La Politesse

After I had been in Paris for about 6 months, I started listening carefully to how my friend, Barbara, addressed everyone. Her friends, the shopkeeper, the man on the street for directions. She always said to people she didn’t know “Bonjour, je suis désolée de vous déranger….”. I figured out that she was saying “Good morning, I’m so sorry to disturb you but…….” Barbara has excellent manners so I decided just to copy her.

Then one day, I was looking for a bus and felt completely lost. The wrong bus came along and stopped in front of me, As the doors opened, I leaned inside and asked the driver if he knew where #37 was. He looked at me slowly, then said “Bon…Jour Ma..dame” long and drawn out. I knew immediately I’d made a curtesy mistake, a big one. I apologised and started over again. I said “Bonjour, that I had juste une petite question..” and could he help me find my bus. He gave me directions without blinking an eye or giving a smile. I was just doing what I should have done in the first place. I felt about two inches high. The last time I was scolded like that, I was probably twelve years old. I’ll say one thing, once it’s happened to you, you never forget to say “Bonjour” again. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s la politesse. I always say “Bonjour Madame or Monsieur”. When leaving, I always say ‘Au Revoir’ and ‘Bonne Journée’. Even if someone stepped in the elevator and you rode only three floors with them.

Most of us ride by public transportation. We spend a fair amount of time out on the street or in public places. One can always tell if there is an American new to the country near by. Their voice is at least three decibals louder than anyone else’s. After awhile, I find myself hoping I look french when I hear Americans talking so loudly and not caring whose space they are invading. French, in general, speak quite softly. They text all their messages. They are constantly with their phones as is most everyone but the French do it more quietly. It was strange to me when I first arrived that so few people used their phones as phones. Then I figured it out–the noise factor.

Yesterday, I was shopping at Picard ( best frozen food store in the world. Another blog!!) A woman speaking Spanish spent her entire time at the store on the phone, walking around, talking very loudly. Everyone was looking at her. It wasn’t a mean look, it was a look to say “You might consider speaking softer.” When she got to the cash register, the fellow taking her money was so kind. He tried to speak Spanish with her. She just glared at him. He asked if she spoke English, she nodded her head. Then he told her how much she owed in Spanish. She looked at him like she had no idea what he was saying. Here he was, a young french boy, trying to make this woman less wrong by joining in on her language but she wasn’t having any of it. I felt bad for him. She left without a goodbye, a thank you or any indication that he had been helpful. So it’s not just Americans.

I have two friends, both named Sylvie, who I meet with each once a week to practice my conversational french. When I was confirming a date with Sylvie #1, I started my text by saying “Salut, Sylvie.” When I arrived at her home two days later, the first thing she said to me was one never, ever, ever uses ‘Salut’ in writing. “We, the french, only use it if you see a friend on the street and wave Hi/Salut!”. Well yes and no. Sylvie is my age, old school, and it probably was a strict rule at one time. My younger french friends say people do use it among close friends in writing. However, I hate breaking these rules of politesse especially when I’m not even sure I know many of them. So to be on the safe side, I’m sticking to Bonjour or Bonsoir.

La Politesse is no small thing. Children are taught it from a very young age. If children seem ‘bien élevé’ (well brought up) when you see them out on the street or on the metro, that is why. There are rules. If you as the visitor or the Ex-Pat living here or the tourist passing through, respect these rules you will find the French very easy to get along with. However, if you just blunder your way around in English not attempting to be polite, you will find yourself getting some strange looks. It would be easy to misinterpret those looks as the French looking down their noses at you. In fact, they will just be wondering why you are not ‘bien élevé”!

While I was finishing up this blog, my friend Janet Hulstrand, sent me a copy of her brand new book: Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love you. It is an extension of everything I’ve written here. I will be interviewing her and putting it in my next blog.

A bientôt,

Sara

Bonne Année 2019

With the French tradition in mind, this blog is my New Year’s card to all of you.

The French have a tradition that I really like.  Instead of sending Christmas cards, they send New Year’s cards.  They can send them any time during the month of January. If you tip a service person, you put it in your New Year’s card. So what happens is that here in France people prepare for Christmas with the presents and the parties and going to Galleries Lafayette to see the windows without the fuss of writing Christmas cards. Then, after you take the tree down, put it out on the sidewalk for pick-up, you have the rest of the month to write cards. People are still saying Bonne Année to me. It’s nice. I feel like I’m slowly moving into 2019 with the daily reminder to make it a good year.

The French have a tradition that I really like.  Instead of sending Christmas cards, they send New Year’s cards.  They can send them any time during the month of January. If you tip a service person, you put it in your New Year’s card. So what happens is that here in France people prepare for Christmas with the presents and the parties and going to Galleries Lafayette to see the windows without the fuss of writing Christmas cards. Then, after you take the tree down, put it out on the sidewalk for pick-up, you have the rest of the month to write cards. People are still saying Bonne Année to me. It’s nice. I feel like I’m slowly moving into 2019 with the daily reminder to make it a good year.

I spent New Year’s Eve in the town of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France. Annecy sits at the north end of Lac d’Annecy, a lake that has a 32 kilometre circumference that one can walk, run or bike easily.

Pier just south of Annecy

My friend, Barbara, and I spent four nights there. What for me is the most amazing part of traveling at any time of the year in France is the transportation. Annecy is southeast of Paris, about an hour south of Geneva. By car, the fastest driving route takes five and a half hours if you don’t stop. By TGV (fast train–often going up to 200 km per hour), the trip is a bit over three hours. Marseille, in the south of France, is just over three hours. Bordeaux is two hours. Even the small towns along the Côte d’Azur where the train stops at every famous spot, one wouldn’t spend more than five or, at the very most, six hours on the train. These are comfortable trains with tables to write at or play games. There are always one or two “Bar” cars that sell sandwiches, drinks and sweets. There is every kind of discount card imaginable. A senior card that often has first class fares that are lower than second class fares for the under 62 years old set. A weekend discount card, a weekday discount card, a youth discount card, a student discount card.

The old city of Annecy

To go such a distance for only four nights is easy. Our AirBnB was a five minute walk from the station. We spent one day just walking around the town of Annecy, especially Le Centre Historique and Vielle Ville with cobbled streets, winding canals and pastel-colored houses. The Marché de Noel was alive and well and open until January 6. We took a bus ride up to La Closaz, a ski area, hoping to ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain. We were told that the winds were quite bad that day and the lifts weren’t operating while we were there. So we took the bus back and went to a movie!

On our last full day, New Year’s Eve day, we started on a walk down the west side of the lake. We stopped for a coffee in Sévrier, about 7km south of Annecy, and ended up eating lunch. We walked out of the Café to blue skies and a warm sun, the first we had seen of the sun during our trip. It transformed the lake and everything around it. We now could see what everyone was raving about when they told us how much we would love Annecy, how beautiful it is. Indeed, with the sun bouncing off the snowy white mountains and reflected in the lake with it’s multitude of sailboats, it was dreamlike.

We stopped in a store as we walked home and Barbara asked about fireworks. The salesperson looked at her and said “This is Annecy. We don’t have fireworks here.” “Completely calm and quiet?” Barbara said. “Oh yes.”

We leaned out the living room window just before midnight and heard people counting down the minutes to midnight at the top of their lungs. At midnight, we saw a few fireworks very far off in the distance. It was hard to tell if it was a suburb or where they were originating from. After a few screams and yells, a siren or two, all was quiet by 12:30am!!

East side of Lake Annecy at sunset

As we got off the train at Gare de Lyon the evening of January 1, 2019, Barbara and I looked at each other and said almost at the same time, “This is so easy. The train ride flies by in no time. I got so much done!!!” And we both went towards our separate routes home. The metro for me and the train to the suburbs for Barbara.

Welcome to 2019. I hope to see you in Paris this year.

A bientôt,

Sara

Happy Holidays

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BONNES FÊTES ET BONNE ANNÉE                                                                                     However you celebrate the holidays, Out My Window wishes all of you peace and joy.  Paris has been relatively warm this past week but this morning, Christmas morning, it is a brisk 34oF/1oC.  However, the sun is out, at least for awhile, and the bells at Notre Dame de Passy are ringing loudly.  Below: windows in Paris.

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Many of us wondered if the Gilets Jaunes and the many others who have joined them would back off for the holidays.  After Macron’s speech and then the shootings in Strasbourg, a plea was made to not protest the following Saturday, Act V as the Saturdays were being called.  The police were exhausted, many had been called to Strasbourg and there was hope that the GJs would give Paris a break for the holiday weeks.  But no, they called for a protest.  They intimated that the government was hiding behind a false statement that the shootings were by a terrorist and just lying to stop the protests.  Paris geared up for yet another Saturday of protests and violence.  Thirty of the metro stations announced in advance that they would be closed, the American Church and the American Library both closed on Saturday and the exhausted police were called out once more.  However, the streets were much calmer here in Paris.  A man was killed in a traffic accident near the town of Perpignon when the driver rammed into a lorry that had been stopped by the GJs at a roundabout.  That was the tenth fatality during the six weeks of protests.

There seem to be a number of things happening:                                                                        1–the word of the protests spread by way of social media particularly Facebook.  So, as a french friend reminded me, 175,000 people or less are deciding the fate of a country of ten million.  Facebook has become the wild wild west of the Internet.  One can expect all the dangers that come from a lawless entity with no boundaries and no rules.  I, personally, have deleted my account.  Not only do I not approve of anything that Facebook is doing, I don’t trust it to do anything at all in my interest.  For any of you looking to delete your account, there was an excellent article in the NYTimes two months ago advising how to go about removing yourself. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/10/technology/personaltech/how-to-delete-facebook-instagram-account.html

2–Many Parisians are sick and tired of all the violence.  Where once there was sympathy and empathy for the poorest amongst us, destroying monuments, burning cars and wreaking havoc has caused a majority to back off and condemn those that are still actively creating chaos.  It is not clear how many of the original GJs are still involved.  The protests have been hi-jacked by the ‘Black Bloc’, anarchists and right-wing extremists.

3–The protests have expanded far beyond fuel taxes.  Those on the street now include students, academics and citizens begging for more say in the French government.  For an excellent report by an activist, you can read Aurelie Dianara, a Paris-based academic and activist: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/france-protests-yellow-vests-macron-paris-gilet-jaunes-fuel-prices-minimum-wage-a8681366.html

4–The far right politician Marine Le Pen is taking advantage of the chaos to make the protests her own.  She has brought in hatred of immigrants as a part of the protesting.  The frustration and hatred of Macron may actually make her words more palatable to the french public.  After all, during the 2017 elections, many didn’t vote For Macron as Against Le Pen.  As Populism (which in my vocabulary is another word for Facism) grows in Europe, it could easily go the opposite way.

LES SOLDES                                                                                                                                   When all else fails, go shopping…..  The Winter Sales start January 9, 2019.  For those of you who are lucky enough to visit Paris in January and February, the Winter Sales are extraordinary.  There are two state-mandated sales during the year: the Winter Sales and the Summer Sales that start end of June and go through early August.  Almost all stores want to get rid of all their stock.  Discounts will start at 50% and by the end of the six-week sale, be down to 75%/80%.  People wanting high-end luxury clothing can find great deals.  People will do a lot of research during the first week of January, then be ready to be the first person in the door of their favourite shop.  Many, like me, wait until the mad rush of the first couple of days is over and then we go shopping.

That’s a wrap!

A bientôt,

Sara

Les Gilets Jaunes–part 2

Hi from Paris,

Many of you have written to me to make sure I am okay as the tv reports showed a Paris out of control and burning.  I am fine.  The protests, the demonstrations and rioting have been in the centre of Paris where tourist attractions are and the wealthiest streets are.  It has affected my ability to travel around Paris.  Yesterday, we were warned ahead of time that forty metro stations would be closed.  And, as a caution, all tourists sites were closed, all museums closed and the department stores on the Grands Boulevards were closed.

What started as a protest against a tax on diesel fuel has now escalated to a full-blown rage at the cost of living in France, hatred of President Macron as a president of only the rich and a general overflowing of suppressed anger at the things the average French person cannot control

I have friends on both sides.  A number of my french friends are disgusted with the Gillets Jaunes.  They feel they do not appreciate all the services that they do get for ‘free’. The French pay one of the highest taxes in Europe and those taxes are what support the French Healthcare System which is remarkable, maintenance of roads and highways–they are always up to date, and many days and evenings during the year when the average person can go to museums and monuments for free.

I also have friends who support the Gilets Jaunes.  They also believe that this protest has been hijacked by the hooligans and the far-right as well as the infamous ‘black bloc’.  Many believe that the Gilets Jaunes want a peaceful protest but as one french worker said, “if we protest peacefully, we get ignored.  If there is violence, they hear us and things change.” (that is not an exact quote).

For those of you who want to read a lot more detail, I’ve included articles from the NYTimes, The guardian and France24.

https://www.france24.com/en/20181208-live-hundreds-detained-paris-france-braces-new-anti-macron-riots

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/08/paris-police-flood-streets-gilets-jaunes?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVS19XZWVrZW5kLTE4MTIwOQ%3D%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&CMP=GTUK_email

No one knows what will happen next.  Macron is supposed to talk to the country early this coming week.  Is he going to stick to his revolutionary plan or will he have listened and be willing to work with the French?  And interesting sideline is the comparison to the 1968 student riots that brought Paris to a complete standstill.   “In an interview with the Observer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the leaders of the May 1968 student riots and one of Macron’s friends and advisers, said the president and the government needed a “complete reset …and a tax revolution” to answer protesters’ demands.”

Thank you all for your concern,

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Les Gilets Jaunes — What the heck is happening in Paris

Les gilets jaunes are the yellow vests that are stored in every car in France. It is mandatory.  In case of emergency, one can stand outside the car with the vest on and any passerby knows you need help.

When Macron announced his plan to raise the price of diesel fuel, the French were infuriated.  For years, the government had been pushing diesel cars as the most climate friendly as well as the cheapest to run.  As a result, the majority of cars in France are diesel.  Now we have learned that diesel is not very climate friendly so the price of the fuel has been steadily rising in order to dissuade the French from buying diesel cars.

The government is offering incentives that are excellent if you trade your diesel car in for a new car.  However, at least 50% of the population cannot afford a new car even with the incentive.  At first, a friendly protest was planned for Saturday November 17.  There were no leaders and they had no idea what to call themselves until someone came up with the idea of wearing the yellow vests for the reason they are there in the first place.  Word of the protest spread on the internet through social media. That first Saturday most of France participated in the protest.  Those of us that didn’t, sympathised with them.  In Paris, there was a death when a woman panicked in her car and put her foot on the accelerator when she meant to hit the brake.  In Le Gers where I was that day, it was extremely friendly.  Yes, traffic was held up but no one seemed to really mind.

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Paris–November 17, when things were still peaceful

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Trying to stay warm in the French countryside

By the next Saturday, November 24 when a second protest was planned, a list of taxes that Macron has added or raised on the majority of French, was added to the protestation.  This time, agitators from the far right and far left came on the scene in Paris hoping to take advantage of the situation to create havoc.  It worked.  Cars were burned, fires started, metro stops were closed to protect people and tear gas was used by the police.  It reminded me of Occupy Oakland back in 2012 when the Black Bloc came out and created so much violence that Oakland became the poster child of how the protests were not working.  Friends back in the States were writing asking if I was ok with all the riots going on.  I thought to myself ‘Count on the media to put a spotlight on the anarchists and the violence and not on les Gilets Jaunes and their real complaints.’

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Yesterday was the third day of les Gilets Jaunes and protests. The “Casseurs” (thugs, agitators) were by far the majority on the streets yesterday.  The New York Times called it the worst civil unrest that Paris has seen in over a decade.  More fires, more tear gas, more broken windows, more havoc.  The metro lines that went through the centre of Paris closed completely.  Today, movie theatres on the Champs Elysees were closed as I’m sure many others were.  Many of us stayed home all day.

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This reminds me of Occupy Oakland.  The casseur won’t even take credit for protesting.

Macron is now home from Argentina and has been to the Champs to assess the violence.  There is the possibility that a state of emergency will be declared. “Even if mostly perpetrated by vandals who have now latched on to the movement, the symbolism of Saturday’s violence was powerful. A modern-day peasants’ and workers’ revolt against a president increasingly disdained for his regal remove turned the country’s richest boulevards and most prominent landmarks into veritable war zones.” NYTimes, Dec. 2, 2018.

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This all makes me very sad.  France, I’ve found, is remarkable in how manifestations are conducted.  They are registered ahead of time, people are warned to stay away from certain areas.  Buses announce ahead of time that they will take different routes.  The gendarmes stand with them not to respond to violence but to protect the protesters and just be a presence so that things remain friendly.

No one seems to know what will happen next.  One publication I read said that gas prices were actually falling because of cheaper oil prices and that by yesterday, it had made up for the 6% the price of diesel has gone up.  I suspect that is not the point anymore.  Macron took away a tax on the wealthy that was causing them to leave the country, move elsewhere.  Now he has to make up the revenue somewhere.  Ergo, the lower 99% are having taxes raised.  This movement can’t go backwards.  Macron has made so many mistakes in his first 18 months as President.  Will he listen?  Will he respond to the people? Macron has “sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.” France24.com.   He doesn’t seem to understand that a huge percentage of the French cannot live in this economy and, living day to day, could care less about climate change.

More to be revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Le Gers in late Autumn

Five pm and the sun was setting casting a rusty orange glow over the empty fields as I drove up the one-lane road to Tourré.  I turned the corner and there she stood in quiet majesty just as I’d left her in August.   A ranch-style stone house with a covered yet wide open terrace, she welcomed me back for a too-short week of rest and writing.

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I had been afraid that I would be disappointed in Le Gers once the summer was over. In the summer, the fields are full of people-sized sunflowers, their huge heads following the daily path of the sun until, in mid-August, they are bowed way down by the weight of their dying beauty, waiting to be cut and turned into sunflower oil.  These same fields are now brown and bumpy from being turned over by huge machines plowing their way up and down the non-existent rows.  A glorious burnt-sienna light is spreading out quilt-like over the gentle ups and downs of the Gers countryside.

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If anything, it is more beautiful than summer.

I parked my Renault Clio and sat in an arm chair looking back the way I’d arrived.  Taking in the absolute quiet, the solitude of the surrounding Tuscan-like landscape. It is a gentle, spacious and friendly landscape. One that hasn’t changed in decades.

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At night, the half moon will quiver in the slight wind and cold as I stand under the heavens reminding myself of the constellations that I can’t see in Paris.

I feel full of anticipation.  To be here, to walk here drinking in every golden leaf, every blade of grass, every spire of each church that stand in the center of the many hamlets of fourteen or fifteen homes.  There are no big cities in Le Gers.  Just small villages and hamlets, some still have the ramparts surrounding them that were built in the 13th/14thcenturies.  There are no large byways only two lane roads that never have many cars on them, although those cars are always speeding.

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D931 with the ‘city’ of Condom in the distance

I read that there are more animals here than people.  It is a place that God has favored, loved and cared for.  I am so grateful to have found this place, to be able to spend time here.  Now I realise it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, it will be beautiful.  It’s Le Gers. Trite as it sounds, I feel my heart leap into my throat each time I turn off D931 and make my way back ‘home’.

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Boudu, my companion for the week.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates it.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

Princess Diana

Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know that Princess Diana died in a horrendous auto accident entering a tunnel near the Pont de l’Alma?  It happened 21 years ago this past August.  Emerging from the Alma-Marceau metro and walking towards the bridge (Pont de l’Alma), you have to pass a large flame that to this day is always covered with flowers and photos of  Princess Di.

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Several times a week, I cross Pont de l’Alma coming from the American Library headed to the metro and home.  I’m often with someone else and I always ask, pointing at the site, “Do you know what that is?”  Usually I get back “A memorial to Princess Diana?” or “I’m not sure, what?”  Having come to Paris many times over the last 50 years, I knew that that monument had been there before Princess Di died.  But I didn’t know what it was.  So I asked someone.

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It is the flame that our Lady of Liberty, given to the US by the French, holds for all peoples, immigrants and others, to see as they enter the Port of New York.  “Erected in 1986, the 12 foot metal fire is a made of copper covered in actual gold leaf. Donated to the city by the International Herald Tribune, the flame officially commemorates not only the paper’s hundredth year of business as well as acting as a token of thanks to France itself for some restorative metalwork which the country had provided to the actual Statue of Liberty. Even with the air of global familiarity emanating from the sculpture like heat from a flame, the site has taken on a grimmer association in recent years.”   AtlasObscura.com

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Princess Dianna had her tragic accident just under the monument and not knowing where to express grief, people began putting flowers, photos and expressions of love at the base of the flame.  The younger generations have no idea why it was originally constructed.IMG_1983.jpg      Almost every day and, certainly on the anniversary of her death, something new is added.  I’ve passed the flame when flowers were six inches deep.  There is always a crowd around the Flame, always there for Diana and not Lady Liberty.  Today, many people think the Flame was built for Diana.IMG_1701 2.jpg

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Thirty-two years after the Flame was built, relations between France and the US are not very good.  President Trump has refused to meet with President Macron when he arrives in France Sunday to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI.  Vigils are being planned for Saturday night and all day Sunday protesting Trump’s behaviour and the lack of liberty in the US at the moment.

The Flame now seems to represent tragedy.  On a smaller scale–that a Princess died underneath on the roads of Paris and on a much grander scale–Liberty being exchanged for Autocratic rule and Dictatorship.  Trite as it sounds, one can only hope that the flame of liberty never goes out and there is always hope.

A bientôt,

Sara