French Letter

DSCN0260  One of the more astounding poses adopted by the Revoke50- Remainer tendency is that of being utterly integrated into the European mainland, and altogether natural Europeans rather than ‘Little Englanders’. It is claptrap: the vast majority of those I have encountered are ignorant of national politics in Europe and have little or no experience of the culture clashes involved. As usual, French Letter here spells out the real situation in France – where the ever-more dictatorial, thinly-disguised neoliberal stooge Macron is working hard to make Boris Johnson look like Bo Peep.


The French President Emmanuel Macron has shown his willingness to limbo under any ethical bar in his drive to engorge the perceived size of his penis. Taking on the rail Unions, calling for zero tolerance of British democracy, privatising large public concerns, bombing Syria, insulting Trump, raising taxes, CRS violence against the Gilet Jaunes, riding around like General Patton on his Bastille Day tank and so forth.

Now he is proposing to make National Service (as in, arming boys with guns) obligatory for all 16-18 year old French teenagers. I have long been a believer in obligatory Social Service for 16 year olds, but that would be designed to make them connect to real life and help the less fortunate – not persuade them to fight wars for NATO or Federica Mogherini….or beat up Gilets Jaunes. I cannot see the rationale for arming kids who aren’t considered able to judge either who to vote for, or those with whom they should have sex.

But then, Macron isn’t interested in the shortage of rural doctors, or the undercutting of French workers by Eastern artisans, or 36,000 illegal immigrants in Paris, or rising costs for lorry drivers: his sole concern is to come across as a Corsican vrai dur – or tough guy and hard case……and turn as many ordinary citizens upside down in order to get rid of France’s ever-rising deficit.

The latest rises in property tax, for example, are even worse than last year’s, and will reach 136% in some places.

Scant surprise, therefore, that Macrony the Anglophobe has (in the light of continuing UK political insanity) popped up this morning to say France will refuse to extend Article 50 beyond October 31st. Such is, of course, not in his remit – as the EU is, as any fule knowe, a Union that votes on majority democracy aaahahahahaha, tell us another one do.

Macron is a savant about budgets and numbers and stealth taxes and image, but he is a total ignoramus on the subject of UK constitutional processes. He is also close to being in complete denial about the real economic and exporting failures of the country he claims to lead.

The French have a particular way of doing things. Some of these are an improvement on most other nations, many of them are eccentric but vaguely charming, and the balance are a reflection of two elements in the Gallic character that truly set them apart: an at best begrudging attitude to the provision of service, and a Clochemerlian addiction to pompous displays of public progress.

230 years ago this year, the lowest social class in France finally became bored with being told what to do by a depraved aristocracy, and guillotined them in large numbers. As a result of that lengthy bout of unpleasantness, in France you never tell an artisan how to do something (they tell you), never expect anything more than the bare minimum of after-sales service (your min is their max) and when unhappy with a failure of service, you never raise your voice (the employee will put the phone down).

In the French mentality, only serfs serve. The rest are free citoyens de la République, and such service as might be on offer is merely a brief suspension of the egalité et liberté thing undertaken in return for a salary.

You the customer are not involved in this arrangement, and should thus be grateful for what you get. Fraternité is for commune affairs only. It is banned from the process of private purchases of goods and services, and any warranties promised therefrom: in this instance, a promise is not a promise, it’s a selling tool.

While some of you will recognise this as a near-perfect description of the lower end of the UK car hire business, in France the rules are almost universal. I spent €3,000 on a solid oak, hand-made front door when restoring my house in France. The only problem was that it wasn’t solid, it wasn’t oak, and it wasn’t hand-made. When I complained to Orange about nuisance marketing calls on my phone, they cut me off. My bank Credit Agricole has twice bounced cheques when the account had five figures of liquidity in it. A faulty lawnmower that died after a month of usage earned me the response, “You are using it for longer than half an hour, it is not designed for that”.

Wifi hotspot provision in France is another classic example. It gives one the wrong password, it is blocked by 90% of ISPs because of poor security, the registration process is lengthy and impertinent, and simply not worth the trouble. In airports, the wifi is almost always hopeless. Tell the airport staff this, and there is a shrug: “C’est normale”.

French consumers do not complain, they grovel. It’s amazing but true: Jean-Pierre may have been in tough-as-leather don’t-know-don’t-care mode all day, but on crossing the threshold of his own home, be begs, he pleads, he even smiles down the phone in a bid to get assistance. He invents sick relatives, he invokes the empathy of the service contact, and if necessary he weeps copiously.

Macron has never grasped that France’s risible export performance is based on overpriced goods, poor quality control and lousy service. The domestic consumer’s capitulation is generally agreed to be the best approach – but that doesn’t apply in overseas markets. The generally shoddy nature of installation and manufacture in France is simply seen as the best we can hope for in this, a less than perfect life. Which might well explain why, when the French do  excel at something in the public domain, the mélange of celebration, commemoration and lachrymose self-congratulation evokes, in the foreign observer, a strong desire to vomit, laugh out loud or both.

Such was very much the basis of the plot in the 1930s classic Chevallier novel Clochemerle, which involved the installation of a public pissoir in a remote French village lucky enough to have a go-ahead Mayor. But in more contemporary times, the rise and rise of the motor car has provided the perfect medium for such displays of thanksgiving for French achievement. So it is via that medium that they are most often displayed in various forms of pyrotechnic expression. I refer of course to the French roundabout.

A roundabout where the round middle is laid purely to grass or paving has become a rarity in contemporary France. The whole world may well be a stage, but the French road system is a stream of national self-consciousness: what started with the Bayeux Tapestry as a depiction of the last French victory over England some 943 years ago now dominates the built transport environment in a thousand different guises.

In the north of France, there are roundabouts displaying American World War II tanks. On all roads even vaguely connected to the Tour de France, there are roundabout sculptures containing multicoloured bicycles. Around the Paris basin, the featured items include giant champagne bottles, depictions of the Défense financial district and mirage jets. Here and there, Madame la Liberté from 1789 gets her tits out for the boys. Further south-west and towards the Atlantic coast, we find leaping fish, sailboats, more wine bottles, camels, elephants, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Serrano de Bergerac and sculptures copying everything from cubism to farm animals.

Elsewhere, the motorist can be surprised, confused, and distracted by Crecy arrows, roulette wheels, skiers, and enormous garlic bulbs, chef’s hats, rugby balls or avian species of every variety.

The soviet-style glorification of the State doesn’t end there, because by the side of the road in most rural areas are a variety of billboards trumpeting the achievements of French farmers. Very few of these are what one might call EU-politically-correct. On the contrary, they tend to be deeply conservative and protectionist: ‘Save a farmer, eat a vegan’, ‘By all means Green, but make it French Green’, and even ‘It’s time to thank our farmers: they feed the fatherland and never take holidays’.

Culturally, France is not a free trade culture; it is rampantly protectionist. It is not a German stickler for exactitude; it is sloppy. Under Macron, it is rapidly turning into a nation run by yet another dictatorial élite whose export economy is heading for the rocks. My homeland truly is making the biggest mistake in its history by refusing to accept the People’s preference or independent freedom.