Category: France

A Dusty Old Machine

An Old Pepsi Machine

Each morning on my way to and from dropping Nathan at his childminder’s flat, I walk past a block of flats that has a diagonal façade above which is a square overhang. The space underneath is closed by a mesh shutter, and nothing has changed behind it since I’ve been walking past it these past few months. A layer of dust on everything tends to point to nothing having moved for longer still.

More conclusively, an old Pepsi machine stands there; it is no longer lit up to entice you to refresh yourself with a fizzy drink. The dust has even taken hold on the vertical face of the selection buttons. You can just see in the low resolution mobile phone photo I took this morning that the price for a can is 6F00. The euro became standard currency in France in 2002, which would suggest that the machine has been there for five years or more. The Franc is now resigned to be remembered as 1/6.55957 of a Euro, and Nathan won’t ever look at – or fondly remember – the colourful blue 50 Franc notes with Antoine de Saint Exupéry, or the big old 100 Franc notes with Paul Cézanne on them, except in books or in the hands of old banknote collectors.

Causing Trouble with a Broom

Nathan loves brushes and brooms, especially when he gets hold of them and starts walking around. Watch as he walks around and babbles away. He gives himself a bit of a surprise at the end of the video… you can’t be too careful with a long broomstick if you’re not watching what you’re doing.

This video was filmed at the end of January this year. He can get himself into even bigger trouble now!

French Election Day: Summing Up

Here’s a quote that aptly sums up the election campaign, mostly from an online standpoint. It probably reverberates enough to be applicable to most other election campaigns of recent years. From (yes or no, clever…).

Que les organisations de militants arrêtent de pourrir les commentaires de blogs, forums, sondages et quotidiens en ligne ; qu’ils arrêtent d’envahir Youtube avec leurs vidéos grotesques ; qu’ils épargnent les murs de leurs affichage sauvage ; que le matériel de campagne officiel soit plus orienté vers l’information que vers la publicité ; que notre argent ne servent plus à financer des meetings religieux ; que les candidats profitent de la campagne pour nous parler de leurs idées au lieu de monter des coups de communications et du lobbying médiatique en série. Qu’on arrête de nous prendre pour des jambons quoi…

Which, roughly translated, means

Could the Militant organisations please stop lowering the tone of blog, forum and [online] newspaper comments; stop invading YouTube with grotesque videos; spare the walls their bill posters. Could the official campaign propaganda be oriented towards information and not advertising; our money stop being used to finance religious meetings; the candidates use the campaign to speak of their ideas instead of communications strategy and serial media lobbying. Could they, like, stop taking us for pork / sheep…

Original French text from “Spécialiste de rien du tout” who also made an excellent analysis of the campaign posters (in French). You might also want to read a fellow Englishwoman in France’s view of the recent TV debate.

Choosing a President

Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy

The political excitement is mounting; for weeks now, the focus has been on the presidential race. A couple of Sundays ago, the first round saw a massive 84% turnout and the two main parties’ candidates came first and second. On the right, for the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy. On the left, for the PS, Ségolène Royal. So these two top placed candidates (gaining 31% and 26% of the vote respectively) now fight it out in a second round this Sunday.

Opinion polls consistently put Mr Sarkozy ahead by 1-4 points, but the number of declared undecided voters easily outweigh the margin of error in these rather unreliable gauges of public opinion. Last night a televised debate between the two candidates overran by at least half an hour, and showed Mrs. Royal to be rather more aggressive than usual, and Mr. Sarkozy rather more calm. The end result seems to have smoothed the rough edges around each candidate.

As an Englishman in France, I don’t have the right to vote, even though I do pay rather a lot of taxes :-(. You must have French nationality – which I can legitimately claim, being married to a French national – to vote in presidential elections. So I follow the elections full of contradictory emotions. On the one hand, the chosen president will probably have some impact on my professional life, particularly in the case of a win by the right. On the other, since I don’t have the right to vote, my opinion won’t count.

I could perhaps persuade others to vote in one way or the other on Sunday, but here is not the place to cite my political opinion. Even if freedom of speech protects political opinion more than anything else, I think I’ll stick in the undecided camp and leave the French nationals to choose for me.

UPDATE: Surfing around, I just found that Paddy Power are giving 4-1 for Ségolène Royal and 1-7 (or 7-1 on) for Nicolas Sarkozy. The right are clear favourites…

Happy Easter Monday

The great thing about Easter is that it always makes a long weekend, because it’s observed on specific days of the week. Sadly in France it’s only a three day weekend because Good Friday is not a public holiday here. Christmas is similarly unfortunate for an Englishman in France, with Boxing Day not a holiday, so the two major religious festivals of the year mean less statutory holiday and more paid leave allowance loss.

The Bank Holidays Act of 1871 established a number of holidays in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: most of these fall on fixed days (mostly Mondays) anyway, but for New Year’s Day and Christmas Day / Boxing Day. As explained on the DTI website:

Substitute days are customarily appointed for all UK bank and public holidays which fall on a Saturday or Sunday. For some bank holidays, these substitute days are laid down in legislation. In other cases, they are appointed by Royal Proclamation (or Proclamation by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland). The substitute day is normally the following Monday.

What a wonderful system, to have a Royal Proclamation (no less!) to make sure you don’t lose holiday because of weekends. Sadly, in terms of not losing holiday at least, France is a lay republic, so you just lose holiday if it falls on a weekend. Even their May holidays are fixed to dates and not days of the week; 1st May, 8th May and Ascension are all holidays that fall in May but some years you don’t get much holiday out of it (like last year). You can even not have any extra days off over Christmas!

So enjoy your Easter Monday and, on the one day that they’re guaranteed to have the same joy as you in having an long weekend off work, think of the poor French that have no “Royal Proclamation” to save those other wonderful bank holidays.

Technical note: sorry if you received an email about “hacked by devil”. My webhost (and my blogging platform) was hacked yesterday in a massive automated hack. Service is back to normal, and you have nothing to worry about.

Bringing up Bilingual

Nathan in a plastic box

I speak English to Nathan as much as possible, while his Mummy speaks French. Obviously, outside the house he’ll hear mostly French except for visits to anglophone friends. He’s now nearly 16 months old, and babbling away in a language which is comprehsible only to him. The more I think about it, the harder it gets to know what the best way might be to help him be bilingual.

French shouldn’t be an issue, living here. I’d love for him to hear more English though, as I don’t see enough of him to have him hear English a lot. I avoid the television, but when it’s on it’s generally in French – we only have Sky News as an English option anyway. There are a couple of children’s cartoons on old VHS tapes though, and a few baby books in English. Reading and writing (a long way off perhaps, but time does fly) will probably be best done in French in the first instance, so as not to confuse him with the English alphabet (which sounds different, though the letters are the same).

I haven’t taken the plunge and read any books on bilinguism yet, for fear of finding out just how wrong I am about things. Should I worry? Perhaps not, but it’s harder than you’d think to stick to your native tongue when your work day is mostly in French, at least when speaking. Writing email and reading English online all day is one thing, but coming home and forcing yourself to speak English when others around you don’t understand it can feel awfully rude. I lose touch with my fluency in English when speaking too… which can be very frustrating. It’s like when you’re lost for a word, and you can’t change the subject until you’ve found it. But it’s worse when you know you can express the same concept in a language which isn’t even your own!

I’ve heard stories of children rejecting the language that isn’t spoken everywhere around them, and of children who happily pick up three or more languages. In any case the effort will be worth it… the alternative would be terribly sad. One day Nathan could turn around to me and say “je ne veux pas parler anglais, papa”…

Happy May Day

Today is “International Workers Day” a.k.a. Labor day in the U.S., May Day in England, and here in France we celebrate the same thing, la fête du travail. Along with a number of pagan festivals which have always celebrated May, it’s specifically a commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Ill. when the 8 hour working day was fought for.

It’s a day where the unions traditionally march in protest of the latest government policies. In England it’s the anti-capitalist movement, in France they’re out against the CNE, the special contract for young employees in their first jobs. This is considered the “brother” of the CPE which caused an outpouring of violence, protest and general unrest earlier in the year.

On that urban issue, I noticed an article about the recent unrest in France written by an old lecturer and friend of mine at Warwick University, Jim Shields. He suggests :

Ethnic minorities remain almost entirely unrepresented on French television, as in the higher echelons of business, the civil service and the professions; and there is not a black face among the 555 deputies representing mainland France in the National Assembly. In no other European country are immigrants more brutally segregated, and in none other is the political elite more loftily exclusive. At the same time, no European country has been so resolute in refusing the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ of multiculturalism and banishing expressions of religious difference from its schools and public sector.

So France embark on more protests against policies aimed (ostensibly) to improve youth unemployment issues. Sadly the urban issues pull much harder at my conscience on this day which we celebrate the start of summer* – and the day that is 6 months from All Saint’s Day, the start of winter*.

*There are several times of year that you can celebrate either of these events…

Calculating a Happy Easter

Easter only just started for me, since Good Friday is not a public holiday in France. I only get a three day weekend :-(.

Easter always falls on the Sunday following the 14th day of the lunar month on or after the 21st of March (got that?). It’s not a particularly early Easter this year since it can fall as early as the 22nd of March – although it won’t actually fall on that date until 2285. Think it’s simple to calculate the date Easter will fall? Think again. A lot of mathematics needed to determine lunar months under Julian and Gregorian calendars…

[aside] Don’t get too stuffed eating chocolate, read about guaranteed zero calorie easter eggs on DVDs.