Monday, 10 August 2009

The French? Frankly, I couldn't give a crepe about their view of the world

THE Lisbon Treaty referendum Mark II is done and dusted. The Yes camp is going to win by a mile this autumn. Even if it were proven beyond doubt that Europe was a conspiracy led by giant lizard men from Alpha Centauri, most Irish voters would still conclude that the aliens surely couldn’t be any worse at running things than the people currently in power.

But still it never ceases to amaze when one is confronted by the waste and bureaucracy and sheer dodginess of so much that happens in the federalist European institutions. Whistleblowers in Irish hospitals might think they have a hard time, but that’s nothing compared to the treatment of those who expose the corruption of their masters in theEuropean Parliament, most of whose careers subsequently sink faster than a Mafia victim in concrete boots.

Last week, it was finally admitted that French farmers had received State subsidies, deemed to be illegal by the EU to the tune of €330m — half a billion once interest payments and the like are taken into account.

The French government has promised to pay it back, following a report which criticised the payments as “market distorting”, but farmers are insisting they won’t give back a penny and their union bosses have threatened a “blazing summer” of protests if anyone tries to extract the cash from them.

This coming from a country that already benefits more than any other nation from the absurd Common Agricultural Policy.

Is it any wonder that France doesn’t want the Irish No vote of last year jeopardising the cosy financial arrangements it has wangled for itself in Europe? They didn’t let a No vote from their own electorate a few years ago hold them back, so they’re hardly going to stand idly by whilst a few uppity Paddies spoil the party.

French fruit and vegetable farmers were actually being paid during the period in question for storing their own crops. One would imagine that storing fruit and vegetables came with the territory of being a fruit and vegetable grower, but apparently not. They had to be paid extra to do it. They were also given financial incentives for processing the fresh fruit and vegetables that they were growing. Their behaviour is a bit like that of a sulky teenager who refuses to tidy up his own room unless he’s paid to do it. In fact, teenagers is exactly how a British woman, who lived in the country for 20 years, describes them in a new book on the French. She says they are constantly in rebellion against their parental figures, but still expect to have the social equivalent of their meals provided and their laundry done by the state. France has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, precisely because they have high expectations of what life should be, and don’t cope well when it fails to live up to their exacting standards.

Spending a few weeks in France again this summer confirms that impression. It’s a lovely country, and the weather is like manna from heaven to anybody coming from rain-soakedIreland. Ooh, la soleil! The only problem is that it’s full of French people, who seem to consider it a matter of national pride to be the rudest, most arrogant people on the planet.

Find yourself stuck in a cycle lane behind a French cyclist, and they’re about as likely to pull over to let you pass as Ayers Rock would be to shift out of the way for a kangaroo. The French really do seem to consider themselves to be the most important people in the universe, and everybody else has to get in line.

Maybe they’re overcompensating for the fact that they surrendered in record speed during the Second World War, by being extra contemptuous of incomers ever since.

What, to paraphrase Monty Python, have the French ever done for us? So they have a pretty language. Big deal. Culturally and economically, they’ve been stagnating for years. President Sarkozy is doing his best to snap his fellow countrymen out of their complacent torpor, but to change you have to want to change, and the French don’t appear to see the need to change their ways for anyone, certainly not for those pesky Anglo-American types who have usurped the dominant place globally which the French always considered to be theirs by right of birth. For a country which has had more than its fair share of revolutions, the resistance to new ways of living and thinking is practically absolute. France might not be an island geographically. Mentally, an island is exactly what their country is to the French.

The European project, on a grand scale, is symptomatic of the malaise. It’s run for their benefit, and always will be. Everybody else can sit at the high table just as long as they don’t make too many waves, and simply fall in with the French view of the world. The Poles found that out when they dared to question the way things were run following their ascension to the EU. France’s spluttering outrage was hilarious.

Not that the French would see it. They’re very serious people. That’s probably another reason for the high suicide rate. Life is not to be taken lightly. There’s a right way of doing things, and a wrong way, and woe betide those who don’t choose correctly.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to order crepes for my children in a creperie, which is the kind of place where one would expect crepes to be willingly served, only to be told that crepes were a dessert and could only be ordered as a dessert. But crepes are what my children wanted to eat. Tough, you can’t eat crepes as a main dish because the world would clearly collapse in on itself if eating became a matter of having what you want rather than conforming to a set of rules laid down in French antiquity. We went elsewhere, stopping only to take a photograph of the creperie so that we could laugh at it later.

Meanwhile, the French continue to stuff themselves with frites, which are as ubiquitous now in the French diet as they are in the American, for all the Gallic propaganda about how “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. It’s their dirty little secret. This is their great fear. They’re clinging on to the last vestiges of Frenchness because they know that eventually they’ll just be the same as everybody else.

Which is fine, if that’s what turns the miserable, condescending buggers on, but I don’t see why the rest of us should foot the bill.

By Eilis O’Hanlon
This article first appeared in the Irish Independent.