In an earlier life, I spent some happy months in Paris working for a multi-national company helping to fix their Y2K problems. I often used to be picked up by a driver who I built a good rapport with. He told me that his family could be traced all the way back to the French Revolution. When I remarked that his ancestors may well have helped to start the revolution, he shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly exclaimed “probablement”.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been to France, whether on business, including my determination to conduct it in the French language, or pleasure, latterly skiing, or in my youth taking part in missionary activity, or when at school taking part in a French exchange, or most recently when I took the missus to Paris, when she was keen to go up the Eiffel Tower whereas I was happy to remain on the boat on the Seine enjoying French culinary delights. But it has only gone to add to my love for France and the French. While one might feel hard put to find the stereotypical Frenchman portrayed below, especially given the more recent immigration influx, the notion of a Frenchman who enjoys life, good food and wine, is creative, independent and unpredictable, is laid back, finicky and flamboyant and is prepared to make a cock a snook to authority while going along with it, can be an endearing one. If times had been different, I might well have become an honary Frenchman.
It is a while now since I blogged on the French Presidential elections. Just as the Americans were faced with two, arguably unsatisfactory, polar opposites, Trump and Clinton, so were the French with Macron and Le Pen. Macron won of course, and even though Le Pen did well to become the main contender and helped to highlight the concerns of many French people, her far right associations and disdain by the establishment and the ruling elites were too much to overcome in the light of a system that was intent on getting its man, Macron, elected. But all is not well as the yellow jacket protests, which have spread to other countries, have showed. Sadly, what has also been shown is the failure of the mainstream media to report in a balanced way on what is really going on. If that is all we have to go by, what we are now seeing is a small group of often violent far right activists, mostly centered around Paris, who are causing the problems and these are likely to be contained with the help of some compromises, i.e. delay the proposed fuel tax hikes.
As I dig further, it is becoming clear that the concerns raised are much wider than Paris and much deeper than Macron’s proposed hike in fuel taxes, and goes to the heart of French life and French national identity and the feeling of disconnect the common people have with their leaders. Those protesting cover many areas of France, including rural who experience some of the untoward effects of Macron’s economic policies and the continuation to open up France to immigrants who take more than give and continue to undermine what is left of French culture. Protestors include all sections of French society, including the police and military, and while the means and motives may be mixed, the protestors cannot be written off as deplorables who need to be shut down. They resent being screwed by their leaders and being ignored, discovering that by protesting as they do things can change. The protests have been effective and mainly peaceful. What seems clear to me is we haven’t heard the last of this uprising and the disdain many Frenchmen have toward Macron’s elitist, globalist, open borders ideas. When he was inaugurated with the EU anthem rather than the French one, this had not gone unnoticed and I daresay that there are many a French person who would love to see our stereotype Frenchman again rather than being overtaken by globalist forces.
Charles Dickens opened in his “Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” and we are seeing comparable turmoil now. The prospect of Macron being marched off by my French taxi driver friend to the guillotine, seems unlikely, but what we do see is a popular uprising, which may turn bad as it did in Dicken’s story, but to dismiss it as our media does is the height of folly. Along with UK’s own turmoil over Brexit, Trump’s ongoing conflict, with his opposers, populist uprisings across the world and action in all sorts of international hot spots, things are not only looking interesting but connected.