The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David
I'm fed up with the elections already. Frankly, I don't care who moves into the Palais de l'Elysée. After all none of them are likely to invite us over, are they? And it won't make any difference who wins, either.
Oh I know, I know... they're both swearing blind they'll turn the whole ant-heap inside out if they get elected, but will they really change anything? Don't you remember Chirac and his famous 100 days to solve French unemployment? Ha! We heard all about it for the first week or so, but on Day 100 did he actually up and say "Ooops, sorry couldn't quite manage that one..." No, I never heard him make that speech either.
He did try and make some changes though. The Loi Rafferin, the Loi Fillon... both of them were attempts to sort bits of the French system and drag it into the 21st century. Both of them caused riots and as a result were so dilluted as to become utterly impotent.
The fact is the French are allergic to change. To the French, little itsy-bitsy changes are dangerous because they lead, sneaky degree by sneaky degree, to large changes made by stealth. And why would anyone want to change things by stealth? Surely if the changes are good they can be made openly, all at once, in a big bang.
In theory, that's the way the French like their change. A large, sudden, violent upheaval. Boom banga-bang and it's done. No going back, no crying over spilt milk.
As long as it's a change for the better, of course. Only a madman would accept a huge change for the worse. Naturally. Also, changes are hard work and require lots of organisation and why would the man at the top put himself to all that bother unless there were something in it for him? Ibso facto massive changes benefit top dogs rather than Joe Public and therefore large changes are also suspect.
So every change is bad. Unless of course, it can be proved that a change is absolutely completely to the advantage of all parties concerned. Like a 35-hour working week. Or earlier retirement. Or an inch off female hemlines.
The other kind of acceptable change is the token gesture designed to prove that France is up-to-date and playing on the world stage. The kind of change that is merely for the statute books but isn't designed to be taken seriously or enforced: naturally the government can make those kinds of changes as much as it likes.
Which brings us onto the smoking ban that came into force today. It's clear, it's modern, it's supported by 70% of the population (according to the government) and it's unequivical. Smoking in public places is banned from today.
Except that it isn't. Not really. I know, because I went round all the bars in town to check it out. All as smoky as they ever were - because although the law came in today and was announced nearly a year ago, it won't be officially enforced until the end of the year as (wait for it) the French public need time to get used to the idea.
There's another thing, too. The law doesn't apply to bars with a licence to sell tobacco. Because that wouldn't be fair to those bar-keepers. Or their customers. They wouldn't like it. So no change there.
Oh and also, there's another exception. People will be allowed to smoke in bars, offices and other workplaces which have seperately-ventilated smoking areas. Now that sounds familar... hasn't that been the case since France last banned smoking? Hmmm.
So I reckon that today's eulogies in the UK papers for Sartre's ciggies are premature. You mark my words, the bars of France will still be filled with Gauloise smoke the day a woman gets into the Palais de l'Elysée.
And that won't be any time soon.
Next column will be uploaded around 1st February.
This article is protected by all international copyright agreements, and reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author.