If the Unemployed Can't Have Work

Le Gourmet, rue de Bruxelles
Bistro, café or restaurant; sometimes it is all the same.

They Will Accept Money Instead

Paris:- Saturday, 10. January 1998:- Some unemployed people, who have been unemployed in France for a long time, had the idea at Christmas time that they and their families should have Christmas - just about like everybody else who is currently employed.

To do this they need some money, cash, moola, folding green, you name it. After all, they reason, it is not their fault they are unemployed and are unable to make the economy chug along a little bit more energetically; enough so as to perhaps even... employ them.

'Can't be done,' say the leaders of the government, the unions, the employer's associations, the economists and everybody else with an opinion on the subject - most of whom are employed at doing what they do.

So a very tiny, small, few, minority, really not many, unemployed occupied some government employment agencies. Their spokesmen said they wanted a 3,000 franc 'bonus.'

Some local officials looked in their petty cash old truck and scooter and agreed to try and hand out a thousand to the few protestors they had on hand. Other local officials locked the unemployed out of the unemployment offices before they could occupy them.

There aren't many of these older vans around anymore, and absolutely none of them are this color.

Out of maybe 600 or so of these offices around France, perhaps 20 or 30 have been occupied by the unemployed at one time or another over the past four weeks. There are millions of individual unemployed and they aren't really taking over unemployment offices in any big way.

However, the government is taking it very seriously and some ministers may have even forsaken their usual winter holidays.

The President of the Republic thought the matter serious enough to break a months' long TV silence. Opposition right-wing politicos have been mostly keeping quiet because they had the problem when they were in the majority, and they got nowhere with it.

During the week, chilling statistics from Germany showed unemployment rising there, to unheard-of levels.

Inflation is only rising by tiny amounts because the government keeps adding to the prices of gasoline and cigarettes and increasing taxes; without these increases there would be minus inflation.

Exports are doing good, booking solid pluses. The Paris Bourse is doing well too, having just clocked in its third or fourth year in a row of solid gains. Company profits are generally healthy, and the Bourse reflects this.

A lady on TV tonight said, "Look at my husband. He's 40. At the unemployment office they say he's too old." The guy gets maybe ten days work a month, doing odd-jobs. When he does, the family sees meat; the rest of the month all they see is rice and pasta.

Unemployment is a constant theme of talk on the street. People can't believe the government wants them to sit around and vegetate; they've grown up with the notion the government runs things - but year after year of seeing the government seemingly impotent to act in any positive way, must be shaking the faith a bit.

Teenage kids have apparently declared wars on buses and some of them are into torching cars as well. You think they go downtown and burn up the Mercs double-parked outside Fauchon?

Oh no. They simply take the elevator down from the housing silos they live in and burn up their neighbor's third-hand Fiestas and Opels.

The professors at the government-financed CNRS think-tanks don't seem to have any plausible answers that might explain why the kids do this - and even if they did, the kids seem to be unstoppable.

Well, there are a few idle hands around for the police to hire and if they hire enough of them maybe there would be fewer left over for mischief; and if this turned out to be effective, what are we waiting for?

Let's all go work for the cops. Those who don't want to wear uniforms, can be robbers instead. If we are all cops and robbers, then everybody will be getting caught and then, instead of unemployment, we'll have the big moral dilemma of not putting the bad guys in jail because the country doesn't do anything but cops and robbers, and there's not a penny to spare to build jails to hold half the population.

Madame, le Ministre

A very important French language problem in France popped up during the week. One of the lady government ministers, Ségolène Royale - official title: 'la ministre déléguée chargée de l'ensignement scolaire' - no caps - has brought it up.

It concerns the French language. The word for minister is 'le ministre.' That is that. Men do not balk at having wine shop Repaire de Bacchus to talk about 'ma voiture' - my car - even though 'ma' is feminine - the word for car is 'la voiture,' which is feminine even if the owner isn't. That is also that. Cars are ladies.

One of Paris' many agreeable wine shops; this one in a passsage just off the rue Royal.

As you might know already, there is no neuter word in French - like the German word 'das' - which could be used to describe something like minister, doctor, member, or something completely new like 'Cédérom,' which is what a CD-ROM is supposed to be called. Audio CDs are still called 'CD' for some reason, although they have been around longer. You pronounce 'Cédérom' as CeeDee-Rom by the way.

So Ségolène, who is very preoccupied about this problem, has had her business cards printed up with 'Madame la ministre' on them. This has set the word-watchers at the Académie Française on fire. The word is 'le ministre' because the word 'ministre' is masculine, they cry.

"Who says?" replies Ségolène. Well now it looks like Jacques Chirac, le président, will have to take some time off between trips to settle this question.

How he will do it is not certain. He could put the choices in a hat, flip a coin, consult people from the Académie, see an astrologist, ask his wife - all of these or none of these. Maybe the word 'the' should be brought into the French language to settle the issue once and for all.

But while they are at it, Ségolène doesn't seem to realize that there is no word for Ms. in French. I'm thinking of writing to her to tell her - so that once President Chirac has solved this problem, he will have another to keep him busy - until the time a lady gets elected President of France.

I can see it now: Ségolène Royale, le président de la République française. A lady who is the masculine president of the feminine republic.

The Rest of the News Is Suspended For Technical Reasons

There is the usual ton of news which I am dying to report here, and quite a bit of it is funny too. However, I appear to have been bitten by some species of animal on an eyelid and can no longer see well enough to read it.

Next week there will be new news and missing the rest of this week's news will not hurt you. I generally throw about three-quarters of it on the floor every week anyway, so if I throw 95 percent of it on the floor this week I don't think it will make much difference to the fate of mankind.

The Trial of Maurice Papon

Papon's trial in Bordeaux resumed as scheduled at the beginning Zola's house in Medan of the week. The court finished off with the second lot of mostly French people who were rounded up and sent to their deaths and by the end of the week the third convoy was being discussed in detail.

A view of Emile Zola's estate and museum at Médan.

I will resume the reports about this next week. If, in the meantime, you want to keep up to date with the proceedings, please check into the web sites below.

The Matisson family were the first to launch a civil case against Maurice Papon, in 1981. Jean-Marie Matisson runs the website, and reports from the courtroom. At the website, click on 'Affaire Papon.'

Another website of interest contains daily coverage of the trial by the Bordeaux paper, the Sud Ouest.

The World Cup SportsBar Never Closes

Real SportsFans should hang out the SportsBar where the fans have all the eggnog they can make themselves, at the Football Café, and have relaxing bowls of popcorn while discussing the finer points of the world of football, without getting too 'psychorigide' about it. Cool.

Less uplifting are the 'official' Web sites: represenred by the FIFA - which stands for Federation International - and the French Organizing Committee, known to all far and wide as the CFO. I don't what the initials stand for, just like SNCF does not sound like RR to me.


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