Category Archives: France

La vie en rose.

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong


Book CoverI just finished Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French. Apart from the title, I found it really interesting. And actually, I think the authors love the French as well, even if sometimes they are delighted with them the way you would be watching monkeys sling shit at you in the zoo.

Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau made the point that travellers to Africa or Japan expect a certain level of cultural unfamiliarity to be a part of the experience. They are hoping to feel a bit awkward and to question the way things are done. However, when people travel to France, they don’t take into account that the French are a different people, with different instincts, intuitions, history, and culture which combines to form different, and occasionally awkward (for those coming from Protestant-type countries) institutions and practices.

They discuss the French tendancy to be non-abiding, a term my sister coined for her husband when she just couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t follow the rules. This applies to pushing, cheating, taxes, speeding, not paying metro tickets, parking on the side walk, and not curbing their adorable lap-dogs. They believe that these small rebellions are a necessary counter point or release valve in a French state that is quite authoritarian. But that the state grew to be so in response to a general admiration of taking things to the extreme, jusqu’au boutiste. They postulize that the system of government developed to accomodate this appreciation of power, decisiveness, and grandure.

Particularly interesting was the section on Muslim integration in France. France has the largest Muslim population outside a muslim country. Recent changes outlawing overtly religious symbols in schools such as crosses or, more importantly, head scarfs have been difficult for me to understand. This book presents the seaming intollerance in light of the policy France has always had toward regional differences and immigrants. Complete integration. My husband is half Italian. Both his grandparents on one side are Italian. Yet he is completely French, even his mother doesn’t speak Italian, and it wouldn’t occur to any of them to think they were anything but French. This is how the French state was formed, by eliminating regional differences with as much force as the state deamed necessary and accepting immigrants as completely French from the moment they become citizens. It was this way that Bretons, Alcasiens, and others were forced to speak french and regional connections were broken.

Since WWII religion and ethnicity cannot be asked by the state, so a French person is only that, French, nothing else. This policy is not working well with the Muslim community, because they might look different, and have noticibly non-European names, discrimination is rampant. Also, because they arrived in large enough numbers they are having an effect on what it is to be French. I have been shocked by how outwardly racist people will be here, but maybe it is similar to the Irish arriving on the east coast of the US. After a few more generations perhaps the immigrants childrens children will have found positions of power and the balance will shift. Interestingly enough, the authors mentioned that the police have started actively recruiting beurs, which draws a strong parallel to Boston. Anyway, the book is far more interesting and authoratative than I can be on the subject so go ahead and read it, especially the chapter on the french melting pot.

A few rules for Americans hoping to understand the different notions of privacy that the french have:

  1. Always say Bonjour, when entering or leaving a store (Bonjour-nay, when leaving). A store is a private space, more like entering someones home than popping into a Walmart. In fact, say bonjour any time you start talking to someone, especially someone you don’t know well.
  2. Don’t ask someones name, a name is private. Who knew? I’ve been violating this one for three years.
  3. Don’t ask what someone does for work. Also rude.
  4. Resist the urge to talk about money. Especially salaries. You will make people uncomfortable. Even the good deal you got on x, y, or z is off limits. Think up something else, I’m sure you have something more interesting to say than that.
  5. Don’t be afraid of racous political discussions. Very few french will turn down a good fight. But don’t be and idiot. Jesse Jackson sounds like an idiot here. He might be bright, but spouting slogans is frowned upon.
  6. America is actually not the best country in the world, it is the most powerful. There is a difference. Liberty doesn’t live in cleveland, and we didn’t invent or perfect freedom of the press. (okay, so I’ve gone off track here from the book… oops)

The Authors mentioned how the French are convinced their country is going to shambles; the trains awful, the health system failing, and students hooligans.

In fact the trains are amazing. They are almost always on time, are incredibly modern, fast, and comfortable. You can get nearly anywhere without owning a car. You can just take a walk in Paris, not pay attention to where you are going and when you are ready to be done walking find a metro station almost certainly within five minutes. There are at least fourteen train lines, five RER lines, tramways, and countless buses serving Paris. There are so many options it can be hard to decide which route to take between two destinations. And they are CONTINUING TO IMPROVE IT. Let that be a lesson to Boston that seems to think of its train system as finished, and think of public transportation as new highways, to get commuters in and out of the city faster.

The health system is amazing. When I arrived I had no health coverage and doctors and friends were shocked. Practically everyone here is covered. But even without coverage I was better off than with and HMO in the states. Doctors visits were generally around 20€ and considered outlandishly expensive when they are as much as 60€. Prescriptions are almost always reasonable, I never paid more than 35€ or so. When you are covered all this is free. In any case it is easy to see a doctor, and generally takes no more than a couple of days to get an appointment with my favorite general practitioner. My husbands always has appointments available the same day. It is different. No privacy is given for disrobing and nurses will “pop in to ask a question” even during gynological exams, but you get used to that. The authors mention that France consistently ranks first for quality of health care. The US ranked 37th. You really feel the difference living here.

French students may be less respectful than they once were (Are there teachers that DON’T say that?), but the French educational system still turns out top notch graduates and they pay next to nothing. I took a course at CNAM this year in Algorithmic Programming. This is a private university catering to older students returning to school. The french are shocked at the tuition and I was too, for rather different reasons. When I received the bill I honestly thought it must just be a fee, or maybe for books, that the real tuition bill would come later. For 256€ I recieved six hours of instruction per week for an entire year. The class was rigerous, the university similar in almost all respects to the University of Massachusetts. The system may need revising or be too rigid, but it is still a first class educational system almost free to those hoping to better themselves.

There are also a slew of funny anecdotes about living here that will have anyone that has tried it laughing like mad. For example, why do the French religiously open and close their shutters twice a day? I’ll leave the answer for the book.

Night Swimming

Actually, we’ve only gone during the day, but there are some municipal pools open at night. We’ve discovered the Parisian pool system. There are three to four pools withing walking distance from our house, and many others that we could access with a short ride on the metro.

We bought a card for ten entries for 21.50€, and we can go to any of the pools in Paris with it. We’ve gone three times so far and have (I hope) discovered the hours which are less busy. It makes sense really, before work and during lunch are very busy. It is easier to find a place to swim mid morning and mid afternoon. Because we have flexible work schedules we can go during these times and free up space during the busier times for regular swimmers.

Le Moving

Last night I went to a gym, le Moving, where they have salsa nights on Fridays and Saturdays. Classes started around 9h30 though I think they were slated to start at 9. The entrance fee was 12€ plus 2€ for the vestiare. Drinks and snacks were included in that price. Watery sports drinks or sugary water, crackers, candys, and nuts. Also, coffee and tea. The hall is also non smoking which is very refreshing if you’ve spent any time at concerts in Paris.

I took two classes, the first a Puerto Rican style beginner class, which, like the other classes of that style that I have taken, progressed more slowly, and with lots of attention to detail. It was taught by a woman, who focused on foot work, general tips for learning salsa, and a few basic turns.

  • Listen to latin music at home and walk around doing the pas de bases (basic steps).
  • If the man doesn’t push you hard enough to do something, don’t do it, you aren’t helping him by cheating if you know the combination.
  • Keep firm arms, so that you can be guided, the elbow should never go behind the back.
  • Keep your fingers in a U-shape, so that the man can take your hands to guide you whenever he would like.
  • It you aren’t sure what to do, do the pas de bases in place and wait to be guided.
  • Keep your hands above waist level, it will automatically make your dancing look better.

I’m sure there were many more tips, but these caught my attention.

The second class was a begining Cubano class taught by an incredibly tall man. We progressed very quickly through several spins, and variations on the “Dile que no !“. Cubano classes progress so quickly, you will never be bored, but only a couple of the guys in the class had understood leading enough in a basic way to make the dance work as it should. I have to admit I cheated a bit and did my steps without being guided. There was also a girl in the class learning to do the part of the man. This seems really useful, as, at this particular club, there were a lot more women than men. A fair bit of time was spent waiting to be asked to dance.

After the classes were finished they turned on the funky lighting and lit up the vegas style palm trees. A DJ played a mix of music, from normal salsa, to hip hop and classic french music with a salsa beat interposed. There was also two other kinds of music, which required two other ways of dancing, but I don’t remember what they were called. One required three quick steps in place and then a hip movement (more or less upward), then repeat in the other direction. The other seemed to be mainly steping back and forth from one foot to the other and doing salsa type moves in slow motion. It made me feel dizzy, oddly, since the spinning was so much slower.

Elvis and Marilyn are here, and larger than life.

Club MOVING de THIAIS Belle Epine
3, Rue des Alouettes
94320 THIAIS Belle Epine


Manager Daniel SOIRAT

RER C – stop Pont de Rungis – Aeroport d’Orly

It is a 15 minute walk from the RER station. I would be aware walking at night though as it is a very deserted area. I saw people living in trailers parked on the street, lots of broken glass, a smashed car, and young people driving like I used to drive when I was 16. Not a pretty sight. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I got a ride home, so it was still light out when I walked the route.

I believe it is every Friday and Saturday night classes starting at 9h, dancing starting at 11h. But call ahead because I believe last night was the last class until after a summer break of 1-2 months.

La Coupole

Hier soir, je suis allee a la Coupole pour faire deux cours du salsa avec Seve et Mouaze. Le premier etait un vrai cours debutant. Nous avons passes une heure entier sur les pates base. A la dernier minute il a rajoute un tourne super simple s’appelle la “Dile que no !“, que on a fait aussi a la Pachenga. C’est un style different, s’appelle le porto. Avant j’ai essaye le cuban. J’ai l’impression que le porto est plus raffiner. Ils sont tres attentioner au details du danse.

Il y a deux prof, un homme et une femme, et je trouve que ca aide beaucoup. Les autre studio sont que un homme qui traite primairement ce qu’il fait l’homme. Le prof parle tres clairment le francais (avec un peu des mots anglais rajouter), et ca aide enourmement mon comprehension.

Pendant le deuxieme heure, il fait un cours intermediaire beaucoup plus simple et attentioner au details que les autre studio. Je crois que c’est ici que quel’qun apprend dancer accord aux regles. Mais le cuban est surtout plus facile pour les filles qui sont beaucoup plus fortement guider que dan le porto. Un mec avec qui j’ai danser n’a pas compris le difference entre les deux style alors il m’a fait des corrections incorrect.

Tous les Mardi, 19h30 debutant, 20h30 intermediare. Apres c’est ouvert pour danser jusque tard. 10€, un boisson compris, et 2€ le vestiere mandatoire. C’est entre metro Edgar Quinet, Monparnasse, et Vavin.

Dancing de la Coupole
102, Boulevard du Montparnasse

Mardi et Vendredi
19h30 Debutant
20h30 Intermediare
Entree, Cours, et Consumation compris