Au boulot!

Monday morning oblige, it’s time to get to work.

Déjà? After running around on Saturday and enjoying a well-earned day of rest on Sunday, getting back to work on Monday can come as a bit of a shock.

In France, as in countries all over the world, the beginning of each new week means we’re up with the birds and back to work.

It’s been a few years since I had to badge in and out of the workplace. In France, official time management systems are a legal obligation. To ensure that the employer gets a fair share of working time or to count up all the extra hours le salarié puts in?  It works both ways.

When I worked full time for a French pharmaceutical company, the ritual of badging in and out each day ensured that any extra time was added to the ‘compte epargne temps’, a sort of savings account that employees could use to add extra time for special circumstances like maternity leave, a sabbatical or even early retirement. Anyone who put in more than a 35-hour week on a regular basis had to watch out though — HR was on the case and cracked down on the workaholics who simply could not leave the office.

I knew a few. It should come as no surprise that I was not one of them.

Now that I work freelance, mostly from home, my commute to the office takes only seconds (although I can easily get sidetracked by other, more pressing tasks…). I no longer have to ‘pointer’ or badge in and out. But the numbers on the invoices at the end of the month will show me up if I slack off.

I figure it’s all about pacing. Slow and steady wins the race, like this 84-year-old florist who was featured on a France TV report last week.

Monsieur Château, however bent over, seems to be a firm believer in the French saying, ‘le travail, c’est la santé’ (work is health).

I tend to agree with him. It’s important to keep doing something worthwhile, to have a purpose in life that gets us out of bed each morning. There’s nothing wrong with retirement and leisure pursuits for those who’ve reached the appropriate age and feel they’ve had enough of the grind. But we all need a ‘raison d’être’ to keep going.

In that spirit, happy Monday to all. Now, au boulot!

Calendrier scolaire

Here in France we are slaves to the rhythm — the rhythm of the French ‘calendrier scolaire’. The entire country dances to the tune of the school calendar as it determines the official vacation dates.

While the Christmas and summer holidays are the same for everyone, the three shorter vacation periods (two weeks each) in the autumn, winter and spring are organized in waves by ‘zones’: A, B and C. This is to help ensure a couple of things: a) a longer season for the tourism trade and b) slightly less craziness on the roads.

Believe you me, when le tout Paris decides to hit the roads to the ski resorts in the Alps, it is just as well that those from everywhere else in the country (not to mention many parts of Europe) are not also en route.

Where we live in Rhone-Alpes is Zone A. That doesn’t necessarily mean we go first as they alternate dates each year so that everybody gets a shot at the best weather.

This only applies, of course, to people with school-aged children. But everyone is somehow affected as prices for hotels and transport often increase dramatically during vacation periods — and availability is at a premium.

Tourists should keep these dates in mind and if possible avoid travelling to the seasonal holiday spots during school breaks. That’s if you want to avoid the crowds and get a better choice of accommodation. It doesn’t apply so much to Paris, unless perhaps over the long May weekends. More on those later.

We are now starting two weeks of spring break in Zone A. I’m staying home for now but plan on enjoying a quieter period with less traffic on the roads.

Bonnes vacances à tous!

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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahiers_de_dol%C3%A9ances)

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?

 

Contourner

Getting from point A to point B is never as simple as it looks in France. One-way streets, traffic jams, road works and demonstrations are just a few reasons why you often need to find a way around.

I quickly learned the words for this on moving to France.

Contourner: to go around something (an object but also various rules and regulations, or the ‘interdictions’ I posted about here.)

Contournement: the act of going around something or, in road terms, a route that takes you around. Most people call this a ring road. It’s also known as a rocade.

When we lived in Lyon and were looking to buy our first home, there was much talk of a potential ‘contournement ouest lyonnais’ (Lyon west ring road). The famous ‘COL’ was a much talked-about project that would have freed up the huge mess of north-south traffic on the A7, the main motorway that serves traffic between Paris and the south. It has the misfortune of cutting through the heart of Lyon via the Fourvière tunnel – a crammed, polluted and sometimes scary experience that is best avoided.

As you can see from this map, the city has no major alternate route on the hilly west side. Which, by the way, is the most picturesque, pastoral part of the countryside.

The eastern side of the city, with its broad plains, has all kinds of highways and byways serving the airport, leading east to the Alps and to parts south. Using these routes can save time when you factor in traffic, but they do add considerable distance. Therefore, many drivers prefer to avoid them. Or look for another way around. Un contourement au contournement. Am I making sense?

So when we were considering buying near a village in a pretty corner of the southwest of Lyon, we went to the city hall to check that there were no plans to start work on a big highway project just beyond our doors. Just to be safe.

Can you tell us if there any plans for the ‘contournement’ in this area? my husband asked the nice lady at the Mairie. Ah oui, she said, nodding her head vigorously. It’s supposed to be just on the other side of the village from where you want to build.

My heart fell. Mais non, sans blague? (No kidding?)

Further probing revealed that she was talking about the ‘contournement du village’. A local way around rather than straight through the village. We were relieved. It was nothing more than a minor road around the village.

Many towns and cities in France have ring roads, rocades or contournements. If your objective is get from A to B as quickly as possible, they’re probably a good bet. If you want to see the local sights, stop and smell the roses along the way, it may be best to avoid them.

But if you want to think and act like a French person, you need to learn to find your away around by using alternate routes. Believe me, I know. I’ve been getting lost on them for years!

Les interdictions

No dogs allowed. No campfires allowed. No entry, no talking, no breathing. Okay, I made those last two up.

The first thing the visitor notices on arriving in France is the number of things that are you are not allowed to do.

And you quickly become familiar with this word: interdit. It is used to describe both the things themselves that are prohibited (e.g. chiens interdits), the act of forbidding, interdire (to prohibit) and the resulting bans, interdictions.

You are not allowed to walk on the grass, wear your helmet in a store, ride a bike while wearing a headset. Aside from speeding, there are a great many things you are not allowed to do while driving in France. Not being allowed to use a smart phone even hands-free is one that drives me nuts. My guess is that ‘the GPS made me do it’ will not be a viable excuse if you are stopped by the police.

Alternative wordings include the oft-seen ‘défense de fumer’ (no smoking). But défense de cracher? Apparently people needed to be told not to spit in the Paris metro back in the 70s.

Fortunately, the second thing you learn is that many if not most of these bans are somewhat theoretical. This is what makes life bearable in France. A great many rules of which only a small percentage are to be taken absolutely seriously.

The challenge is knowing which ones. A lot of faux pas (as I’ve posted about before) can be made if you get it wrong, and you may want to weigh the chances of getting caught against the associated penalty.

I know, for example, that the park where I walk my dogs by the lake is theoretically forbidden to dogs (and horses) all year long but that the chances of anyone objecting or even seeing me in the off-season winter months are virtually nil. Also, it’s a dumb law. So, I take it as my civic duty to break it as often as possible.

Where we live not far from the border with Switzerland, I have been stopped for driving a car with Swiss plates. It seems there is an obscure rule that you are not allowed to drive a company car across a border other than to go to or from work. I’m pretty sure they only trot that one out when they’re looking for an excuse to get up someone’s nose. Thankfully I got myself out of it by arguing with the cops — when they caught up with me. The thing was, it had not been at all clear that I was being asked to stop. I pointed this out in firm but polite terms while expressing my astonishment at the crazy rule. It was one of those times I realized that I had become truly French. My formerly polite Canadian self would never have dared to argue with a police officer.

What forbidden action or item would you ban? Or, as some have suggested, would you create this as a rule?

Forbidden to forbid!