Yo-Yo Tax Week

photo: les delices d'aphrodite

A tidy bistro near the Rue Mouffetard.

Plus Bonus Radio Sports News

Paris:- Sunday, 29. August 1999:- For the French, July greets them with the annual rises in public transport fares and other nuisance items, far too many to mention here. This is how the summer season starts - with less money to spend on necessities such as suntan oil and pink wine.

Last week, at the end of summer, the few French paying attention were probably shocked - as I was! - to read about all the surprise tax hikes awaiting them.

Most people pay their income taxes, in thirds rather than monthly. The first two thirds are based on the before-previous year's assessed taxes, and the third third - due in mid-mid-September for many - is rounded up or down, based on the previous year's accessed taxes, which have been finally figured out. It is a very logical French system.

The big 'but' is during this year, the finance ministry has been fiddling with the tax code - these fine adjustments - andphoto: bistro royal mirabel the result is, just about everybody except the totally destitute will be paying a greater third third than anticipated. Right at the time when everybody is broke from summer excesses of pink wine and plunged into the middle of the expensive return of the kids to schools.

We had three days to digest this before the very same finance ministry let it be known that it has a sort of a surplus - business is picking up, people are getting jobs; so more money has been collected. Lots more.

At week's end, all the talk is about what to 'do' with this surplus. It does not occur to anybody to think the government is actually going to give any money back - no! - the question is how to distribute the surplus - by maybe reducing taxes, sometime in the future, usually.

More tax revenue is collected from value-added tax than from tax on incomes in France. The TVA rate for most items is a stunning 20.6 percent, and everybody pays it, even the totally destitute and the dead.

Therefore the finance ministry has decided to reduce the TVA on home improvement materials and services. This is clever; it promotes improving the lodgement structure of France and at the same time is a 'carrot' of persuasion to have the work done by professionals, rather than by weekend 'noire' - or black - workers.

People will fix up their places and tradesmen will get more business, and the whole home building and renovation industry will take off - thus producing more tax revenues - but with less pain.

Fine. Now what about that looming stiff third third that hasn't gone away?

Meanwhile, Out In the Country

Farmers are still angry in France. After many demonstrations about being paid less for fruit than it costs to grow, somebody thought up the brilliant idea of displaying double price tags.

In fruit and veg sales areas, the price the producer has received is now displayed beside the price the supermarket wants the customer to pay. A supermarket near me also displaysphoto: le jardin de la mouff the amount it pays to distributors or wholesalers; making a total of three prices.

The first price does not indicate whether the farmer has sold at a profit or loss. The second is what you pay, so what do you learn?

Mouffetard bistro 'Le Jardin de la Mouff.'

Farmers agreed to this measure but the farmers are still angry in France for the simple reason that they are still getting less than what their produce costs, regardless of all the price tags.

On one hand, subsidizing farmers is a no-no. We had that and it got us butter mountains and wine lakes. On the other hand, it is illegal - in France at least - to sell goods or services for less than cost.

Farmers are still blocking highways and dumping fruit on administration buildings and having demos inside supermarkets, and some of them are going to jail for it. If you ask me, I don't know how much TVA is on fruit.

No Vacancy

Of the 330,000 students expected to be doing higher studies in Paris this fall, slightly less than half do not live with their parents and must find lodgings - very quickly.

If they can get a rare place in a student residence - there are about 8500 rooms available, thenphoto: morris toilet they will pay about 750 francs rent per month. Getting a private sector studio or small apartment will easily cost from 2500 to 4000 francs a month.

Some students started their search last spring but the big assault is on now - some weeks before classes begin. There are student organizations that act as agents for apartment seekers, but there are far fewer offers than demands.

Student toilet near métro Jessieu, in the Latin Quarter.

Some students find rooms in apartments, in exchange for services like babysitting. But there are abuses; such as having six square metres in return for 18 hours of baby-minding a week. Paying 2300 francs for 13 square metres could be like paradise in comparison.

I expect I will start seeing a lot of anxious students scanning the window displays of estate agents, now that the agencies are reopening after their summer holidays.

Once the student has found lodgings, the next step is to get a chair to sit on at school. More about this in a couple of weeks.

High, Black Walls

My neighborhood prison, La Santé, is not everybody's darling. The prison, built in 1867, takes up 30 hectares inside Paris and its neighbors are tired of looking at its high, black walls.

The justice minister has announced a grand plan of renovation for French prisons and La Santé is very high on the list of those to be fixed up.

Thierry Ragu, an administrator at the Mairie of the 14th - the city hall where the prison is located - thinks it would be a better idea to knock it down, sell the valuable land and build 'two or three' new prisons elsewhere - in the suburbs, out in the country - with the proceeds.

Apparently there are arguments for keeping the big jail in Paris - such as it is handy for the detention of prisoners. Thierry Ragu says cars and buses have been invented since it was built - prisoners could be transported from somewhere else.

I hope somebody takes up Thierry Ragu's proposal before somebody else decides La Santé is a national monument, and we have to keep it forever.

Radio Sports News

Along with the latest radio news I get from France-Info about the 'Life of Plants' and other subjects, sports news is intriguing. Last week French athletes were competing at a track meet in Seville.

According to France-Info, no other nationality seemed to be taking part in the track meet - so all the reports were about how French athletes were doing with quarter-finals and semi-finals. They had really good chances, the radio news said.

What a surprise then, on Friday morning to hear that Michael Johnson of the USA won the world championship for the 400-metre sprint. I wasn't awarephoto: kiosque flottant any Americans were competing.

I suppose sports news is like this in all countries. Until some people you never heard of are on the podium getting the gold and silver medals, you think only your nation's athletes are competing. The final score can be a big let-down after an intensive rah-rah buildup.

This happened on Friday to Stéphane Digana, France's champion for the 400-metre hurdles. The world-record holder came in second after Fabrizio Mori of Italy, to win the silver medal - which is not too shabby.

Le Parisien still devoted two full pages to Digana for the near-win; mentioning in passing that Mori had been disqualified in the semi-final, but had been reinstated after an appeal - thus hinting how Digana could have easily won the final. Runners three and four finished 1/100th of a second behind Digana.

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