Président 'Superforme'

photo: bistro bar balu

Bistros change management less often than the French change presidents.

Meet 'Steve from Budapest'

Paris:- Monday, 7. May 2001:- With the municipal elections in Paris safely out of the way - for the next 5.5 years, the recently vacated election stage in France is being prepared for next year's presidential and national assembly contests.

According to a report in Le Parisien, the current president - Jacques Chirac - doesn't do anything better than campaign for re-election. This is pure political-media-think.

It is true that Mr. Chirac's one goal in life seemed to be attaining the presidency of France - which was denied him more than once - so his win in May of 1995 was the big one. Polls at the time gave him a positive rating of 59 percent.

Six years later, after some normal ups and downs - polls are not election ballots after all - Président Chirac's popularity was supposed to be rated at 56 percent worth of approval last month.

Politically, the one cloud on the horizon is the continuing fact of the total disarray the right-wing partiesphoto: mur de la paix, champ de mars that would nominally support him. But the way it works in France, for the first round of the two-step election, each right-wing party will hoist its own candidate.

The 'Peace Wall' is still standing on the Champ de Mars.

This is not to say the left won't do this too. But the majority of the left is the Socialist Party, which is a big unit, compared to its eventual partners composed of the French Communist Party and the rising tide of 'Les Verts.'

During the president's term, France has voted to reduce the presidential term from seven years to five. More recently, another vote reversed the order of the presidential and national assembly elections - putting them back to voting for president first and the assembly afterwards.

On the right, these two changes are held against the president. Président Chirac was publicly against both changes, but his so-called supporters failed to carry the day when it came to getting the votes to block them.

I suppose the truth of it is that politicians think that the Président of France is supposed to be involved in the day-to-day political brawling. I suppose this is even permitted, and other presidents have done it.

If so, it can't be escaped that he is only one man - and he is only as powerful as his support. While polls give him good ratings, party leaders nominally allied to him give him a hard time - when they aren't shooting themselves in their feet.

Whatever goes on behind the scenes at the Elysée Palace, it's my impression that Jacques Chirac decided to be the nation's 'president' - and a popular one - rather than be a pure politician.

The Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, has managed to keep a high level popularity too - even though he's got the often thankless task of managing France and the French.

He will be the left's main candidate in the presidential race. I have a feeling the voters like things the way they are - they will ignore all the bumbling of the right wing parties and re-elect Jacques Chirac - partly because they know that six years from now - not one year - they can elect Lionel Jospin to the same post.

While the right-wing fumbles its way along, at the Elysée Palace they are reported to be saying Jacques Chirac is in 'superforme.'

Tips Plus Value-Added Tax?

France's ministry of finance is good for about one black joke a week. If Paris' air wasn't somewhat polluted, there would probably be value-added tax on it.

Actually, it is Le Parisien who is responsible for the headline above. I have never read a newspaper so devoid of humor, nor one that has such lousy headlines.

The one I'm looking at says, "Value-Added Tax On Tips Will Raise the Bill." Then the subhead says this is about a ministry of finance plan to tax the service charge.

The service charge is the 15 percent automatically added to every restaurant and hairdresser's bill. This is distributed to the personal who have direct contact with customers. Since it is included in the bill, the ministry of finance knows all about it and how much it is.

If this greedy ministry decides to whack 19.6 percent on to the service charge, well, it will raise the final additions somewhat. In round figures, adding value-added tax to the service charge will raise it to 17.94 percent.

And don't forget, it isn't as if there wasn't already 19.6 percent value-added tax on the meal - on the 85 percent that isn't the service charge.

While restaurant owners moan that this will reduce their net profits to nothing, we all know that they will simply add it to your bill and my bill, and send the extra 1.5 billion francs to Bercy.

Tips - discretionary small change - that you leave for the waiter for whatever reason, will not be subject to any tax, because you are not obligated to pay any extra and the waiter is not obligated to declare it either. So much for Le Parisien's headline.

The non-taxation of the service charge dates back to 1923, to well before there was any such thing as value-added tax.

However, the European Commission went to court and got a ruling saying the exoneration of the taxphoto: ponies, ecole militaire on service charges was 'unharmonious.' Normally France isn't too keen to follow diktats from Brussels, but if it means money for nothing, Bercy is willing.

Horses, or ponies, are not common in Paris - not since the introduction of the Deux-Chevaux.

While we're on the subject, the question arises - are 'value-added' taxes ethical? Take this 'harmonious' addition of the value-added tax to 'service charges' for example.

'Service charges' really amount to the waiter's or hairdresser's share of the bill - which they get as part of their salary. Instead of being paid a flat salary, the employees share a risk with management that the restaurant or hair salon will be empty.

Normally salaries are hit with income tax. Won't this 'value-added' tax on service charges be a form of double taxation? Or will waiters a hairdressers be allowed to deduct it as a 'tax already paid' - or get a tax-credit for it?

Actually, the best thing to do would be to end all the double-talk, suppress the whole notion of 'value-added' and simply call it 'sales tax.'

Tourists - Get Lost!

The SNCF has been 'fixing up' the Gare du Nord for a very long time. The station has been especially inconvenient for getting from train quays to Paris' public transport - to and from both the métro and the RER.

I do not remember how long ago it was that I last visited the station's Paris Tourist Office, but I remember itphoto: ronde des fromages, window was between the platforms and the 'in construction' areas, towards the way to the métro.

Besides the barracks-effect of the obscurely-lit and modest office, I didn't think it was particularly poorly-located - unless you went out of the station's main exits and missed it entirely.

If you can find your way out of a train station, cheese awaits you in Paris.

So it is with stupor that I read that the SNCF has simply vanished all branches of the Paris Tourist Office that were once located in Paris train stations. This partly explains why readers write to ask me how to get from Gare du Nord to places in the city.

Now that the Gare du Nord has more or less completed its tedious renovations, the SNCF has offered the Paris Tourist Office a place two floors underground, in a commercial area, for commercial rents.

Four years ago, the SNCF paid the Paris Tourist Office for providing its information service to travellers. Now it's treating the PTO as just another sandwich peddler.

Negotiations are underway between the SNCF and the PTO, because they both realize that they have some common objectives. But since the SNCF has already renovated its stations in Paris without thought for prominent visitor information locations, there won't be any overnight solutions.

Strike(s) of the Week

As much as I looked, I could not find any mention of strikes for the coming week. However, neither could I find any 'news' stating that any of the museum or transport strikes have been settled. I assume then, that May's 'bridges' have temporarily cooled things off.

May's 'Bridges' Revisited

Last week I mentioned all the long weekends there are in May - but overlooked one right at the beginning of June. So I now subtract the first two because one's over and the other is nearly over, and leave in the new one.

Still to come in May is the 'bridge' of Friday, 25. May. New is the public holiday on Monday, 4. June, the day after Pentecôte, which is not a 'bridge' but is a three-day weekend all the same.

The holiday of Ascension on Thursday, 24. May - gives the month one remaining four-day weekend. There is only one complete five-day week in this month.

Internet Life In France

According to local radio, TV, newspapers and magazines, this 'life' has been going on for about two years. For some of us, 'Internet Life' is in its 7th or 8th year.

Back then, in 1995, I got a tip about the 'Online Europe' newsletter. This was put out by Steve Carlson in Budapest and its purpose was to act as a focal point for Internet activities in the area of Europe that used to be behind the disappeared and unlamented 'Iron Curtain.'

'Steve from Budapest,' as I call him, had taken on a formidable job - in an area much bigger than Texas but far less modern than Mexico - which he is still doing, even though the name has changed to nowEurope. Basically, if you want to do online anything in eastern Europe, Steve's newsletter is the place to start.

Steve is also involved in another deal, called First Tuesday, which is about start-ups.

Akkk! - let me outa here now! - you might say. Fair enough - but while IPO dream bubbles have been burstingphoto: omelette, steve carlson and flaming wreckage has been falling out of the sky, 'First Tuesday' has continued to build itself up into a co-op of 'Net people, linking some 120 'First Tuesday' city units worldwide.

Yesterday, for the first time in my life I met 'Steve from Budapest' - who is in Paris for the first time in his life. We checked out the Tour Eiffel's 'count-down' display together, but decided the weather was too gloomy to go up it for a 'tour of the horizon.'

Steve enjoys the first omelette in Paris in his life, while ignoring a snoopy camera.

Anybody who has read Steve's newsletter over the years will know that he would be a very-famous-person if he didn't live in the Buda part of Budapest, but he does. Otherwise he just an ordinary 'Joe' from California who happens to look a bit like a Turkish taxi driver from Hamburg.

The way I see it, somebody has to bring eastern Europe online - and Africa too! - and since Steve has been doing a good job so far, he's the guy who is going do it with the networks he's helped to build. If you want to find out more, hit both of the URLs above.

Meanwhile, At the Movies

Movie people and movie fans get ready for the film festival in Cannes for nearly a whole year, but year after year it manages to surprise me by flinging up its posters all over Paris - mostly underground in the métro - about two minutes before it starts. I suppose it's a good thing I only like to watch good movies, rather than be a fan of them.

Freedom of the Press

'Reporters Sans Frontières' is not exactly like the doctors. On the other hand both keep going to the world's troubled spots. I think the doctors arrange to get invited, but the reporters are often invited to stay home.

Those that don't accept come home in a box sometimes. This is thought to be a violation of 'Freedom of the Press' - which is not universal. 'Reporters Sans Frontières' tells you about it in French, English and Spanish.

Three Clicks for the TGV

The SNCF has spiffed up their travel-booking Web site by reducing the depth of windows from eight to three, making its bookings available in theory in three clicks. Expected in June will be the possibility of reserving a car and hotel rooms.

Also expected in June is the brand-new TGV 'Mediterranée' which will shift you from Paris' Gare de Lyon to the Riviera in a record swoosh of time. New tracks, new trains, city-to-city, and fares to compete with dirty old airplanes.

Your Paris Web URLs

If you have any favorite Paris Web sites you think other readers should know about, please send them in. If they haven't been featured before and they don't crash my browser, you'll get a modest 'thankYou' here.

The 'Official' Weather - 87.3% Crummy

Since I - still! - can't say anything nice, I have little to say. According to informal sources, highs in Paris mayphoto: tour, rue st dominique be from 13, to 20 degrees near the end of the week. These 'highs' have nothing to do with clear skies though.

One good thing about the 7th arrondissement - are its free views of the Tour Eiffel.

For real forecasts, take a look at the Météo France Web site. It's predictions are usually fairly shortrange because Météo France doesn't like being known for bad guesses. Officially, Météo France is not responsible for the weather either.

This said, Météo France is hoping to have ultra-shortrange predictions available online by this coming summer. Frankly I'm not sure I care about this anymore, because the shortrange outlook is dismal. Longrange, I'd like Météo France to tell me there will actually be a summer.

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