Current events in France (#10) To better understand a country, it is useful to read its press and watch its TV. You can see what are the main issues for the people, what are the current controversies (the French are very good at that...). In this section, I try to describe with more detail, the main topics for the French.
 WARNING ! The comments below do NOT reflect MY own opinion but are a tentative synthesis of what comes out from the French press and TV in a given month ! I do express my own opinions on page Editorial !
Webmaster Philippe Rochefort and wife Harriet, with a friend, discussing current world affairs in a French bistrot.
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The Yellow Vests upheaval (2018-2019)

In November 2018, the government of president Macron made two decisions which enraged millions of people all over the country. A new increase of the already very high taxes on gas (80% of the price of gasoline is tax) and a general diminution of speed limits on rural roads (from 56 miles/hours to 50). The first was aimed at reducing car accidents, the second at reducing car traffic to protect the environment. Those two decisions were stupid because in rural areas, the average income is low and nobody can live without a car and most have to drive to the place where they work. Several hundred of thousands of opponents blocked the roads all over the country, wearing the yellow vest which is mandatory in all cars for safety reasons. In spite of the inconvenience, this movement was popular and supported by more than 80% of the population. The “Yellow Vests” were the poorest of the working class, living in the poorest regions of France, far from the more prosperous metropolitan areas. Sociologically, they are very comparable to the American voters who supported president Trump. Without leaders and without a programme, the movement was

spontaneously organised, deciding to hold a major demonstration every week in Paris and in the largest cities in France. Gradually, the demonstrations became more violent, especially in the most visible places for the media, like the Champs Elysées avenue.Public support remained strong (between 60 and 80%) as the Yellow Vests made their demands known: to be able to give their opinion to a political class that they consider very far away, to restore more social justice and less inequality, to
Yellow Vests in Paris, Rue Cler, Jan.5, 2019 - (credit)

improve life outside the big cities. Taken aback, the government proposed after a few weeks the organization of a major national debate, where everyone could present their problems and propose solutions. For two months the government organized a giant debate: more than 10,300 meetings, with almost two million participants and more than 200,000 proposals! But, at the end of the debate (March 15, 2019), it was clear that the Yellow Vests had refused to participate in the debate and any official meeting with the government, had excluded any of their members who had appeared somehow like a leader or a spokesperson and refused to constitute a list for the next European elections (in May 2019).
It was a spontaneous, unorganized movement, offering no interlocutor to the public authorities, which refused all legal obligations (for example, in France, all street demonstrations are allowed, provided that they have been previously declared to the police, who take the necessary steps to ensure that they can take place peacefully).
The demonstrations, which have taken place every Saturday since early November 2018, have therefore become increasingly violent and public support has decreased to 40%  but the movement did not stop.
Today it is impossible to predict how the current situation will end, but most likely, this movement will jeopardize any form of civilized political life. More about the "Grand Debat". (May 2019)

Read about French revolutions.


Brexit : the genius of British diplomacy

Nobody understands the British government’s policy regarding the Brexit : I do and I’ll tell you what is the British strategy in its negotiations with the EU. But before, let me tell you a little fable which may give you some clues.

It is the story of a friend of mine who became the member of a very exclusive golf club.
Shortly after he became a member, he received a bill of 1,000 € : his share of the management of the club. He went straight to management department and said : “This bill is too high : I want my money back. I’ll pay 70% of it, not a cent more than that. If you do not accept my offer, I’ll leave and set fire in the clubhouse”. The management accepted, and the other members saw their bill slightly increased.
It happened that the club owned a few shops which were common property and could be leased but since it was risky to share the risk if the tenant did not pay his rent because customers did not come in his shop and went bankrupt, it was in the by-laws that any co-owner could decide to take the risk or not for each shop. My friend had a very brilliant idea : for each shop to be rented, he would say “No, it is too risky, I am not in that deal” and he would let the other co-owners refurbish the shop, find the tenant, give him facilities if he could not  pay the rent. If the tenant went bankrupt, my friend would be very sorry and pat the other members on the shoulder to console them for their loss. If the tenant did not get bankrupt, my friend would be furious and would rush into the management office and scream : “Why have I been left outside this excellent deal ; I thought we were among good people and you always talk about our solidarity : give me a proof of your goodwill and let me into that deal : I won’t ask you to pay anything to enjoy the privilege of having me in”. And so he did.
But my friend had a beautiful mistress, who loved caviar and big cars, and his wife did not understand where their money went : they were always broke. So he had another brilliant idea. Every time his wife looked at their bank account, he would sighed : “This club is costing us a fortune : the management is a bunch of gangsters, always ready to bill something to the members.”  His wife was pragmatic and finally she said : “Let’s resign and leave them alone.”
The by-laws said that if a member resigns, he must pay is dues for the current year, pay his share of the investment which have been decided with his vote, sign an agreement about various issues and leave the club before the end of the year.
Guess what my friend did !
After he had asked for and obtained several extensions of this deadline, he proclaimed that he would never pay a cent to a bunch of gangsters who shamefully had kicked him out of his favourite golf club and, in addition to this outrage, dare ask him to pay money for his resignation. He threatened to take several of the members to court for various reasons.
At that time the management team resigned and ran away to work with more sane clients. The other members were exhausted by months of negotiation with someone who did not want to negotiate fairly and that the best to do was to cuss him and let him go.
This is the strategy of the British government with the EU. Finally, they did not pay their due like the other members and got a special discount with no reason, they did not participate into several common investment and insisted on joining later into those which were successful and they were constantly slowing down the policy they did like (a more  powerful union) and accelerating the policy which would weaken it (enlarging it unreasonably). A very bad member of the club.

I do not now if it is the talent of the current British political class or if it a specific genius of the British people but to try to answer this question, I suggest a test that everybody can perform. You buy a British product, for example a Dyson vacuum cleaner or a Roll-Royce Silver Shadow, and when you receive the bill : 1/ you do not pay, 2/ after the supplier wrote a very polite letter about it : you say that you would like to pay in three months and he accepts it, 3/ after three more months, you tell the supplier  “I offer you three more months delay” (note : it is very important to say “I offer…” and no “Please give me…”) and 4/ you keep doing that until the supplier gives you for free the Dyson or the RR.

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books:

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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