Saturday, 19 November 2011

People’s democracy

No day goes by in France without big numbers of Frenchmen being “en colère” about something somewhere. Either the farmers, or the fishermen, or the railroad workers, or the judges are infuriated about something, and most of the time this results in big demonstrations in Paris or near a Préfecture in the neighbourhood. Abandoning a required right or reforming traditional institutions is always a good reason to take to the streets for the average Frenchman. Being an old left winger, I always get a kick when I see streets full of people, waving red flags, marching towards their goal. One of the most recent protests here were aimed against transforming one of the main East-West roads of France, the N79 (RCEA, Route Centre Europe Atlantique) from Route Nationale into a toll road. Understandable that this does not go down well with people who are using the N79 day in day out to travel from home to work and vice versa. Another recent protest was aimed against privatising La Poste. And even though the government had already promised that La Poste would not be privatised directly, the French left wing had organised a nation wide “referendum”, to see what the population thought of privatisation. Throughout the country there were voting boxes strategically placed near post offices, and the CGT (the biggest French union) announced the next day, that an overwhelming majority of the 2 million “voters” had said “No” to privatisation.
My first encounter with demonstrating “the French way” was in 2005. There was going to be a European Union protest against the Bolkestein directive (Wikipedia) in Brussels. Since I was a member of one of the bigger Dutch unions, FNV Bondgenoten, I joined the crowd.
In the bus on the way to Brussels all Unionists received a parcel, containing a dull bread roll with ham, an even duller one with cheese, an apple and a carton of orange juice. Once in Brussels we were guided to the place from where the demonstration was supposed to start. The FNV was to start in between Unionists from Poland (Solidarność) and France (CGT). And it only dawned on me then, that for the French a demonstration is a bit more like an outing on a nice summer’s day than for the grim Polish and the serious Dutch. While we were desperately trying to rinse our bread rolls down, our neighbours of the CGT opened their picnic baskets. A tablecloth was draped over a bench on the side of the road, and out came the French loafs, with all sorts of sausages and cheeses, and last but not least, bottles of wine and glasses. When you see this, would you not like to take part in a demonstration against no matter what, every day?

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A bit boring, this time!

Yesterday it was 11 November, the day when in many countries the armistice of 1918 which ended the First World War is celebrated and remembered. Strangely enough (at least in my eyes) is the wreath laying of 11 November the one that is attended by the biggest crowd, far bigger than the one on July the 14th. Unfortunately the man who normally unwillingly turns these events into something more amusing than just a wreath laying, Monsieur P., was unable to attend. The wreath laying takes since 2009 on instigation of Monsieur P. place at both monuments, the one for those fallen during the wars in Cormatin, and the one for the deportees at Bois Dernier. Everything worked smoothly this time. The traditional flag-bearer, Monsieur N., took Monsieur P.’s place to operate the CD-player, and the flag was this time carried by Monsieur G. No ramshackle old cassette-deck, no hick-up in the Marseillaise, no frantic searching for the off-button, no, actually everything went too smoothly...
The attendance however was so unexpectedly big, that the mayor had to move the venue for the vin d’honneur from the small Café de la Poste (which was supposed to host the drinks) to the bigger Les Blés d’Or.
That these sort of last-minute logistic changes often cannot be implemented without any problems was proven by the fact that there were insufficient tables, chairs and even standing room available for the crowd. But the rest of the ceremony went like clockwork, after the mayor had uttered a few times the word “Bordel” (“What a mess!”) to the owner end the first drinks and snacks had been passed around. Let us hope that next time Monsieur P. will be present again; with him there has so far never been a dull moment!

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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Sans Virus!

Some time ago, when we went to the Intermarché in Cluny for our shopping, we found part of the parking area closed off for works. Recently the works were completed, and it appeared that they had built two covered parking places, both with an intercom facility. We had no idea what these parking places were for; our best guess was a facility to return a rented van (the Intermarché rents out vans) outside opening hours of the supermarket.
Today a big sign revealed that we had been completely wrong. The parking places were part of a new service Intermarché is offering: “Le DRIVEINtermarché”. The client orders his shopping via internet, and indicates when he comes to pick up his shopping. He passes by at the agreed hour, parks his car at the intercom and announces his arrival. Somebody from Intermarché then comes to the parking area and delivers the shopping.
When I read this and thought about it for a second, I realised that this concept had disaster written all over it. Inhabitants from the villages around here ordering their shopping through internet?
First of all they would miss out on an endless conversation at the till whilst unloading their shopping trolley, followed by digging in a bottomless handbag looking for the chequebook, after which a pen has to be found as well. Then the cheque has to be signed and handed over, after which the said piece of paper disappears in and reappears a number of times from a magic black box which happens to verify the cheque. This whole procedure which so far has lasted at least 10 minutes is concluded by the stowing away of the shopping followed by an in-depth conversation about the neighbour’s cat. No Burgundian would miss out on something like this, would he?
Secondly, and that does not go just for the locals here but for big parts of France, computer illiteracy and fear of computer viruses are rather high in France compared to the UK or the Netherlands.
To illustrate this: a number of our French friends, amongst whom also business people, only open emails if they come from someone they know. All notorious carriers of computer viruses, such as films, jokes, web links, etc. are opened without any hesitation as long as they know the sender. However, one potter who works around here received a request for some home made pottery from my daughter, who had been there once and had bought some stuff there and then. The request was binned without being opened, for the simple reason that she did not know the name of the sender!
Another illustration: in our favourite quiz show every so often one of the prizes is a PC. This is always announced as “ordinateur avec écran plat, SANS VIRUS!”. One even finds these adverts on the internet.
I really wonder if it is at all possible to buy a brand new computer from a French retailer which contains a virus.
Anyway, to cut a long story short: I do not give this service a long life; I am pretty sure that soon the two parking spaces are going to be used for the rental vans…

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