Moi, président de la République

closer

France was all aflutter this week, and it was not with snow. Word came down the wire that President Hollande would address the nation on Thursday evening at 8:00 pm. An unscheduled presidential address? This was breaking news!

Given our president’s historically unparalleled unpopularity, and the fact that the centre-right has now chosen François Fillon as its candidate for next spring’s presidential election, we did have a wee hint that it might have something to do with politics. That we might finally get an answer to the question: Would he or wouldn’t he?

Hollande hemmed and he hawed and took several long minutes to reflect upon the many successes of his administration, from same-sex marriage to lower unemployment, as viewers across the nation cried: “Accouche!” Quite literally to give birth, in this context it means – spit it out!

Then he finally uttered the words we had all been waiting for: “J’ai décidé de ne pas être candidat à l’élection présidentielle.” He would not stand for re-election.

Enfin! We all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

FlanbyFlanby, as the Guignols de l’info fondly baptized Hollande years ago, has lived up to his name. The popular brand of crème caramel always seemed to fit the man: wet, wobbly, bland. If only his politics had not lived up so well to his image. If only during his campaign in 2012 he had not uttered those famous first words:

“Moi, président de la République…”

He would be the people’s president, he promised, and his behaviour would be exemplary at all times. This just months before his not-so-secret dalliance with actress Julie Gayet was revealed on the cover of Closer, followed by a painfully public breakup with journalist Valérie Trierveiler, for whom he had previously left his long-time companion and the mother of his four children, fellow politician Ségolène Royal. Et oui, French politics are not for the faint of heart.

By choosing not to run, Hollande has demonstrated the dignity to acknowledge his failures and, in doing so, possibly save his party from total ruin. Will a worthy candidate emerge from the rubble? I doubt it. Prime Minister Manuel Valls is looking like the most likely contender, and if ever there was an unlikeable politician, it is he. The last thing we need is another petit nerveux, his deep-voice and close-set eyes sternly reminding us of how wrongly we have all behaved.

It’s easy to criticize, I hear you say. What would you do if you were president?

Moi, présidente…

I would get rid of party politics. Emmanuel Macron, who resigned from his position as an economy minister in Hollande’s government in August to run as an independent candidate in the presidential election, has taken a step in this direction. While I don’t think he is quite ready for the presidency, at the tender age of thirty-six years or practically in his infancy in French politics, I do think he has the right idea.

I would advocate for a 6th Republic. While I’m not for the Marxist revolution sought by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and those on the far left, there are just too many institutions to change in France without starting afresh. We need to rewrite the constitution to redistribute power in a more democratic way.

Last but surely not least, I would conduct my own personal French revolution by making public toilets clean, free and readily available on every corner.

What would you do if you were president?

 

 

Remembering ‘les poilus’

W2289-Affiche14-18_PoiluType_0_94926The French would not be French if they didn’t do things a little differently.

Known to all in France as ‘le 11 novembre’, the day of remembrance traditionally commemorates the end of the first world war with the signing of the Armistice in 1918. It is really about the unsung heroes of that war, the soldiers known as ‘les poilus’.

Literally, ‘the hairies’, a better translation would be ‘the unshaven’. The term denotes not so much the facial hair as the image of the simple foot soldiers who left their fields and families to fight in the trenches. They are considered the unsung heroes of history as so many of their number died unknown and unrecognized for their sacrifice.

Lazare Ponticelli, a Frenchman of Italian descent, was the last surviving poilu. When he died in 2008 at the age of 110, Jacques Chirac wanted to bury him at the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. True to his origins, however, le poilu refused the honour, preferring to be buried in the family plot.

The public holiday was officially changed by Sarkozy to the ‘Jour du Souvenir’ in 2012. It was meant to broaden the focus of the day in honour of all those fallen in service for France. At that time, so that the memory of the first world war heroes would not be lost, it was decided to reintroduce the French symbol of the poilus, the bleuet de France. The bright blue cornflower was the distinctive colour of the soldiers’ uniforms. It is worn instead of the poppy, although has yet to become as common.

poignee-de-mains-entre-francois-hollande-d-et-nicolas-sarkozy-en-presence-de-jean-yves-le-drian-gerard-larcher-manuel-valls-et-claude-bartolone-lors-de-la-commemoration-de-l-amistrice-le-11-novembre-2015-sur-les-champs-elysees-a-paris_5461328

On this day of remembrance in France, however, while our thoughts were meant to be on les poilus and the tomb of the unknown soldier, another image captured everyone’s attention. A handshake between two sworn enemies, who have apparently signed a truce in memory of armistice.

 

What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

 

Photo credit:

‘Les poilus’ cut-out: Wikimedia Commons - W2289-Affiche14-18 PoiluType 0 94926 » par G. Morinet pour Éditions Pellerin / Llann Wé² — Travail personnel. Sous licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Aucune idée

Hollande hasn't got a clue
Hollande hasn’t got a clue

I have no idea why French President François Hollande is making this face. It could be for any number of reasons.

Perhaps he’s reacting to a question about his popularity. Or lack of. It could be a response to his ex’s new book, in which Valérie Trierweiler casts aspersions not on his sexual prowess so much as his true sentiments towards the poor classes. Someone should have told her that living well is the best revenge, not writing about it. Then again, Hollande should have known that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

But I know what he meant. This face, and its expression, is familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in France. It’s the face fart, or universal expression for ‘aucune idée’ – I haven’t got a clue. And a clue is just what this fellow does not have, it seems, as his popularity slides further into oblivion.

It’s just one of several ways to speak French in sign language. Which gesture is your favorite?

I must confess to a certain penchant for the doigt d’honneur. And I’d be willing to bet it’s a certain former first lady’s too.

The world according to Les Guignols

Les Guignols de l'infoA great source of entertainment and education for non-natives in France is Les Guignols de l’info. These satirical French puppets have been parodying politics and ‘les people’, as the French call the famous, as long as I can remember. They’re part of the free viewing offer on French pay TV Canal Plus.

Every night at 20:00 (that’s 8 pm for you non-Europeans), the puppet known to all as PPD (pron: ‘pay-pay-day’, an abbreviation of the name Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, who used to be the real-life anchorman on the TF1 evening news), welcomes viewers with the line:

“Nous sommes en 2014, vous regardez l’ancêtre d’internet, bonsoir.”
(It’s 2014, you’re watching the ancestor of the internet, good evening).

He used to introduce the show with this line, forever engraved in the French pysche: “Vous regardez trop la télévision” (You watch too much TV). Mais il faut changer avec son temps, n’est-ce pas? Times change.

Ménage à troisNothing and no one is safe from the Guignols. Even the host of the Grand Journal, the evening news and entertainment show in which the puppets make their nightly appearance, has been the target of their biting commentary.

And every French president, from Chirac to Hollande, has been caricatured, poked fun at, openly criticized and even ridiculed. International figures like the Pope, the Queen, Osama Bin Laden have all made regular appearances. Often the more frightening their real-life personas, the most endearing are their puppets.

M. Sylvestre and PopeEvery American is portrayed as Sylvester Stallone. Sometimes there are multiple Stallones onscreen, explaining how they run the world to the French or ‘les fromages qui puent’ (stinky cheeses).

The Guignols have been going to town of late with two modern greats, both in the category I like to call ‘Oh how the mighty have fallen’. I’m talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn (aka DSK) and Gérard Depardieu (affectionately known as Gégé).

Gégé, then and now...Unless you’ve been living under a rock (maybe the one that he himself crawled out from), you’ve heard about DSK’s fall from grace (if grace can be a state for one so notoriously unable to keep it in his pants). Hint: it involved a chamber maid in a New York hotel, oh-so coincidentally on the eve of a presidential run. Now his story has been immortalized in a feature film called ‘Welcome to New York.’ Depardieu plays DSK in the film which premièred at the Cannes Festival, but out of competition, and is available via video on demand. Why? Because no one in this country would touch it with a ten-foot pole. Anne Sinclair, DSK’s ex, heads the French edition of the HuffPost and is a pillar of the media elite in this country. By the way, her character is played by Jacqueline Bisset.

DSK, of course, is suing the film’s producers for defamation of character. Which is funny when you consider what the Guignols get away with.

DSK chez les GuignolsDSK’s puppet makes regular appearances on the show, always in an leopard-print peignoir and saying ‘Excuse my attire, I just got out of the shower.’ He is known to speak affectionately to his member, which he calls Francis.

While it’s already had millions of downloads, seems the flick is a bit of a turkey. ‘Un navet’ (a turnip) as they say in the lingo. Read the review here.

We don’t always agree, the Guignols and me. Their portrayal of Barack Obama as a stereotypical French idea of un Black (urban accent and all) offends me.

But they’ve enabled me to take my French to a much deeper level of understanding. Not just the language (although they’ve definitely expanded my vocabulary), but of popular culture, of what the French find funny. And not.

So, tune in if you can and discover the world according to the Guignols. I’m not sure the copyright laws will allow viewers from abroad to screen the episodes, but here’s the link anyway if you want to follow the shows: http://www.canalplus.fr/c-divertissement/pid1784-c-les-guignols.html

L’infidelité: Are the French unfaithful?

Hollande, Trierveiler, GayetLa carte de fidelité, as I wrote in a recent post about the sales, is on offer in just about every French boutique. But how common in France is la fidelité in its other sense, the one closer to the English usage?

Since ‘Closer’ magazine exposed the French president’s unfaithfulness on its une (cover), the subject of l’infidelité – being unfaithful, fooling around or just plain cheating – has been all over the news. It seems that Hollande’s popularity has surged following these revelations, suggesting that the French are not only tolerant of such dalliances, they actually approve.

Prior to making headlines with his love affair with actress Julie Gayet, Hollande’s popularity had fallen below that of any French president in history – to a mere 26%. Now it’s back up to 31%. Presumably philandering gets the French president a rise in more ways than one!

What the French don’t approve of is so-called invasion of privacy. Gayet is suing Closer for ‘atteinte à la vie privée’ as the photos were ‘stolen’, i.e. used without permission. If Closer magazine gets away without paying damages, it will only be because the revelation of the affair was more in the public interest than just interesting to the public.

France has a long history of protecting its politicians by turning a blind eye to licentious behavior in the name of ‘la vie privée’. So it was that the existence of former president Mitterrand’s illegitimate daughter, Mazarine, was an open secret for years before they allowed themselves to be photographed in public.

Valérie Trierweiler, the president’s companion of several years, currently fills the role of Première Dame (First Lady) of France. The million-euro question is, what is her status now? Will we have a new first lady any time soon?

Traditionalists will say that the first lady’s role is not official in France and thus has no bearing on politics. However, as she enjoys an office at the Elysée palace and a staff paid by the taxpayer, the question begs to be answered.

All will be revealed, reassures Hollande, before his upcoming trip to the US. Presumably because he will travel for this state visit in the company of his first lady, and the current one is licking her wounds at the presidential country retreat in Versailles. As if the French reputation weren’t sufficiently sullied by the recent performance stateside of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, aka DSK. La honte!

Trierveiler has received more public sympathy and support than at any other time since she came to (un)official office. A journalist with Paris Match, she has been generally perceived by the French as antipathique; she’s also assumed to wear the pants with the weak-kneed Hollande and is frequently referred to as ‘Rottweiler’. At least we know now why she’s been pulling a face the whole time (seems the affair with Gayet’s being going on for two years).

But how much sympathy can you feel for a woman who was herself the ‘other woman’ when Hollande, who apparently doesn’t believe in marriage, dumped his previous compagne of 30 years, with whom he had four children? Ségolène Royal split from Hollande just after losing the previous presidential election, in which she ran as Socialist Party candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy. She lost, evidently, more than the battle for office.

(Considering how close Hollande came to becoming the First Monsieur of France…I cannot help but wonder: would they have stayed together for form’s sake had she won? Truth is definitely stranger than anything fiction can think up – and while we’re at it, why hasn’t anyone turned that saga into a full-length feature?)

Riding on the wave of Hollande’s love life, a new survey by the French opinion poll agency Ifop was released this week showing that over half of married men and a third of women admit to cheating on their partner.

Call me old-fashioned but I must admit to being rather shocked by so much cheating. It goes against everything I’ve experienced in my own (admittedly rather limited) circle of friends in France. And, I may be sticking out my neck here, but also against my own experience of being married to a Frenchman.

So either people are admitting to more than they really get up to or I’ve been leading a very sheltered life (which is fine by me, merci!)

In the meantime, stay tuned for news of a new Première Dame.