Words, words, words

Money, money, money

Most countries have slang words galore for money: France is no exception. Context is, of course, all-important with slang and non-natives attempt using it at their peril.

Unwitting use of slang can cause difficulty. An incident from my early days here still arouses shivers of shame. Sorrel was needed. A queue at the greengrocer’s. Finally, it’s my turn. My turn for humiliation. A halting, repeated demand for sorrel is relayed loudly for the benefit of the people queuing. ‘Monsieur’ shouts my friendly greengrocer ‘we all want some sorrel’. I only fully get it some while later when a showing of Prends l’oseille et tire-toi [Take The Money and Run] reveals all.

Another slang word for money is pognon. Often translated as ‘dough’, it’s used quite a lot by the young [Wikipedia suggests the word may derive from one Henri Pognon, 19th century Mayor and Chief Accountant of the Creusot forges], and is definitely slang.

As befits an erstwhile Jupiterian President, Emmanuel Macron is often eloquence personified. He’s a rhetorician replete with Latin phrases and obscure words. They’re regularly employed in interviews: LCI has even produced a glossary of 10 examples (in French) of high-flown Macronian language, including carabistouille and galimatias. [Question: How clever is it if a dictionary’s vital for comprehension?].

However, Jupiter has, from time to time, been much more down to earth (literally and metaphorically). The President’s choice of cruder language has been held to demonstrate his difficulties in communicating with working people.

He’s also been much mocked for his use of clichés of hitech corporate life (unpleasantly anglo-saxon too to make things worse). This tweet of his is surely a classic of the genre: Une start-up nation est une nation où chacun peut se dire qu’il pourra créer une start-up. Je veux que la France en soit une. (‘A start-up nation is a nation where everyone’s able to say they can create a start-up. I want France to be such a nation.’ Pres. Macron 13.04.2017)

So why was it that the usually-sure-footed President decided to refer to the pognon de dingue (crazy (amounts of) dough) being spent on social security while ‘the poor remain poor and those who become poor stay poor’? He went on: ‘We put in too much dough [into social security], we take away a sense of responsibility …’

That sequence of non-Presidential language, coupled with the way it was then presented to the nation, was so difficult to understand. Originally, it was in a film of him talking at (sic) his team about a major speech on social security which was tweeted by Elysée Director of Communications, Ndiaye … and then later re-tweeted on the President’s own Twitter account. In no time it was everywhere.

Initially the President put out the crude version. Later came the refined speech. After announcing the success of his campaign pledge to fully reimburse certain dental/optical/hearing aid care, Macron heralded a ‘revolution’ in welfare spending because ‘the solution isn’t always spending more money’. He promised the intro)duction of solutions ‘more effective than putting money on the table’.

Conservative newspaper Le Figaro headlined their own pognon de dingue story with the information that France was ‘world leader in social welfare expenditure’ (sic)(health/pensions/benefits) : spending 32% of GDP. They referred to France being one of only 4 countries spending over 30% of GDP on social welfare (with Finland, Belgium and Denmark). The OECD average announced Le Figaro is c. 22%. Might they have given more context by mentioning the EU average of 27.5%? (Come on, they’re a seriously conservative paper.)

Would it also have been more equitable if the President’s homily had stated that 81% of the total €715bn French welfare state expenditure is spent on pensions and health? With family allowances taking another 8%. And (Un)Employment-related benefits 6%.

So that pognon de dingue that attempts to deal with ‘poverty’ and ‘social exclusion’ (through a bewildering number of different agencies and means) ends up at 3% of the total. That’s the same as the 3% devoted to public housing. Confirmation of all these numbers emerged from a report issued by the Ministry of Health’s Statistics Department (DREES) this week.

DREES helpfully also highlighted some other Eurostat statistics. They show that France’s system of social and fiscal redistribution ‘reduces poverty and social exclusion in France by around 10 percentage points’ from what it would otherwise be.

Indeed, the proportion of the French population living below 60% of the median (less than €1000/month/person or €1500/couple) is estimated by DREES as 13.4% in 2016. That compares with an EU average of 17.1% – and with Sweden (16.2%), Germany (16.5%) and the UK (15.9%). Further, it appears that the French are highly supportive of their generous system of social protection: only 18% (according to pollsters BVA) say that the portion of national revenue devoted to social protection is excessive (that figure was 25% in 2011). Asked whether social benefits should be reduced in exchange for lower taxes and social charges, a heartening 81% want benefits maintained.

It seems, after all, not quite so inefficient.

[Taxi for Mme Buzyn, Minister of Health, the publication of whose unhelpfully-timed DREES report would seem to have placed serious question marks over the President’s usually rigorous analysis.]

It’s indeed all a question of timing

‘Shed-loads of money.’ ‘Crazy amounts of dosh.’ These and more were prayed in aid to evoke the bizarreness of the President’s pognon de dingue – Macron used the word pognon twice in his filmed diatribe for good measure.

Within a week two further stories appeared: each involved serious wodges of pognon-esque loot/readies/moolah/spondulicks/mazuma/cabbage/wonga etc about to be spent by the Presidential couple on Presidential essentials. First came the replacement of the Elysée’s hand-painted Sèvres dinner service (‘China crisis‘ as The Guardian reported). Close behind came the revelation in l’Express of the swimming pool to be installed in stunningly-beautiful Presidential retreat Fort de Bregançon to keep prying papparazoid eyes away. Bregançon’s never been the same for a Presidential sojourn since Chirac was allegedly snapped (but never revealed to a breathless world) in the all-together.

[Fort de Bregançon’s been open to the public since 2014: President Hollande decided people should be able to visit whenever the President wasn’t there. Strangely, the Tourist Office of Bormes-les-Mimosas has zero information whatsoever about the possibility of booking to see it. Meanwhile, on TripAdvisor, lots of angry folk fulminate about the cost of the car park and the inability to see the Fort.]

Echoes of Outre-Manche (the other side of the Channel)

A series of sales of State holdings and privatisations is being pushed through. Both ADP (ex-Aeroports de Paris – 50.6% State-owned) and Française des Jeux (State gambling monopoly – 72% State-owned) will end up with less than 50% being held by La France, while Engie (formerly Gaz de France – still 24.5% State-owned) will have an even smaller Governmental holding. This is all part of building the €10bn Candidate-Macron-Promised fund to invest in Innovation/Industry/’Start-Up France’.

Further sloughing off of State holdings will be held. Business paper Les Echos claims that State shares in Orange, Air France/KLM [surely someone will need to be paid to buy them?], Peugeot and Renault will be further sold down so Government can follow through on its undertaking to buy €35bn of SNCF debt, without causing Brussels to reject increased French State spending.

To boost support for such divestments (a poll by Opinion Way shows more than half the voters want both ADP and FdJ to remain in State control) there will likely be offers of shares to private investors and employees. It’s as if Sid (symbolic Everyman who needed reminding of Thatcher’s gas industry privatisation) had never been away.

In further outre-Manche echoes, it’s game, set and match to the Government in the national railways SNCF strike. Legislation giving effect to the Government’s reforms has passed all its stages in Parliament. The railway unions currently limp on (with ever-decreasing support) in their series of rolling two-day strikes through to the end of June. Then certain dinosaur unions (eg formerly Communist, and still-mighty-in-the-SNCF, CGT) will look even more out of touch with the national mood as they continue striking through the holiday season. Just one word for it: SAD.

Don’t Keep Calmels: She Won’t Carry On

Relations at the head of France’s conservative Républicains Party were increasingly strained. Supreme Leader Wauquiez had devised a campaign with solidly Nationalist themes (immigrants/terrorism/crime etc). This was a programme intended to ensure that ‘France remained France’. Some centrist Républicains emphasised their reluctance to buy in to the continuing rightward drift of their formerly traditional (centre-)right Party. Loudest among those voices was Républicain Party N° 2, Virginie Calmels. She complained that the campaign was ‘unnecessarily stress-inducing’; she said she didn’t want The Right to become either ‘populist or extremist’.

However this week, hard-line Wauquiez (long-standing Sarkozy zealot) demonstrated his cool composure by giving the heave-ho to Calmels (Juppé’s N° 2 in Bordeaux) after six uneasy months together. This Républicains Odd Couple had survived six months. But Wauquiez decided to end insubordinate Calmels endless sniping from somewhat to his left. Calmels’ final jibe, in an interview in Le Parisien, may have done for her. She’d said (derived from my last blog-post?): ‘Just because Macron is adopting our ideas is no reason for us to deviate even further rightwards’.

Ice-axe-man Wauquiez instantly ended his unhappy tandem with Mme Calmels, tweeting his new nonentity N° 2’s name with no word on the disappearance of his erstwhile colleague.

Later, while Wauquiez was the proud guest of (dis)honour at a Lyon meeting of Sens Commun (the Provisional Wing of France’s anti-gay marriage movement), Calmels herself was on TF1 TV. She condemned Wauquiez for making the right all about ‘populism and identity’, and called That Leaflet ‘worthy of Jean-Marie Le Pen from 30 years ago: it’s old, it’s dated, it’s the old politics’.

Wauquiez riposted with a message to The Républicains Membership Faithful (in French). He called for unity and condemned ‘small sects’. The Party had to debate, he said, but the common objective must be kept in sight: ‘restoring France’s greatness and pride’. [So that’s what Les Républicains are all about.] Those still within the Incredibly Shrinking Républicains Party drew together for comfort in a tighter huddle.

Back at his meeting with Sens Commun, Wauquiez gave not a millimetre to his ‘liberal’ detractors. ‘So that France remains France’, thundered Wauquiez, ‘families must be protected … So that France remain France, we must be proud of our identity … I believe in our roots, in our identity, and in the passing on of our history.’ I hear the sound of dog-whistles again.

Even ex-President Sarkozy gave us the benefit of his views. He who was never afraid of a clear, hard-right line commented on the split ambiguously: ‘I’d like everyone to understand one simple idea: nothing’s possible without unity. There must be unity.’

And, all the while, that large terrain to the right of Macron was further freed up.

‘Call me Mr President’ – or how to earn some money at Daily Mail Online pretending you’re a bilingual journalist

There’s some pleasure to be obtained by reading authentic Daily Mail Online lies. Here’s one that’s up to the mark. It’s part of a lamentable attempt by that online ‘newspaper’ to speak French. Agreed, it’s not something they’re usually accused of. But if there’s A Foreigner to be bashed (especially a Frenchman) it’s all hands to the bullshit-stirring.

AFP informed the anglophone-speaking world of the moments when President Macron lost it utterly as a ‘cheeky teen’ [aka ‘floppy haired boy’ – Daily Mail Online] singing the opening lines of The Internationale had addressed the President with the definitely lèse-majesté-filled ‘Ca va Manu?’.

A Daily Mail Online ‘journalist’ must have been told to make more of AFP‘s wire. An anonymous ‘journo’ describes the yoof’s hair and, then, invents non-existent slang.

The linguistically-challenged online ‘newspaper’ informs bemused Francophones: ‘Manu is slang which means ‘man’ so the leader was asked ‘How’s it going man?’

Manu is in fact the universally-used diminutive of Emmanuel. It’s the capital ‘M’ in the AFP despatch that provides a reasonable-sized clue.

Those wishing to understand how an original AFP despatch is transformed into an authentic Daily Mail Online lie will admire the brilliance of the changes effected to the AFP‘s opening couple of paragraphs … and subsequent verbatim use of the AFP text.

And the story itself? It went round about the earth in way less than forty minutes. No question the President was po-facedly OTT in his initial chastisement of the young man (here’s the short-form version of the exchange from the BBC with English sub-titles). But the BBC misses out the bit where there’s a visible Presidential reflection on how horribly hectoring he’s been towards this 15 (?) year old in his final Middle School year.

Emmanuel Macron continues his de haut en bas lecture (to the point where his PR people are so happy with his work that the long-form version (all 96 seconds) is published on the President’s Twitterfeed (18 June) and described as a ‘relaxed conversation’. Another example of the President’s linguistic infelicity when his far-too-eloquent tongue runs away with itself.

For those who will, understandably, feel really sorry for this boy, here’s a coda from a journalist who met him the following day. The lad’s been devastated (permanently?) by his public humiliation. The President – for the sake of a soundbite (even if it’s returned and bitten him) – might have reflected before launching his crushing reprimand.

All such a far cry from President Macron’s shout out to George Washington University students end-April: ‘Let’s disrupt the system together … Don’t believe those who say that’s the rule of the game, don’t question the rules of the game … That’s bullshit.’


The Opposition: And if they were the only ones left? [Aujourd’hui en France/Le Parisien, page 1]


This blog has often referred to the absence of Opposition to President Macron.

For almost 40 years two ‘parties’ dominated French politics: the Socialists and the centre-Right (the latter under various guises. However, ever since President Macron’s victory was followed by taking the National Assembly with 311 République En Marche Deputies, those ancient dinosaur Parties have largely been lost (to view).

The leadership of the classic Right (102 Deputies) falls further apart as its leadership moves Far Rightwards, competing for votes and policies with whatever the Ultra-Right now calls itself (formerly Front National, currently National Rally).

The classic Left (replete with its 30 Deputies) wanders that huge wilderness between President Macron and the Hard Left, wondering if it will ever find A Word that anyone wants to hear, or (preferably) A Leader. Indeed, things have become so bad for the Socialist Party they’re now not even invited on the telly as ‘representatives’ of The Left; they’ve been replaced by hard-left Mélenchon’s France Unbowed Party.

Elabe‘s mid-June poll asked which Party best represented the Opposition. The unsurprising answer:

  • Mélenchon’s France Unbowed – 25%
  • Le Pen’s National Rally  – 16%
  • Wauquiez’s Républicains – 9%
  • Monsieur X’s Socialists – 4%
  • Monsieur Y’s Communists – 3%
  • And this month’s winner (and for many months to come) is the view that No political Party represents Opposition to the Government – 42%





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