Nope. Sometimes you think you have it all sussed. You think you know what a country is all about and feel quite the smug immigrant. Then something happens and it suddenly occurs to you that you didn’t get the memo on that one. Or the one before that, the one after and the one before that. I feel I have missed quite a few memos since my arrival here in Normandy, France.
So without further ado, to ensure that you all now have these missing memos should you have failed to file them in your ever increasing binder of French paperwork, I shall detail below said memos. If you already got the memo then I salute you and may I suggest you copy a shed load and hand them out asap. Much obliged.
Memo 1 – Sexisme
I have to say that I have never encountered as many scenarios in my many years on this planet. Maybe it was because I lived in a cosmopolitan city? I don’t know. Or it really is like going back to the 1970s here in some circumstances. I know it was rife in the UK way back when. The cat calling (now banned), the slapping of young ladies arses as they went about minding their own business (good luck if you do that to any lady in the UK and particularly in Croydon) and general “put the kettle on luv” type comments. Yes, in the 70s but in the 2020s? No. Not so much. Not if you want a substantial payout awarded from a sexual harassment work place tribunal and such like. I’m not saying it doesn’t go on but you’d have to be an idiot if you tried that shit these days. I am pleased to say progress has been made in this area.
Benny Hill – Still Current In France?
Given that it is 2020 after all, I would have thought that progress should have also been made in a first world country, such as France. Don’t get me wrong this is not a French Bashing piece. As, if anyone knows me and reads frequently, this could not be further from the truth. I much prefer it here in France to that of my home country (Great Britain). I really did not want to be left on a small island with the Tories. I could take it no more. And I do recognise that many French people think that France is not so great. I really would like to give them a one-way ticket for, say 6 months, and see if they would still be of that opinion. Please believe me, dearest Frenchie, compared to over 10 years of Tory rule – France does still take care of its citizens and works relatively well despite all the normal gripes. It ain’t half bad here you know.
In any event, it is the closest I’m going to get to living in a country that holds a semblance of my own political view point. I love the fact that the French keep their standards (certainly by UK comparisons) by always raising the bar and not accepting anything lying down. In fact, how the French are able to govern their own people at all is a bit of a mystery. I like it. Keep doing what you’re doing. The rest of the world are just jealous. I digress.
Here’s my own example and, I have spoken to many ladies who have said to me “talk to the hand!” They have given me numerous examples of their own. So much so, that when I asked on facebook, I had a deluge of stories from various English speaking woman of all ages.
I was due quite a substantial refund from my son’s lycee. He only boarded for one term (another post for another time – it involved chaotic evenings, punching, cold water and an expulsion) so the school sent me a cheque. Only problem was that the cheque was made out to Mr Normandy and not me. Say what? All the cheques had been written out by my good self. I have my own personal bank account don’t you know. I’m a fully fledged adult even if I do talk like a child in French. We don’t have a joint bank account. We never have. All emails are sent from me. I go to all school meetings on my lonesome and all fees are paid by…yarp…me again. Without the risk of sounding like a martyr – there ain’t much I don’t do.
I was a bit miffed about this. I don’t consider myself to be a feminist. I don’t think we are all equal in terms of physical strength. I like differences between the two sexes. I am, if truth be told, a wee bit sexist myself. I like a man to put the bins out for me. There’s gotta be a plus point of being married right? And I like my car to serviced by my man. Does this make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so. I don’t expect all men to take my bins or rather our bins – just my man. Although even that, I don’t expect, it it’s just nice if I don’t have to do it. Come to think of it, I always lugged them down flight of steps for years (at our old house), every week..and I do sort my car out (CT, tyres, garage appointments) and Mr Normandy checks the tyre pressure, oil and such like…mmmm…digressing again.
Anyhow, the point of the matter was this clearly was out and out sexist. They had received money from a person – me (a woman) and because my husband is the first contact, being a man, at the school (and all schools here) they just wrote the cheque out to him. Even though he had never given them any money at any time. So they have assumed that the man is in charge and in charge of the finances and me being a woman did not even come into the equation. I mean seriously?! WTAF – sorry I thought I was on messenger for a moment there.
I do quite well when I’m miffed/angry with the French language. For some reason, when I find my internal rage reaching the surface, I find words that are ordinarily buried deep within my language bank and they just magically appear. They also seem to come out a relatively quick speed and in the right order. Mental note to self – I need to be pissed off to improve with my French.
I picked up that god dam phone and had punched in the school number without so much as a cursory glance at google translate. A year previously, I would have spent 20 minutes preparing for my ‘I will bring you down’ conversation. Nope. I was free styling and free styling good my friends.
I spoke to a woman no less and said “thanks for the cheque but you’ve written it out to my husband”. No response. “I sent you the cheque in the first place” – nano flickering of a response and then nothing. Keep calm. “So my husband has never sent you money but you’re giving him my money?!” A tiny, winy bit of oh maybe she has something here. The woman’s response was well can’t you get your husband to give you the money back. I wanted to say “can you actually hear what you are saying?” Firstly, how does she know my husband would do that (he would but not the point) and secondly why shouldn’t the cheque be made out to me? Why not just write a cheque to any body? Given that the French are very particular about everything being just so with paperwork, this cavalier approach was quite the piss take. In any event, she agreed to send me a cheque out in my name.
Fact. If I had phoned a school in the UK and a lady answered the first thing she would have been “bloody cheek of it – what if your husband and you were separated, really sorry etc”. The fact I had to explain to a woman the glaring obvious fact that this was messed up is a bit of a worry. There appears to be a bit of an acceptance from woman in France that this is just how it is. A bit like those toilets in the aires. The ones with the hole. How are you meant to us them? I mean seriously ladies the campaign to get rid is well overdue. As is no toilet facilities for ladies at amateur cycling events or drinks available other than beer. Got your period during an all day championship with no toilet facilities? Who cares. The blokes organising don’t that’s for sure. It is for you to find a suitable location to squat down and change your tampon with as much dignity as you can muster. Come on ladies of France you’re better than a shrug on such matters. I thought you were a sassy bunch of ball breakers?!
Another incident. I bought a newer car. In my name. The guy (in his late twenties) asked who’s name the carte grise was going to be in – mine. He turned to Mr Normandy and said “oh lucky girl” or words to that affect. By the way, I’m not a girl nor am I lucky. I worked hard in the UK (as did Mr Normandy), I had a shit education (not so for Mr Normandy he was educated to grammar standard) and worked my way up through the ranks. I work hard here as well. We both do. There’s no luck involved. Also missed the memo on the younger generation of France not progressing on the whole sexism front.
It may or may not be ‘our’ money but that is not the point. There shouldn’t be an assumption that it is the man’s end of.
But what I do find peculiar is the use of a woman’s maiden name in anything official. In the UK, once you’re married (if you decide to take your husband’s name) you rarely see your maiden name ever again. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking what it was actually in the first place?! The infrequency of its use. I find this somewhat a contradiction. Bizarre. In this respect they are quite the opposite, just because a woman is married she has not lost her identity. Maybe they could apply that same logic to buying cars and writing out cheques?
Memo 2 – Violence Towards Woman
On a more serious note ;
‘France has one of the highest rates of murders linked to domestic violence in Western Europe, with at least 115 (edit – this was over 130 by March 2020) women killed by their partners or ex-partners this year alone..’ source – BBC World Europe November 2019. You can read the full article here.
It is on a par with the London (stabbing) murders. During the confinement, rates of violence soared and government adverts were shown on TV, posters displayed at supermarkets and the code word ‘masque 19’ was given to say at your local pharmacy. I know domestic violence goes on in every country but statistically it’s worse here. And why is that? I have made a few observations as an outsider.
Granted lots of men are not like this. I am not, for one moment, saying all French men are girlfriend/wife beaters but clearly there is problem that needs addressing. For me this is a cultural issue (please also have a look at Corsica which also has disturbing cultural elements). The acceptance of hitting/slapping woman is prevalent on television and films irrespective of the era. By the way, it is not unheard of for a child to get a slap at school and a rough and ready approach to discipline – arm tugging etc. Something that a teacher would receive an instant dismissal in the UK and more than likely a day in court.
I have watched so many films, series etc my whole life – American, British, World etc. I have never seen the type of violence (in comedies especially) towards woman and generally smacking someone when you disagree with them, than I have watching French films and series. The occasional slap when a woman was hysterical – maybe in a James Bond film? I watched one modern day black comedy recently. The father was punching his pregnant daughter in her thirties whilst she’s trying to knock him out. It was very graphic and not slapstick at all. If you piss me off, I’m not slapping you around the face anytime soon.
Here, certainly from what I’ve seen on the television, it’s expected. So much so I say “wait for it..she’s gonna get a slap” and right on cue she gets one. This is the same for the guys slapping guys as well. There was one I watched the other night “pension complete” with Gérard Lanvin (who slaps his wife hard in another comedy) and Franck Dubosc. The pair of them are really slapping (not comic punching each other – you know the type) hard. The wife gets in between them and…yarp..she also receives a massive whack! The film was amusing but that wasn’t – it was too brutal, too realistic. So are the films imitating life or are people imitating the films? Either way, surely some ownership needs to be made with the producers of these films/series/TV shows. What do you expect if young people are watching these and girls are thinking that is just how it is as well. That slapping each other is okay and getting into a full on domestic fist/slap fight is just how you argue.
Memo 3 – Autism