jeudi, mars 30, 2006

Anti-capitalism, à la francaise

mardi, mars 28, 2006

Exceptional, or exceptionally stupid?

Sometimes it's overwhelming trying to understand the way this country works. I am determined to resist the rather irritating Anglo-Saxon tendency to judge, to remember that I don't understand and simply to observe. It's not that I don't understand the economics, which are fairly clearcut - there aren't many jobs, not much economic growth, employing someone costs money, so employers minimise the risk by taking people on 3 month contracts, if at all. Surely a CPE - which has far fewer risks for the employer, but means the possibility of employment for two long years instead of 3 short months on a CDD - is the answer? Yes, to those of us who have forgotten what it was like to live pre-Thatcher or Reagan, of course, it's obvious. Any job, even one which isn't protected, is better than no job, surely?

The truth is though it isn't obvious to millions of French people. It's too easy to assume that millions of French people are just wrong, and stupid to boot. That's the bit that isn't easy to understand - to take on board that a country can fail to share our world-view. It isn't true to say that the French are anti-capitalist, and it's way too simple to think that all French people assume that the state owes them a living, as is often claimed, but one thing that is true is that they like their way of life. They don't look at America and think that that is the direction that they wish collectively to be heading in. They like long lunch hours and regular holidays in their maisons de famille. It is still absolutely standard in Paris to call say an international law firm between 1 and 2 pm and get a recorded message - the secretary has to have her lunch break, after all. It's easy to laugh at this - what if someone really important calls between 1 and 2pm? - but actually, if you take a minute to get over the chuckling, it's possible to allow for the idea that that's not such a bad thing after all. After all the partners won't be there between 1 and 2pm. What kind of world are we living in today where we don't blink at the idea that the lowly employees should be always at their post, whilst the whizzy high earners are downing cuvée speciale at Pierre Gagnaire all afternoon?

I think at the root of all this protest is the implicit understanding that boldly steamrollering in a new and brash law entitling the employer to fire his young employees is just the beginning. Once this law is passed it's only a matter of time before that secretary won't be able take her lunch break at lunchtime, but will be eating a sandwich at her keyboard or going out if she's lucky between 3 and 4pm . Eventually it will mean no more 6 weeks annual holiday to enjoy their maisons de famille, no more 35 hour week so that both parents are home to see the children before they go to bed every night.

No more French Exception, in other words.

People here know very well that by embracing a true free market economy in the end France will end up just like everywhere else, except probably not as successful. The beautiful French language will never compete with English as a means of global communication. More importantly France has no ally to hook up with to enable the country to compete with the economic and political alliance that Britain and the US have de facto ended up forming. Second best is about all they can hope for. And with the onward march of the Asian economies second best in truth looks most unlikely.

I think most people know that it's inevitable that France's labour laws will be massively reformed before the end of the decade. But who can blame them for putting up a fight? I feel obscurely proud of them for caring. It's a long time since an overwhelming majority in the UK cared this much about anything but the money in their pocket.

mardi, février 28, 2006

Age of Barbarians?

The grim, abject and appalling murder of Ilan Halimi has stopped me sleeping the last few days. It has, quite apart from the terrible few details that we know of his imprisonment and torture, forced a lot of people to ask some challenging questions about contemporary France. One friend, a journalist based in Prague, called me up on Monday morning to check some facts, and I told him that although it was clear that the crime was antisemitic, that doesn't mean that you can extrapolate anything from that. I said to him then that the murder of Stephen Lawrence didn't tell you anything that you didn't know - in other words that there is racism in Britain, both in wide society and specifically in the police force. And this crime tells us that there is antisemitism amongst the Muslim population in the banlieues, and probably - for no-one loves the police here - institutionalised in the policeforce too.

The same day another friend, a Frenchwoman, told me that she would have marched on Sunday in solidarity with the family but that once it was 'highjacked' by Jewish and antiracist organisations she felt uncomfortable with it. For her this murder was also just a simple act of barbarism, and shouldn't be used to try to explain anything regarding any possible antisemitism deep within the culture that we live in.

Today I feel rather stupid for not having challenged her. Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured and killed because he was Jewish. The 'gang de barbares' believed that because he was Jewish his family would put up the ransom. The police did not act for several days because they didn't want to inflame the muslim community - days that, had they acted earlier, might have saved his life. An anonymous police officer has suggested that the idea that Jewish community has money is not in the slightest antisemitic, implying that it is moreover a perfectly reasonable notion to hold.

In Britain the Guardian, Independent and Observer resisted noting in their reports on the murder that Halimi was Jewish.

And people are uncomfortable with calling this antisemitism?

Halimi lived and worked in the heart of Paris. Don't tell me we have nothing to fear.

vendredi, février 17, 2006

February really is the cruellest month, tax returns notwithstanding. I find hanging out with children when the temperatures are subzero and there's nothing to do but scowl at miserable Parisiens makes me more depressed than usual. (No, not that bad, but no, not that great either, before you feel tempted to argue.) Not saying that living in London would be better, but people are occasionally known to smile there, and that does make all the difference. A woman in the supermarket the other day, all Alice band and taupe cashmere, sixty if the proverbial day, cornered me and demanded to know how I could BEAR to live in France, she was so ASHAMED to be French, England is so much BETTER than France which is such a total SHITHOLE. Funnily enough I was moved to disagree with her, just to be polite (you can take the girl out of England, but you can't etc etc).

We did have a great time skiing though. My technique is modestly improved, and I really enjoyed it after a 12 year break (in other words I can do parallel turns, but only on modest slopes, the minute I'm on a red my technique goes bust), but the best thing was the children, who just LOVED it so much, it was a real joy to see (imagining my children being those really annoying children who ski better than the adults, which in Ido's case is already true, is just indescribably smug making). Also skiing holidays are really nice for parents because you get to spend just a bit of quality time with the kids and the rest of the time you can ski or read. I skied in the morning and read in the afternoon, what a fantastic break (I can't actually believe that noone has ever let me in on this secret before). Also, everyone was very nice. But, and this is the big news, I am now officially no longer speaking to my mother in law - who amongst other things in the course of a terrible week in each other's enforced company told me that only rich people go to Oxford, and that my parents had bought me my place! Sucker, get over the fact that your education stinks and you have got just one institute of higher education in the top 50 universities in the world (Paris VI, comes in at number 46) according to the research by the University of Shanghai commissioned last year by the European Commission!! And Oxford University, by the way, is number 10!!! (Do I sound peeved by any chance? She's not entirely wrong of course, from a Marxist point of view, one with which I have more than a little sympathy, but I don't think that was what she was getting at and I wasn't about to let her get away with it). My mother in law feels like a mini-Hexagon, she incarnates all that is French bigotry and inwardlookingness and general loserness. So being sanctioned (by my husband) to no longer have to have anything to do with her feels like I have entered heaven (through the eye of a needle, so there).

jeudi, novembre 17, 2005

You could not make this up

The last three weeks have been a most interesting time in France, to say the least. As the riots appear to be running out of steam (police today claim that the number of burned cars last night was back to 'normal' ie only 100, as opposed to 1400 in one night at the height of the riots), now it's the turn of the politicians to try and clear up the mess, and exercise some much needed damage limitation. Noone can be surprised to see both individuals and parties exploiting the disturbances for their own political advantage - what politician could resist. But today's Financial Times online has a terrific story for those interested in trying to understand the more subtle details of social unrest, racism and unemployment in contemporary France.

I like the bit in the third paragraph that describes Employment Minister Gerard Larcher's extraordinarily offbeat analysis of the reasons for mass unemployment in the banlieues as part of the government's 'efforts to improve its image with the foreign media.' Hmm, I'm not sure that making the wild claim that both high unemployment statistics in the suburbs (some figures are as high as 40%) and the current wave of protest and disaffection can be blamed on polygamy of all things is going to have quite the effect he's after.

(I'm sure if Bush had only thought of it he would have been only too happy to blame the disaster of Hurricane Katrina on those polygamous fellows from foreign climes. Jolly clever wheeze, actually.)

Looks to me like this chap's PR adviser is in the enemy camp. And that by mistake he ate his brains for breakfast instead of his normal porridge.

I feel strangely like Alice after she stepped through the looking glass into an upside down world of perversely hilarious wonders.

jeudi, septembre 01, 2005

are friends electric?

I wish I could remember where and when I first found out about licking nine volt batteries. So incredulous was I to discover that this was the kind of thing that teenage boys do, that I made it my business to ask every man I have since had a meal with (I don't ask the boys yet for fear of putting very silly ideas into their heads) if they have ever done it. Every single man I have asked so far has responded in the positive.

Except, I admit, my father, who redefines straight as meaning 'inconceivable if it goes against the tenets of the Torah, unless there is a football match on at the same time'.

lundi, août 22, 2005

After some consideration and much testing, we've decided we prefer Italian icecream to Berthillon.We'll probably be deported.

Martha thinks there may be some special kind of benefit you are entitled to if you humiliate enough British citizens in a week. Like one free horsemeat steak tartare for every pint of English tears you collect.

Although now I come to think of it it may be less nationally chauvinistic than it first appears. I watched a comedy last night on telly and one of the characters was reduced to tears whilst calling for a cab after midnight. 'Madame, essayez d'etre aimable, je vous implore'. So a) maybe it's not just me (a genuine and understandable, if paranoid, fear that I currently am gripped by) and b) maybe it's not just British people. French people are horrible to everyone. Great.

We went to see Hitchhiker's Guide on Saturday - really good fun, though pretty much for kids. For kids with attendant parents who want to be amused, but not, I think, for adults alone. We saw it at this fantastic cinema over in the 19th - way over east - on the Canal St Martin, lovely and arty and holidayish on a breezy August evening. And outside the cinema as we came out we saw the last dregs of a brocante - sort of carboot sale really, though more romantic (it is called a brocante after all not a carboot sale) - and a rather nice leather club chair on the pavement which hadn't been sold. They wanted 150 euros for it, Cyril thought it was horrible/overpriced/too big/not what we need/uncomfortable; he tried each of these reasons in turn until he caved into the combined pressure of his wife who has really really wanted a chair just like that for about 7 years and his children who for some reason that currently isn't entirely obvious decided that if we didn't buy this very chair they would be robbed of their inheritance and overall right to a happy and successful (both emotional and professional) future as well-balanced and fulfilled individuals. I managed to simultaneously bargain the sellers down to 120 euros and persuade my husband to buy it in a fine display of the ability to hold two mutually exclusive conversations simultaneously (a skill developed thanks to my children's rank refusal to show any respect for my right to have conversations with anyone else in the vicinity or on the telephone if they have something they want to say to me). Now it graces our study, the perfect size, really comfy, just one tiny hole. Nothing like a bargain leather club chair to improve your spirits, I find. Particularly as you get to the end of 10 weeks of school holidays. 10 weeks! It's a wonder we aren't all languishing at the bottom of the Seine. These grandes vacances really are too longues.