March 17, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Yesterday, Président Emmanuel Macron used a special measure in the French constitution, called article 49.3, that circumvents a vote and amounts to what we, in the U.S., might call an “executive order,” to push a controversial piece of legislation through to law. At issue is the retirement age in France. Macron believes that it should be increased from 62 to 64, in order to keep economic pace with the rest of the world. (It’s 65 and seven months in Germany, 67 in Spain, 66 in the U.K,. 67 in the U.S., etc.) France has an aging population that needs services, and this is one way to pay for them, Macron argues, as well as the extra work that will be needed to create greener infrastructure for the country. He also believes he is giving women a longer period in the workforce, after they have had generous maternity leaves.
However, many French people, particularly, but not limited to, the white working class, resist this change. To them, raising the retirement age means a longer life of manual or service-based labor, it means opening France to the vicissitudes of rabid world capitalism, where the Almighty Coin is more powerful than the respect for human life; it means a concession to consumerism and a world economy, which the French only sort of want to be a part of. Perhaps most poignantly, many French people feel this signifies another brutal loss in the long erosion of the French identity, which, in the minds of many, includes a life that is simplified and calmer, less rat racy, and features state-supported golden years that include focusing on family, playing boules, and a more tranquil lifestyle.
Macron wants the French to adapt and modernize. Unfortunately he is strong-arming his nation to do just that. And by forcing his agenda, he has not listened to a growing and vocal French populace that doesn’t want change and may not entirely understand what these changes will do to make their lives any better.
Last night there were riots in Lyon: bus station windows smashed, trash cans lit on fire, clashes with the police. According to my friend, Nils, who lives in Lyon, these were “extremists and anarchists.” I had flashbacks to the rabble rousers who descended on Minneapolis from the outside after George Floyd was murdered and who sowed extremist chaos, obscuring, at first, the intent of the mostly peaceful protestors who were rightfully demonstrating.
In the meantime, trash is mounting all over Paris, as sanitation workers have struck. Nils said that Paris is now called, “La poubelle ville du monde.” Or, “the trashiest city in the world.”
Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, mounting costs worldwide, planetary crisis and more, France descending into chaos is not a welcome outcome. Though criticized for many things, among them being too slick and smart for his own good, the pugnacious 45-year old Président has lead France into the important role of the moral center of Europe, if not the world. Losing his grip on his people could have ramifications far beyond the French borders.
What we can only hope for is that the entire thing settles down in 2-3 weeks. Obviously, country-wide chaos will not preserve the French lifestyle or identity, which is a funny paradox to the protests.
À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:
I am making this chocolate Guinness cake this weekend, but I need to find a gluten-free stout. As you will read in the notes, it seems to be a crowd pleaser. (If you don’t subscribe to the Times, here is an alternative from Sally’s Baking Addiction.)
I read this fascinating piece in The New Yorker this week about a writer, H.G.Carrillo, who faked his Cuban American heritage to such a degree that he lived an impossibly complicated double life.
Anyone who watched (or read about) the Oscars last week knows that the French language Belgian nominee for Best International Feature, Close, did not win. Instead the German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front won. But that should not prevent you from watching the movie. After the 28th of March, you should be able to watch Close online for less than 20$ (the current price.) In the meantime, how about any of these great French films about kids or starting a new French crime series?
For fun, I found this piece in Le Monde about the female actors in Bridgerton who say they won’t wear corsets on set anymore.
Have a good weekend.
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