Le plombier Polonais

Polish Plumber Tour EiffelHave you seen the Polish plumber lately? Let me reassure you: he is alive and well and living in France. The Polish plumber came to life in a cartoon published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo back in 2004. He came to represent everything the French fear most about Europe: unfair competition from cheap East European labour. Le plombier Polonais emerged from the rhetoric as a terrifying idea:

Imagine, a Polish plumber decides to come to work in France. What will become of French plumbers?

The Polish plumber and his cohorts are back in the news again – with the Greeks on the verge of exiting the EU and the Brits about to vote on their future in it. In France, the latest demon is the ‘Uberization’ of French taxis, which will also bring about the certain demise of its trains and buses. Clearly, we need to stop all forms of progress in order to protect the over-taxed and under-worked French system.

Anyone who has ever tried to find a workman in France can attest to the fact that a little competition can only be a good thing. Case in point: I’ve been trying to get some blinds installed on the south-facing side of my house to protect us from the summer sun. I began in March, signed the quote and left a hefty deposit in April. Last week, after begging and cajoling, I reverted to a threat: if the blinds were not installed this month, I would cancel the order. They called back with a date for end of next week.

We also needed some painting done in our basement. Of course we could do it ourselves, but neither husband nor self are particularly handy. I contacted a company that has done various small jobs for us in the past. They provided a quote the next day, then informed me of a date in mid-June, apologizing for being too busy to start immediately. They came when promised with no reminders on my part.

Plombier Polonais
The Polish plumber became a cheeky tourism campaign for that country. Clever Poles!

The man who runs this business in Polish. He is a charming fellow, although unfortunately he looks nothing like the poster from the tourism office. Monsieur V. hires his labour from the home country and supervises the workers in his native tongue. So I have Polish painters, if not plumbers. They were here first thing yesterday and stayed until 8:00 last night to finish the first part of the job. He has built his business up to a point where his easily identifiable if atrociously decorated vehicles can be seen at job sites all over our area. This leads me to think he must play by the rules and pay the Polish workers a fair wage and benefits in keeping with French law.

This kind of competition should be a wake-up call for the French. Unfortunately it is simply another reason to curse the EU and go out on strike.

Et vous? What’s your experience with the Polish plumber – or his equivalent?

The kiss

Le baiserYou must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss…unless it happens to be a man on the street spontaneously embracing a member of the French national police.

It was a modern take on the famous photo by photographer Robert Doisneau, Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville.

It felt more like a scene from New York than Paris – the French don’t often break ranks in public displays of feeling. But as France buried its victims last week, including three police officers, there was a lot of love for les forces de l’ordre.

The police are a fixture of life on the streets of Paris: they’re often seen escorting VIPs on motorcycles, directing traffic, controlling crowds during the frequent demonstrations. And they are often criticized for unfair fines, excessive violence, coming down too hard on minorities.

But this day was different. Off-duty police officers were marching in mourning for their own tragic losses: Clarissa, the young policewoman killed in Montrouge by Amedy Coulibaly, Franck, the officer who acted as a body guard for Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Charb, and Ahmed, a Muslim bicycle cop gunned down in cold blood by the Kouachi brothers as they fled.

During the historic Marche Républicaine last week, as 3.5 million people took to the streets all over France and 50 world leaders joined arms against terrorism in Paris, people weren’t looking at the police in fear, but to salute them. They applauded the snipers stationed on top of the buildings along the Avenue de la République.

One gentleman in the crowd was so overcome with goodwill towards the CRS – the riot control forces of the French national police – that he asked if it was okay to embrace one of its officers. The officer hesitated, then gave in as the crowd urged them on. It was captured by French TV crews and became one of the scenes from that day that stole the hearts of viewers across the country.

As I’ve posted before, I’m certainly no fan of men with guns. But I have to confess to feeling a certain admiration for les gardiens de la paix, as the French national police are known. They managed to take out all three terrorists and get the hostages out of that supermarket with no further loss of innocent life.

That’s deserving of a kiss.

Chère France,

Chère CharlieIt’s been a long time. Thirty years since we began this relationship; more than twenty since I decided to call you home. Since I married in Paris, gave birth in Lyon, made friends, built a life, put down roots.

In all these years, I’ve never felt moved to share my feelings about what it is to be French. Until now.

I have often criticized you, and rightly so. It has not always been easy to live here, to decode your culture, understand your language and fully appreciate your history. There have been moments of mutual incomprehension. Sometimes I felt alone. But I never felt judged, nor excluded.

Never once did you ask about my religion or political beliefs. You gave my children an education that has enabled them to go forth in the world as free-thinking, critical spirits. You kept us healthy and safe.

So this is to say merci, dear France. Thank you for your irreverence. For refusing to be kept down. Merci for resisting the thought police, refusing the politically correct. For having the courage to face down fear. For supporting even those you don’t agree with in their right to free speech. Like the beloved cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. Like me.

#JeSuisCharlie

Mel

P.S. I don’t agree with all of the choices made by editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. Nor do I consider this humble blog to be comparable to the work of those brilliant satirists. But I do believe in freedom of expression. What about you?