March 20, 2009

Vive la France


Ah, la belle France. The food, the wine, the glorious countryside, the supposedly chic women (tell that to all the over-forties in their housecoats and carpet slippers) … the French. Obviously, we English are expected to hate them for their superiority complex and the fact that they’re always bloody right. Generally, we do. When it comes to their political protests, however, all we can do is take a ringside seat and applaud weakly. From the ever-present farmers blocking the autoroutes for oblique but essential reasons, to the high school students who organise strikes –- and actually attend the associated meetings, Gauloise in hand, instead of slacking off as British youth would do -– they bring unequivocal panache to their doings.

Last year, French factory workers invented a brilliant new tactic: kidnapping the management. According to this Economist article, the first executive victim was the British manager of an ice cream factory who planned to sack half his workers. In January 2008, they took him hostage overnight until police intervened. The practice continues: the most high-profile case to date was last week when the head of Sony France, visiting a plant in the south west of the country, was barricaded into a meeting room following an announcement that he was planning to fire all 311 workers at the factory. After eighteen hours of verbal bombardment -– those Frenchies can talk more volubly and at greater length than anyone else on the planet -– he agreed to renegotiate redundancy payments.

This week, at the Paris Book Fair, publishers were pleased to announce the new, gentle yet vicious form of teasing the politicos. Nicholas Sarkozy has long attested his hatred of the seventeenth-century novel La Princesse de Cleves. In the wake of his economic policies and the public anger caused by them, The Telegraph reports that publishers have sold all available copies of the novel. Badges that read “I have read La Princesse de Cleves” are the new fashion must-have; the novel has reached third place in the intellectuals’ Top Ten; and universities around the country are organising readings and events around the novel. Why can’t Anglo-Saxons be that refined?