Monthly Archives: April 2006

Dreaming of Utopia

Yesterday I was dismayed to watch a beleagured Dominique de Villepin back down on the much bally-hooed CPE (contrat de premier embauche), which basically allows employers here in France to hire just out of school youth without having to, as it stands now, promise to employ them for the rest of their lives, regardless of whether they:

a) actually do their job properly
b) even turn up at the job at all
c) burn down the premises
d) have a torrid affair with their employers’ spouse

The youth are all in a froth (albeit not a violent froth, unlike what CNN would like to have you believe) about demanding iron clad job security.

The French are very enamoured with the myth of themselves all being revolutionaries at heart, and none more so than the youth. I can relate in a sense, as at eighteen I would also have undoubtedly been marching around holding a banner or sitting blocking the high school gates while beating a melancholy tune on a tam-tam drum. That is simply what we need to do when we’re eighteen – flip the bird to society-at-large.

However, from what I can garner, what the french youths seem to be asking for here is to have the right to get a steady, secure job right out of school, and then just coast there, doing as little work as possible until it is time to retire. So what they are fighting for is the right to be an overpaid, underworked, underchallenged fonctionnaires

Huh…dare to dream.

The Sacred Twig

Think I made a bit of a faux pas yesterday.

We had gone to pick up Charlotte at a friend’s house, where she had been having an overnight the night before. We were welcomed with typical french hospitality and asked to stay for a bit and have a chat and a drink with the parents.

Shortly after ensconsing ourselves on the couch all the girls treated us to a rousing “spectacle” (the girls are very into “spectacles” at the moment, reminding me of my own childhood when myself and the rest of the neighbourhood kids treated our poor, bedragled parents to a two hour adaptation of “The Wiz”).

The girls’ performance included a lot of strange dance movements, accompanied by singing “hallelujah” at random intervals, and waving branches around over their heads.

It turned out the branches had been brought home by the mother earlier that day. That morning she had attended the french equivalent of the Palm Sunday church service, and, as I guess there are a distinct lack of palm trees in Burgundy, branches, called “rameaux” here, take their place.

The “rameaux“, however, must have been sitting around for a while before being dispensed to the holy masses, as they shedded leaves left, right, and centre during the dancing. After the girls had taken their final bow Franck and I set about picking the detritus off the tiled floor as the father went to get us our drinks. Franck gave his leaves to the girls to dispense with and I went into the kitchen and, right in front of the father, threw them into the garbage can.

I thought no more about it until it was discovered that a lot of rameaux shedding had also happend in the front hall in the lead up to the performance, and the girls were duely ordered to clean up.

However, as they set about with a broom the father said, in a rather curt tone.

“And you must NOT throw the leaves in the garbage.”

I gulped, feeling like a naughty preschooler.

“They have been BLESSED,” he continued. “You can put them in a pile somewhere and we’ll have to burn them, but whatever you do, don’t throw them in the garbage.”

I started to wonder if these directions were being doled out with such vigour for my benefit.

“You can put them anywhere, but NOT in the garbage,” he repeated.

I decided that this was ridiculous. I had thrown the leaves in the garbage right in front of him, for heaven’s sakes.

I gathered whatever scraps of maturity I possess around myself and cleared my throat. “Well, I threw them in the garbage,” I confessed. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know. I’m not very familiar with this kind of thing.”

He just shrugged, but still seemed a bit put out.

And then coffee was served and the conversation resumed as if nothing sacreligious had happened and I was left mulling over the enigma of the sacred twigs. Obviously if I had known they weren’t to be thrown in the garbage, I would have respected that, but I sincerely had no idea. How in God’s name was I supposed to know? Everyone in the world was not brought up a Catholic.

I still can’t figure out if it was a simple misunderstanding, or one of those spacy, tired parenting moments on his part, in which case I can certainly understand, or if I was really being chastised.

If so, what ever happened to “judge not, and thee shall not be judged?” Or, I think that’s how it went…