May 8 Victory in Europe Day

(Crédit photo : Eric FEFERBERG / AFP)

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Well, Le Pen was well and truly trounced in Bordeaux with a whopping 86% for Emmanuel Macron. There were no spontaneous celebrations, unlike when François Hollande was elected, but civic duty had been done to block the unpalatable FN. Bordeaux is typical of one of the many French Paradoxes. It has a reputation for being snooty and bourgeois, it has some very snooty neighbourhoods and a lot of ‘old’ money whispering around. Yet it votes left in all the elections, and just to be contrary, votes without fail for a right-wing mayor.

Whatever you think of the liberal policies Macron will no doubt try to introduce, he actually does have an idea of economics and has more than the simplistic ‘It’s the fault of the immigrants’ reply to every question. But nothing is less certain that, just because the French voted for Macron as president, they will vote his way in the legislative elections next month. Some call it keeping a balance. Others call it utter chaos. This is France, so don’t imagine that the FN will roll over and die. And expect Jean-Luc Mélenchon to get back in the saddle and bring the young people out on the streets behind his far left party. The fun isn’t over yet.

Happy to be (almost) French

This lovely story was published in (Je Suis) Charlie Hebdo, and one of the journalists on the national radio thought it worthy of broadcasting this morning, though I don’t know which day the incident occurred. It’s an example of some streak in the French psyche that I find appealing.

It was in one of the Paris suburbs in the early hours of the morning, a teenage couple on a scooter was involved in an accident with a lorry. Both kids were in a desperate state when the emergency services arrived. The article describes the gestures of the team as they assessed the damage and began the stressful job of keeping the couple alive. Suddenly, a window was opened in a nearby apartment and music flowed out into the silence as someone began to play the piano. The medics listened, worked without speaking so as not to miss a note. Their movements calmed, they became more optimistic. As they carried the two teenagers to the ambulance, the music slowed and faded, ending on a majestic chord. The window closed, and the ambulance left.
The two kids are now out of danger, and as the reporter said, free to live and love and crash their scooter again. He went on to thank the anonymous pianist who would otherwise never know how the soothing music of her/his playing helped to save two lives.

I’m not French and never will be, but this is the kind of story that makes me think I’m really quite lucky to be almost French.

Why I will never be French

While I know I am lacking a few vital components that the native French are born with, usually I think I understand French society. As a general rule I know how to behave in most situations. I can swear at bad drivers and cyclists, using the right gestures to get the message across. I talk to unknown old ladies, people with dogs, the person standing behind me in the queue at the supermarket. I know the correct, polite way to address shop-keepers, the old crone who’s just shoved in out of turn in said supermarket queue, bank managers, soldiers with assault rifles, policemen sitting at café tables—all the usual sort of chance meetings.

I don’t question the extraordinary number of religious holidays we have for a secular republic, the protocol for getting onto buses (shove the competition out of the way), the impossibility of getting anything done by anybody on a Wednesday afternoon, or why the police station keeps office hours, closes for lunch, and doesn’t open weekends.

But just occasionally, a situation arises that leaves me perplexed and doubting my credentials to live in this country. One such bizarre occasion cropped up today. While we were at the market the postman called with a small parcel. Since we weren’t there, and our children are still under the impression that they mustn’t open the door to strangers, he left a little card with instructions to get in touch and arrange a new delivery date.

It was a web address. Inevitably it meant creating an account with the parcels service, complete with code words, trick questions, and the dreaded captcha puzzle. Parts of the form didn’t work, then surprisingly filled in the missing bits unprompted, which seemed more like black magic than neat intuitive technology. I waited several hours to get the confirmation email, and thought that meant we could go ahead and tell the post to deliver the parcel on Monday. I filled in the parcel details (fine), submitted them and got the message that there was one last step before we were finished:

‘Give your parcel a name’

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting that one. I didn’t understand what they wanted. So I took them at their word and gave it a name. The machine registered the name, and proceeded to the next stage of accepting a new delivery date.

We are now waiting for a parcel called Horace.