Rotten Summer Blues

photo: pizza pizza, champs

The 'pizza pizza' corner of the Champs-Elysées.

No Blues for Minitel

Paris:- Sunday, 9. October 2000:- The statistics people - the INSEE - have trotted out a handful of reasons why the French are not happy this fall. The INSEE measures things, like rising prices, reduced consumer spending, salaries that are stagnant and an euro that is getting sand kicked in its face, and with the help of Le Parisien, says the French have 'the blues.'

The INSEE is one of these outfits that says the inflation rate is 1.8 percent in the past year. But any motorist can tell the INSEE is blind, because it doesn't shell out hard cash for gas - which has taken a cool 1500 francs extra out of average pocketbooks, just in the last couple of months.

Globally, salaries have risen only 1.6 percent - two points less than inflation - while the economy has expanded at a rate of 3.5 percent.

In theory, positive signs are increased employment, an expanding economy, announced tax reductions and a legally shorter work-week.

However, the reason for 'French blues' may lie elsewhere. Generally rotten summer weather could be one culprit; this reduces the general ambiance right off the bat becausephoto: galerie des champs nobody has had great holidays to tell anybody about.

The Olympics are supposed to be a time of optimism, but how easy is this when narco spooks are crawling all over it?

In case of hunger, the Champs-Elysées is not a place to go hungry.

In France, the 'mad-cow' business goes quietly on, with more cases reported this year than there have been weeks since New Years. Coupled with this is the vague uneasiness over the 'malbouffe,' which is "everywhere, even out in the country."

One happy sign: out of the five men and women 'on the street' interviewed on the subject 'blues' by Le Parisien, only one was solidly negative.

This one was not the 52-year old lady who lost her job ten days ago; who has decided to take a holiday before getting down to the true grit of finding a new job.

The Night Workers

The Eurocrats in Brussels have decided, in the name of 'sexual equality,' that women should have to work nights as well as men.

This would make it legal for nurses to look after the ill in hospitals as well as the lady doctors who routinely work with the emergency services - and policewomen fall into this category too. Cleaning services operate around the clock and a lot of offices, for example, are cleaned at night.

France's National Assembly agreed to this and sent the text of the new law to the Senat. Last Tuesday, 10 right-wing senators voted 'yes' and 10 left-wing senators voted 'no' to the measure. Without a majority, the law's text was rejected.

In general, the left does not see night work - for women or men - as 'social progress.' However, Brussels declared in 1976 that night work for both sexes was legal.

France was rapped with a fine of 931,000 francs last year for not respecting this Euro-law. Actually, France's article 213-1 of the Code du Travail only forbids night work for women working in industrial positions.

Since some 650,000 women are working at night, mainly in the medical sector, and another 55,000 are working - voluntarily - after 22:00 in industry, France's Code du Travailphoto: building decor is as little respected in this aspect as in many others.

A majority of unions are declared against seeing the article removed from the Code. The Ministry of Employment is embarrassed with the fines being levied against it, and thought the article could be eliminated if it was replaced with other suitable guarantees.

When there is decor on the Champs-Elysées, it tends to the neo-neo type rather than the plain neo-type.

The idea of paying a tiny premium for night work is not unknown in France, and some fixed percentage for this was provided for in the new text - this has to be part of a 'law' instead of in a union contract - because this is France.

Since the night-work 'premium' is included in a law's text, it has to be ridiculously low - so right-wing senators will okay it. This makes it easier to reject by left-wing senators, for its lack of 'social progress.'

Employer-labor contract notions of time-and-a-half or double-time pay are unknown in France.

No Blues for Minitel

While Internet-hype in France reaches new heights every week, 35 percent of the French still have access to their five million good, old Minitel terminals at home or work.

One reason for this is that there are still 20,000 servers supplying information and services via the Minitel. France Télécom made a handy two billion franc profit from it in 1999.

As slow as the Minitel - still is - it does have financial results from the Paris Bourse online 15 minutes ahead of Internet sites with similar information. Certain financial information services are available via the Minitel and nowhere else.

Everybody agrees the darn things are slow - even if Minitel servers are reached by way of emulators from computers - although France Télécom has just announced a new software emulator that is supposed to break the Minitel's speed barrier.

Banks Say Pay Up

Again, French banks are preparing plans to start charging chequing-account holders for writing cheques. This has been tried before and this has been resisted before.

In exchange, the banks will convert cheque accounts into -minimal- interest-bearing accounts, but the number of 'fre' cheques will be limited to nine per quarter.

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