Saturday, 28 April 2012

May 2012 in France: a country in microcosm

I've written before about how the month of May in this fair patch of earth is more orientated towards work avoidance than anything else, and this particular edition could well take the proverbial biscuit, still made in France by Lu, probably.

May hosts a slew of public holidays: the 1st, the Fête du Tavail when no-one works (go figure; this is how they define labour), the 8th, Armistice Day, 1945 (Fête de la Victoire, like they had any hand in THAT, right?), where Fritz gets his nose rubbed in it yet again, despite now being Jacques' best friend, sort of a thing; the 17th, Ascension Day and the 28th, Pentecost. Church and State are seperate in France, remember. Do keep up. All these days off are just to get the French in training for the big summer holidays, where three or four weeks away from the desk are usual, so May is their dress rehearsal, their dummy run for greater things to come. May plays out differently every year, depending on when the public holidays fall. Invariably there's at least one 'pont', a bridge where a work day is just basically forgotten as it had the misfortune to lie between a public holiday and a weekend. 'Doing the bridge' is actively encouraged and is as legitimate a lifestyle statement as a lifetime spent on benefits is a respectable career choice in this most divinely self-deluded of nations.

The Fingernails' school recently informed us that Monday, April 30th and Friday, May 18th would be tuition-free; the days being made up on the Wednesday afternoons of those respective weeks; Wednesday being a day where there's normally no school after 11.30am. No doubt they would say that this is to counteract parent-driven mass absenteeism due to the public holidays neighbouring these and the resulting departures for four-day long weekends. Whatever the reasoning, I find it absolutely mind-blowing. In Germany, the parents would be fined if their children did not attend school on those days. Here in France, they just say 'What the hell; have a four-day weekend, even if you do lose a few hours tuition in the process' (The lost half-day is not made up). Who can be surprised when French children grow up with, shall we say, a rather 'relaxed' attitude towards the importance of work when, from a very early age, the state tells them it's not really that big a deal? This year, it just so happens to be a motherfucker of a deal, as the country will probably wake up on May 7th with a new 'socialist' president who seems to have a rather individual approach to budget deficits and public spending, one which is sending shivers down the spines of many other centre-right European leaders. François Hollande, or 'Flanby' - a brand of industrial crème caramel - as one of his party colleagues christened him, alluding to his spinelessness and general lack of substance, is completely untried in the hothouse of ruling politics, having only ever led his party (in opposition) and been a functionary since graduating from ENA, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, the elite civil-service training school in Paris. Not even having held a ministerial post under Mitterand (when everyone else - probably even Chairman Mao - did), he has no experience of actually being part of a body that runs a country. Seeing as his alleged policies contradict those of Frau Merkel on virtually every front, we're in for quite a ride. I say 'alleged' policies because no-one, neither here in France or anywhere in the political world, has been privy to his thoughts. He has run an entire campaign on the 'Vote for me; I'm not Sarkozy' ticket, and it appears to have been sufficient to smooth his way to the Elysée Palace. Oh world. If only Sarko were not so disliked; a great percentage of the rancour aimed towards him is due to what people consider his dirtying of the presidential position: too bling-bling, a lack of gravitas, too parvenu, in short. For a country that got rid of their monarchy over 200 years ago they're still much more traditional, up-tight and stuffy than we are. Maybe because they got rid of their monarchy…They love to overlook the good impression that Sarko has made abroad, but Chirac suffered the same fate back in 2007. That wasn't surprising, though; that man did NOTHING at home at all. I tend to think it was because of his inertia that the French voted in 2000 to reduce the presidential term of office from seven years to five.

Hollande's ex-common law wife and mother of his four children, Ségolène Royal, failed spectacularly against Sarkozy in 2007. The current party leader, Martine Aubry, daughter of one-time European Commisioner Jacques Delors, is also mayor of Lille, where she's installed a rather unique way of using the city's swimming pools. You can see these two babes with their guru below. The Cock au Vin in the pot belongs to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex-IMF President and serial womaniser (to put it, er, politely), whose political career was severed at the root in the Sofitel Hotel, Times Square a year ago. Goodness only knows how it didn't catch up with him before. Well we know, actually: those highly placed in French public life just love to protect their own…

So, this merry month of May, we'll see if France really can impose a new economic model on Europe or whether their election will be just another round of delusional navel-gazing, all the while blaming everyone else for their woes. It wouldn't be the first time, so don't bother holding your breath; that smacks of too much work.

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