed food put France firmly at the top of the table. I could go on for hours about farmers in France!

  13. P(V)LiF, Somebody should go on for hours about is a disgrace!
    But the 'living the dreamers' don't want to know about the wasps in their fruit.

    A guy who deals in hay locally has had his stock destroyed by'd think the local farmers would be worrying about where their supplies will be coming from, but no. They know that this way they won't be paying for it, it will be 'supplied' to them free.

  14. My last remark was probably unfair ...well, to a minority, anyway.

  15. Dear Fly,

    I've another amusing tale (though no farmers or drunken coach drivers)...

  16. e....a hearse drive through Mexico City in search of a loo takes some beating!
    I've left a comment on yours...but not sure if it got through.

  17. I wonder if the farmers around here are born knowing what do claim for and what they can get away with. It makes my head spin when I hear what they can claim and how many grants they receive. Oh, to know my way around the system like they do!

  18. Roz, I bet they work harder at laerning the grants game than they did at school...but it's like the social security system, the chancers do very well while deserving cases...the people it is meant to help - just don't know their way round the system.

  19. I am so sorry to arrive here so late. I've got in a right old muddle with my blogs - not helped by the fact that this useless roving broadband gizmo I'm plugged into keeps going down.

    It's lucky France has so much else going for it - the cuisine, fashion, perfumes, cinema - because when you delve into the under and not so under belly, it does not look good at all.

    Bloody farmers!


  20. French Fancy, yes, when you stop drifting on the surface of France and put your hand into the water, it's not eau de parfum you come up with but something much nastier.
    Sorry you're having so much of a problem with your it run by a French company?
    Naughty, naughty, slap own hand....

  21. I'm a bit jealous...I love France, I speak a little French, j'aime la cuisine francaise, c'est fantastique! I'd love to live there for some years too. I have a friend who lived a Paris pour tres ans...I visited her there and we went for a three day trip through France.
    Wonderful. And some of my ancestors are from France.

  22. Joe's blog, well, you don't see a hell of a lot on a three day trip...and I'm not being sarcastic, just raising the idea that the image of France is one thing and the reality something else.

    Lots of good things in France, but lots of iffy things too. Like anywhere.

    You might like grilled breast of might not like eating it on my terrace when Bernard has been busy spreading the slurry from his duck rearing sheds on the field down the road....without ploughing it in.

  23. Yes, I agree with you, like anywhere. I know about many problems and I'm interested in it, that's why I follow you, but I've seen many good things too and my friend definitely wants to go back there. I'd like to make this experience myself too, maybe to revise my too optimistic views.

  24. I hear you - and I used to get very depressed by all the orange spray around the field edges and road verges.

  25. Joe...sorry if I seem grouchy. I just get so fed up with the myths about France...and the sheer cheek of them having 'equality' in their motto...don't see much of that about.

    Lulu LaBonne, they have stopped spraying the road verges the last two years, thank goodness....but only because of the European Directive on water purity.
    And i haven't forgotten them burning a lorry...full of live lambs from the U.K....with total impunity.

  26. Fly,

    I can understand your concerns. Sometimes we have to speak out no matter what! :)

  27. Hadriana's Treasures, you might be surprised and pleased at how many French people living in rural areas are powerful, but not popular.

  28. I just remembered something - where I used to live in Highate, North London when they sprayed the verges with herbicide there would be notices everywhere - mainly for us dog walkers (in the days of Toto, my first bichon).

    Not so in our little Breton commune - I'd be dreamily walking the dogs around the streets and would see the weeds soaking, the weeds that only moments before the dogs would have been sniffing. Where is the public info for things like this? How much would it take for notices to be posted at the beginning of a street being worked on with these chemicals?

  29. French Fancy, would take no effort at all, given the amount of notices that go up....and the fuss and palaver there is to get permission if you need to do something involving the street in front of your house.
    The thing it would take is a bit of common sense and that is sorely lacking.