Showing posts with label French society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French society. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How French are you?

Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin in the role of
Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, aka OSS 117,
a very French but less-than-brilliant spy
at the time of Président René Coty.

Click here to access a funny quiz… which was obviously made in the USA, where they cherish stereotypes, and seem to be totally incapable of moving on beyond their favorite simplistic visions of non-American people who happen to be “sharing” the planet Earth with them.

I was almost surprised to find that I ticked quite a few boxes… but I won’t tell you which ones, and how many.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Corny French train movie

I'm not sure what this dual movie—apparently produced by the SNCF (national French railway system)—is supposed to prove… because I didn't have the courage to watch it through to the end.

You can click to make the movie fill up your entire screen, so that you won't miss out on any of the fine graphic details. And you can also click to highlight one side of the dual screen rather than the other. Besides, if you click the ABOUT button, you reach a page that invites you to download, for free, the original music of the movie.

Please let us know if you think this movie should be nominated for some kind of cinematographic award…

Monday, May 10, 2010

Awards to ingenious inventors

Everybody in France has heard of the Concours Lépine, which has become part of popular (people-oriented) French culture. Started in 1901, it's an annual competition aimed at promoting ingenious inventors. Louis Lépine was a lawyer with extensive experience in regional administration. Appointed police prefect of the Seine in 1893, he created several fundamental entities that still exist today. For example, he organized the first service for handling lost-and-found objects. He inaugurated a unit of river police in boats on the Seine, and a unit of police on bicycles. He imagined the excellent idea of equipping Paris policemen with a white baton and a silver whistle. He installed hundreds of emergency phones enabling the public to contact firemen and policemen. He invented one-way streets, just as he was the founder of a forensic police service and even a police museum in Paris (where I was able to carry out interesting research into a notorious English personage named Clotworthy Skeffington, held in debtors' prisons in Paris until his escape on the eve of the storming of the Bastille in 1789). As for the idea of starting a competition for inventions, Lépine was motivated by the necessity of doing something to revigorate the lethargic state of the manufacture of toys and small hardware items by Paris craftsmen.

This year's award acclaims a device named Top-Braille whose purpose is so praiseworthy that it's strange it wasn't invented ages ago. It's possible that the idea has always been in people's minds but, to make it a reality, inventors needed to wait until the necessary technology was available. The device simply scans written text and translates it either into Braille dots or an audio version.

Great inventions that were initially award-winners at the Concours Lépine include the ballpoint pen, the two-stroke motor, the steam iron and contact lenses.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Detectors

French drivers have grown accustomed to the ubiquitous presence of automatic radar devices that catch speeders.

Road-users have reacted by perfecting ways and means of not getting caught by such machines. The most obvious method consists of simply slowing down at the approach of the device... and then speeding up again as soon as it's behind you. When I say "behind you", I should add that some devices, placed on the far side of the road, are designed to flash speeders from behind... which makes it possible to catch motor-cyclists (whose unique number-plate is located at the rear). The latest evolution imagined by the authorities consists of a pair of devices capable of calculating the average speed of a driver over a distance of several dozen kilometers. Meanwhile, some road-users in France are installing illegal hi-tech instruments that start beeping as soon as the presence of a nearby radar device is detected.

This cat-and-mouse process reminds me of a situation in nature that is presented in detail by Richard Dawkins on pages 382-390 of The Greatest Show on Earth. He speaks metaphorically of "arms races" between species that have an unfriendly attitude to one another, such as predators and prey, or parasites and hosts. Each evolutionary improvement to one creature provokes a counteractive improvement on the opposite side. The combined developments produce a spiraling effect as in the context of man-made weapons and defense systems.

We've just heard about a new French law that will make it obligatory to install a smoke detector in every home. This is weird, because I believe that people still have the right to smoke in private homes. With smoke detectors installed, young people in the following situation—a much-maligned poster imagined recently by the association Droits des non fumeurs (rights of non-smokers)—would bring about the arrival of the fire brigade.

Indeed, the world is becoming such a complex place, for ordinary folk like you and me, that we'll soon be needing clear labels à la Magritte in order to distinguish between old-fashioned good and evil.

Here at Gamone, if there were a smoke detector in my living-room, it would be ringing alarm bells and flashing its red lights every winter evening when I light up a log fire. And this would upset, not only me (in front of my beloved TV), but Sophia too... who would be instantly convinced that the terrifying dinosaurs and mammoths of Choranche are attacking us once again.

The device I would dearly love to purchase, if ever I could find one, is a bullshit detector. I would install it on my desk, just alongside the Macintosh, so that it could be beamed down permanently upon everything that comes up on the screen. Naturally, I would probably get a little upset whenever the device started to beep at some of my own stuff, but you can't have it both ways.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Retired presidents prefer blondes

I don't usually include French-language videos in my blog, but this one is a must, and you don't need to understand French to appreciate what's happening. Jacques Chirac is attending a dull meeting at which his wife Bernadette is to make a speech. Just as Madame Chirac is about to start speaking, Jacques suddenly notices that a young blonde lady has nowhere to sit, so he immediately insists that she be seated next to him.



In turning around at a certain moment, Bernadette was able to pick up the goings-on of her galant husband as if he were the proverbial raw prawn on an Aussie fruit tree. (Apologies to Kevin for borrowing this convenient Antipodean style.] We see the amused reactions of two spectators of the Chirac video: the politician Jean-Louis Borloo and the yachtsman Olivier de Kersauson. The commentator draws attention to the exact moment at which Jacques, whispering in the ear of his young neighbor, is caught out by a stern-faced Bernadette, turning around to see what's going on behind her back. The commentator cries out the slang term gaulé, which is the French verb for fruit picking.

French people love this kind of stuff, which is like a scene from the popular théâtre des boulevards. In the regular popularity polls, I predict that Jacques is going to jump at least five points as a consequence of this delightful video.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

History, heritage and tourism

Last week, Natacha phoned to suggest that I might watch a TV evening on Corsica. Although she has always lived in her native Provence, Natacha is linked to this unique island through her maternal ancestors, and she has often looked for superlatives to tell me about the magnificent landscape and the spirit of Corsica.

"All they're ever asking of visitors, " explained Natacha, "is to respect scrupulously the Corsican people and their culture."

That sounded fair enough to me. In any case, although I've never set foot in Corsica, and have no current plans to go there as a tourist, I decided to drop in on the TV evening about the place that is often designated as "the island of beauty". Well, I ended up watching in amazement a splendid documentary (I said already, in my previous post, that French TV can be incredibly good) that obliged me to reflect upon the bundle of themes summed up in my title: history, heritage and tourism. And the outcome of my reflections was both novel (for me, that is) and positive.

To my mind, these three concepts are different but closely linked:

— In general, history should interest and concern anybody who agrees with the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana in The Life of Reason: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I realize, of course, that many people are totally uninterested in history. They would never go out of their way to visit a place solely because of its links with the past, nor would they lift a little finger to contribute to the conservation of historical edifices, artifacts and archives. They do not seek to understand, let alone appreciate, the past. In fact, they want to have nothing to do with it.

— What we refer to as heritage might be thought of as the particular subset of history that has unfolded, as it were, in your back yard. Not necessarily your geographical backyard (so-called local history), nor even your biological backyard (genealogy), but at least a backyard that you've personally "adopted", in the spirit of a foster parent who has decided to take care of, and bring up, a child.

— Finally, as far as tourism is concerned, most often it lies outside the domains of history and heritage. People don't visit Disneyland or Las Vegas, nor even the French Riviera, for reasons linked to history or heritage. But countless serious tourists (I prefer to refer to them by means of a lovely old-fashioned term: pilgrims) visit various precious spots on the planet in a quest for vestiges of past events, past constructions, past societies, past individuals...

The TV documentary that Natacha advised me to watch was entitled Gardiens des trésors de Corse (Guardians of the treasures of Corsica), and it concerned the guardianship of three different kinds of Corsican treasures: exotic specimens in the marine sanctuary of the Lavezzi Isles, ecclesiastic architecture and, last but not least, Corsican haute cuisine.

In the first domain, the guardian is, to a large extent, a maritime policeman, constantly on the lookout for tourists whose incursions into the protected site might harm the precious fauna and flora. In the third domain, cooking, I was struck above all by a variety of Corsican beef cattle with striped tiger-hued hides, which devour the foliage of wild olive trees. Apparently, the meat is pure nectar, but the proud grazier refuses to sell his beasts to mainland butchers unless they drop in personally at his property. Then there's a variety of fat little black pigs, who run around freely on the slopes. Transformed into smoked hams, their creamy fat is said to be even more succulent than the red meat. As I write, my mouth waters...

The part of the documentary that most impressed me concerned the restoration of ancient churches in the Castagniccia (chestnut) region, south-west of Bastia. This work is supervised and financed to a large extent by the republican authorities in charge of old buildings. But the profound sense of the word "heritage" is made manifest by the involvement of the local people, whose attitudes towards the restoration projects are expressed superbly in the documentary.

Many of these rural Corsicans are religious in an old-fashioned Mediterranean fashion, which involves the adoration of statues, the kissing of painted icons, and colorful processions through village streets. Needless to say, this kind of fervor leaves me cold personally, because I wasn't brought up in that kind of atmosphere and, even if I had been, I would have surely abandoned such practices as soon as I grew up. But the marvelous aspect of this relationship between the Corsican folk, their religious traditions and their ecclesiastic heritage is the fact that, in their minds, all this is strictly "for real". They're not putting on a show for tourists. They probably don't give a damn about outsiders, leaving that for hotel-keepers and restaurant-owners. And we hear constantly about the ways in which the local folk often react to new settlers from the mainland. To my mind, that's the right of these native Corsicans: their birthright. To a lesser extent, I've encountered the same kind of reactions since settling down here at Choranche.

Corsicans look upon the history and the heritage of their island and their culture as if they were taking care of a dearly-loved child, protecting him from harm and teaching him to grow up in the best imaginable circumstances. Admittedly, it's easier to appreciate history and heritage when your native cocoon happens to be a green island in the Mediterranean, rather than a sad wasteland. The TV documentary made it clear that there is much natural beauty in Corsica, but countless generations of Corsicans have no doubt enhanced that beauty through their works. Today, they are justly proud of their past. They have nothing to prove to anybody, no excuses to make, no lessons to receive. In a nutshell, they're authentic.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Memorable French quotes of 2008

The excellent French weekly L'Express has assembled a list of the best French quotes of 2008 [display]. Not all of them can be translated meaningfully into English, while other quotes were pronounced by individuals who remain unknown in the world outside France. Now, since France has been my marvelous homeland for the last 45 years, I dare to imagine myself capable of evaluating the pertinence of these quotes. [I hope I donned enough safety gloves in that last sentence.] Here are my seven selections and French/English translations:







That sums up, more or less, this annus horribilis of 2008. Non-Latinists might consider that we're talking of an arsehole year.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Fifty million Frenchmen... and me

Young readers of my blog won't recognize the allusion to an archaic Cole Porter musical comedy whose hit song declared—for reasons that are neither here nor there—that "fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong". Why not? From now on, with an additional Frenchman in tow (as of this morning at ten o'clock), the situation might change... for the better or for the worse.

By nine o'clock, we were some fifty or sixty future citizens gathered in front of the préfecture in Grenoble, waiting for the great oak doors to open. I had time to analyze visually my companions, who appeared to be largely from Eastern Europe and the Maghreb. There was a single African and a single Asiatic. Not only did I appear to be the only native English-speaking individual, but the fellow at the reception desk said that it was rare to see an Australian at such a ceremony. I told him—as I've informed others on dozens of occasions, whenever the question of dual Franco-Australian citizenship arises—that I would have been naturalized ages ago were it not for a stupid long-standing Aussie stipulation, only recently amended, that an Australian who decided to acquire a foreign nationality would be automatically deprived of his Australian birth rights. Tough typically-Aussie stuff, that caused us expatriates to hesitate.

Everything went over smoothly. A banal film explained the motto of the République: liberty, equality and fraternity. A few extra words concerned the republican theme of the separation between the state and religions. I knew this stuff off by heart, since these fundamental French principles are part of my everyday thinking and outlook on society in my adopted land.

I chuckled inwardly when I thought that foreigners in my native Australia, in a complementary situation to mine, are now liable to be asked, in a ridiculous cultural quiz, to name a famous Aussie cricketer and a billiards champion. The first correct answer was no doubt Donald Bradman. As for the other Aussie hero, I have no idea whatsoever. I didn't even know that Australia was a great billiards nation. In other words, there are few chances today that an ignorant Frenchman like me could ever become an Australian... apart from the fact that I'm already Australian, and have always been so, ever since my courageous pioneering ancestors invested their courage and energy in that great mindless continent, from the earliest days. But so what; I'm French, and tremendously proud to be a citizen of the grand République !

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Road safety fashion

Soon, in France, our automobiles will have to carry, in the trunk, a red plastic triangle and a fluorescent vest.

This promotional photo featuring the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is very French. The text says: "It's yellow. It's ugly. It doesn't go with anything. But it can save your life." I approve of this mild kind of second-degree humor. I believe that most French viewers will get the message, and retain it... which is all that matters.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Splendid role model for French youth

As everywhere, far too many adolescents get into a rut these days, here in France, for one reason or another, or often for multiple reasons, before they've got around to organizing seriously, if at all, their future existence. They get bogged down in all kinds of swamps, caught up in all sorts of traps. Maybe their studies have turned out to be useless, in that they don't enable them to get a good job. Some are led astray by the false paradises of alcohol and drugs, which can easily lead to crime. Others are soon ensnarled in vacuous relationships based solely upon sex, with no thought for marriage and the founding of a family. In the most tragic cases, adolescent losers grow up aimlessly in dull but violent environments where unemployment and strife are the rule, and social harmony and happiness an exception. In the context of all these unfortunate situations, we can meditate fruitfully and joyously upon the case of this young man who has steered clear of all the above-mentioned obstacles, while organizing his future existence in a style that can only be described as brilliant, exemplary.

His name is Jean: the French form of the Christian name of the fourth evangelist, John. Don't be misled by the long hair. Jean is neither a beatnik nor a rugby man. Although he's merely 21 years old, Jean has already set out upon a political career in the suburbs of Paris, and he has just got engaged to a girl from an excellent family with home-appliance stores. So it's more than likely that, straight after their marriage, Jean and his wife will have the pleasure of stepping into a cozy little flat with all the basic modern necessities: stove, fridge, dish-washer, etc.

What a pity that there aren't more young men in France today with the same drive and convictions as Jean. The same appetite for success.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Saint Laurent

Without Yves Saint Laurent, France is a little more naked than usual. Talking of nakedness, recall the magnificent statement of this gay guy who seemed to understand women in a sublime fashion:

Nothing is more beautiful than a naked body. The most lovely clothes to attire a woman are the arms of the man she loves. For women who cannot achieve such happiness, I am available.

Personal anecdote : YSL played a major role in the French perfume business. Once upon a time, I was driven mad by a Parisian maiden named Valérie who was perfumed by a product named Kouros, designed theoretically for males. What a diabolical idea that a female might wear such a perfume! Thankfully and harmoniously, my body ended up becoming an intimate friend both of Valérie and of Kouros.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Prohibition of smoking

There's no doubt about it: the prohibition of smoking in French cafés and restaurants, as of next Wednesday, is likely to be a gigantic event in the history of French society and the Republic.

It's such a "big" idea (where I dare not imagine all that might be encompassed by my fuzzy adjective) that it might not go off smoothly. There'll surely be some unpleasant surprises. For me, the situation is potentially more frightening than the notorious "year 2000 bug", which turned out to be a fizzer. [If I remember correctly, the term "fizzer" is Australian jargon for a damp firecracker that doesn't explode correctly... but I ask to be corrected if I've made a mistake.) Smoking has always been such an integral part of everyday life in French cafés and restaurants that its global prohibition is a little like a crazy fascist law banning, say, the use of the first-person singular form of verbs, meaning that the celebrated Cogito ergo sum of Descartes would henceforth have to be rendered in everyday parlance as "People think, therefore they are".

Parenthesis. Amusing anecdote, inspired by my comparison, which has nothing to do with the prohibition of smoking. In 1969, a French author, Georges Perec [1936-1982], wrote a 300-page novel, La disparition, without ever using the letter "e". Close the parenthesis.

Let me get back to the forthcoming ban on smoking. I hope that French "authorities" (whoever they are) will make a point of collecting all sorts of statistics, during the coming weeks, about unusual happenings. I'm thinking of freak crimes, inexplicable accidents, domestic disasters of all kinds, etc. I reckon there might be a lot of this kind of stuff in France over the next month or so. Don't try to persuade us that it's a normal resurgence of matters that are smoldering constantly, or that the harsh winter conditions can provoke despair and violence. If a foreign archduke, visiting Nicolas Sarkozy in the president's winter residence, were to be assassinated by a crazed gunman during the next few weeks, it should be relatively easy to track him down. [I'm referring of course to the crazed gunman, not to our wandering Sarkozy or the assassinated archduke.] French detectives would simply have to start searching for a heavy-smoking underworld personage who had the habit of making nasty political allusions to archdukes on the "zinc" [metal-topped café counter] while consuming his matinal espresso and "grilling" [French slang for smoking] his habitual Gauloises.

PS Sometimes, interesting elements of my blog are hidden in exchanges with friends who send in comments. This is the case concerning an interesting comment from Silvio [display] on the subject of Australian sporting prowess.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ground level is good for you

This blurry but otherwise charming family photo was taken over a quarter of a century ago by a little boy. Today, if you visit the website of François Skyvington [display], you'll see that he has made a lot of progress in the art of photography.

During that happy gathering, my 89-year-old grandfather told us with amusement that, if he could succeed in attaining the grand old age of 100, he would be looking forward to receiving a personal letter of best wishes from the queen... which was apparently a customary thing back in those days. Unfortunately, he didn't make it. On Australia Day 1985, he climbed up onto a swivel chair to change a lightbulb in his living room at Burleigh Heads, and suffered a fall that led to his death.

As a child, visiting Australia's beautiful Blue Mountains with my grandparents, I recall that Pop [as we called our grandfather] was just as anguished by mountainous heights as I am. If vertigo is an inherited affliction [which it probably isn't], then it's certain that I picked up the bad genes from Pop. In any case, the silly circumstances of Pop's mortal accident have made me particularly wary of the risks of injuries through falling from a height [as distinct from stumbling on the slippery slopes of Gamone and breaking a leg, as I did a few years ago].

In yesterday's news, when I came upon statistics concerning the causes of accidental deaths in France [for the year 2004], I seized upon this opportunity of using for the first time my brand-new spreadsheet software from Apple, called Numbers, to draw a simple chart (in less than a minute) representing the French deaths data:

Of the 18 548 mortal accidents in France, 5 354 were attributed to falls. This was twice the number of deaths due to suffocation, which is a category consisting primarily of gluttonous folk who choke on such things as pretzels. In these statistics, the most obvious sign of a global evolution in society is that relatively few people die of poisoning... which is no doubt good news for fast-food merchants. Instead of poisoning ourselves by the stuff we eat, we simply become fat and flabby and fall victims to so-called natural deaths due to stuffed arteries. That's progress.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Top 50

Whereas France is hosting the world cup in rugby, the nation's most popular individual is a soccer star: Zinédine Zidane. For those of you who might have forgotten the event, or missed seeing it because they were holidaying in a tropical jungle without access to TV, Zidane was the guy who used his hard bald head to butt the Italian player Marco Materazzi, who apparently made some kind of improper remark concerning a female member of Zidane's family.

Click here to see the entire list of France's 50 most popular individuals, as determined by a poll conducted by the Journal du Dimanche. If you browse around in the chart, you'll find lots of actors, singers, sporting heroes, TV personalities and even an ageing nun, a few politicians (including a president of the French Republic) and a soccer trainer... but no business chiefs, scientists or rugby stars.