Cahier de doléances

A list of grievances? That is something I can relate to!

I was surprised to discover an entire history behind the ‘cahiers de doléances’ or grievance books currently in the news as part of the Macron government’s ‘Grand Débat National’ or what I am calling the great debate.

It seems that such books, called ‘cahiers’ or notebooks because people write in them, were first instated just before the French Revolution in 1789. At that time, King Louis XVI decided to gather the input of the three major ‘estates’ or social classes: the first being the clergy, the second the nobility and the third, the working classes and poor. What a modern fellow was Louis! Imagine crowd sourcing public opinion to manage the revolutionary winds over 200 years ago!

It didn’t end well for poor citizen Louis who was, bien sûr, decapitated along with the remaining royals. I only hope that outcome for our current leaders involves less bloodshed. For now, the cahiers have been collected by the mayors and we are waiting to hear what the government intends to do with the list of grievances expressed by the French citizens. Little has been said about the specific complaints, but the overall trend has to do with regional disparities and taxes. More on that later.

(I am no history buff. All of this comes from Wikipedia.

In our corner of the Haute Savoie, we did not get any info about a debate or an opportunity to share our thoughts with the powers that be. However, in the spirit of airing grievances, I have compiled a few of my own:

Cahier de doléances de FranceSays:

  1. Stop resisting every little change
    France has a well-earned reputation for being ‘irréformable’ because its people will fight any change made to laws with demonstrations, strikes and riots.
  2. Support the democratic process.
    Laws voted by our democratically elected leaders are valid and should be respected as such.
  3. Stop inventing new taxes
    The people are taxed to death (or that is the perception). Simplify the way taxes are collected; make it fair and transparent.
  4. Teach foreign languages better
    Hire native speakers to teach foreign languages in their own tongue.
  5. Stop dubbing foreign content with French voiceovers
    Use subtitles on TV and in films if the production is not originally in the French language.
  6. Have fewer laws and actually enforce them
    See my recent post on ‘Les interdictions’.
  7. Allow people to demonstrate peacefully but
    Crack down on anyone who is violent or damages public property
  8. Prison reform must be a priority
    The conditions in our penitentiary system propagate criminality and waste public money; only lock up those who are a real threat to public safety. Find creative ways for offenders to pay their debt to society, for example through enforced public service
  9. Reform driver education
    It should be less costly and more accessible for all; essential rules of the road for driv ers, pedestrians, cyclists and others should be taught in school; people should be able to learn to drive with a family member or private tutor.
  10. Create a code of conduct for all
    This should include the values of the French republic and ‘good citizenship’ rules for all. Every citizen should be required to know it and agree in order to receive public services like healthcare.

So there you have my thoughts, for what they’re worth. Between you and me, I doubt that many will be on the list of grievances.

What do you think?



  1. francetaste · April 11, 2019

    I am very impressed by the foreign language instruction here. After four years of French in high school, I managed to get two years of university credit just by testing. I thought I was hot stuff, until I moved to Europe. Now I see my kid’s friends, who are not bad at all in English AND Spanish, because they have to learn two foreign languages.
    That said, my Dutch friends speak far better English, in no small part thanks to the fact that foreign programming is broadcast in VO with subtitles.
    The essentials of the rules of the road are taught in school My kid has a full day of “securité routière” under the rubrique “parcours citoyen.” But actually passing the permit is indeed very pricey.
    The problem with change, whether taxes or regulation or whatever, is that those who are getting a good deal now don’t want to lose it.
    Personally, I would like to tell Macron to look a little farther down the road, not just to the next year or five but 20 years out. We might want to save the forests and agricultural land–when it’s gone you can’t get it back. Electric vehicles are coming–why isn’t France leading on the technology? It has smart engineers. Renewable energy will need to be our primary source–get solar panels on roofs now, make France the innovator in more efficient solar and wind technology. Join up with other EU members, especially the western ones, and make Europe a leader, a clean space that will be the envy of the world.

    • MELewis · April 11, 2019

      Yes, you are right that EU schools put foreign languages much higher on the agenda, and that is a very good thing. I just have an issue with the way languages are taught: in French, by French natives (at least, that’s how it was when my kids were in lycée, aside from the international school subjects they got in English). Glad to hear that drivers’ ed is being taught to some degree now in school — a step in the right direction! Now the monopoly of the driving schools should be looked at. Agree that our government’s priorities need to take a longer view, but not sure that’s possible for any elected official given the current system which sort of forces them to accomplish a lot before the next round of votes.

  2. Yeah, Another Blogger · April 11, 2019

    Very sensible suggestions. You should run for office!

    Neil Scheinin

    • MELewis · April 11, 2019

      Thank you, Neil! I’m afraid I’m not cut out for politics.😏

  3. Heide · April 11, 2019

    I think your list of grievances is brilliant. Some would chafe at rule #10 as an imposition of the state on the individual, but it does seem we’ve reached a point in civilization where we need to establish some basic ground rules for everyone, across the board (even politicians, rich people, and celebrities). But of course, then there’s #1. Isn’t it funny how often le peuple call for change and then resist it with all their might? Great post, M. I am loving this post-a-day streak of yours!

    • MELewis · April 12, 2019

      Bien vu, Heide! The French would absolutely resist my #10 (along with #1!). Any encroachment on private life, or hint of political correctness, will be resisted to death. Yet I can’t help but have hope…😅 Thanks a million for your vote of support, by the way. It is MUCH appreciated!

  4. Colin Bisset · April 11, 2019

    I used to have a friend who, I’m certain, had her own cahier de doleances – everyone who had slighted her in some way… Note ‘used to’… 😉

    • MELewis · April 12, 2019

      Interesting analogy, and don’t we all know someone like that? 😭 It’s funny, as I wrote this post the latest copy of our local village newsletter arrived. It is published quarterly by the mayor’s office and reads like a list of grievances itself. Clearly our mayor needs help with communication as she begins each edition with a long lament about ‘les incivilités’ and various complaints about those who voted for her.

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