Vive La France by Author Tony Candela #WordPressWednesday

Vive La France by Author Tony Candela #WordPressWednesday

Vive La France

By Tony Candela

I loved July 14 in Berkeley, California. Along with some friends, Francophiles all, we flocked to a local restaurant to celebrate Bastille Day. While I’ve forgotten The details, I do recall a lot of revelry, clinking of glasses, and shouts of “Vive La France” as we chowed down on French food and listened ad nauseum, to “La Marseillaise”, the French national anthem.

I also have fond memories of Paris, sharing a table with some of my partner’s friends and a giant bowl of oysters. It sat In the middle of the table. Glasses of wine stood in front of us like old talismans. Sans vision, I accurately tossed my shells down-table into a bowl set up for that purpose. This was one of many pleasures I had in my trips to Paris. My partner was a good French-speaker, having studied there a decade earlier to gather information for her doctoral dissertation. This became a book on the social reactions to the cholera pandemics of the mid-1800s. We used to joke (wryly) that book-sales seemed to rise each time a new epidemic broke out (Ebola, Zika virus and I bet, COVID19).

These trips helped me appreciate the French people, albeit with a few wrinkles owing to my American sensibilities, but always with admiration for their steadfast adherence to the importance of maintaining their identity and culture. Darkly, the country’s bedrock principle of laïcité, or secularism seems to me to be somewhat racist like when they ban the wearing of the hijab by French-Islamic soccer players. I even managed to learn a bit of the language, although quite a difficult task using only my hearing. When finally, I got my hands on a page or two of Braille, I understood and pronounced the words much better.

French Braille differs from English Braille in only a few characters. For example, the ‘ING’ letter combination is spelled out in French Braille and some Braille symbols are used for accented letter-clusters in French. These are based on frequency of use of the letter combinations in the respective languages.

Louis Braille invented his eponymous code in 1824. He got the idea from Charles Barbier, a retired artillery officer in Napoleon’s army, who brought it to Louis’s school, the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. The school was founded by Valentin Haüy. I visited the school where I managed to buy a book of French Braille.

The Bastille was a prison in Paris controlled by the monarchy which imprisoned many a social dissident. It was a prime symbol that orchestrators of the French Revolution had to bring down as they fought to wrest control of their country from kings and queens and place it in the hands of the people. Modeling their philosophies after the American Revolution which had in turn drawn much from the French, the French sought to eliminate class distinctions in their bid for freedom. Some of the unfortunate excesses of the French Revolution (“Off with their heads!”)derived from writers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Social Contract which made the excesses of the monarch and upper classes seem so very bad.

Americans and French have in common the belief that happiness is best achieved when the people firmly possess their human rights. They do not appear to be as used to the push-and-pull of individual freedoms versus the good of the whole as Americans are. Therefore, it seems, when conflict arises, reactions get quite emotional.

Two examples of the French reaction when they believe their culture is under attack may suffice. A few months ago, its President (Macron) proposed raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. Americans no doubt look upon this with envy, but the French, protective of a lifestyle focused on the pursuit of happiness say that pressing the burden of an admittedly expensive pension system on their backs is not right. Instead, they would rather tax the rich and continue to look forward to the end of their work lives at a manageable age. The protests followed traditional lines, including large crowds in the cities and towns banging pots and pans. This spilled over into more violent actions and lots of disruption, requiring police action which further insulted the people. The proposal is now in effect and things have quieted down, but stand by as the French attempt to put the new rules into effect.

The other day as I write, a police officer shot and killed a 17-year old man of Algerian-Moroccan descent. The officer pulled him over for driving in the bus lane. The story will further unfold, but apparently the driver, a man of color, vehemently objected to the officer’s treatment and attempted to drive away. That is when the officer fired his weapon. The officer is now detained with a “voluntary homicide” (an amalgam of our “murder” and “manslaughter”) charge against him. His detention may not ameliorate widespread anger against the police, which has been simmering for years, especially in France’s poorer population sectors, but it will help.

Once again, the people have taken to the streets in loud and violent protest. They appear to understand that this was the action of one person in contradiction of police rules, but feelings of police mistreatment against minority and poor people have been brewing over the years and this seems to be a tipping point.

The French tradition of loud and occasionally violent protest is in full force. The police have been trying to quiet the worst of the looting and other violent crowd actions, but this will probably make things worse until the people decide on their own to calm down. I can imagine President Macron saying even as he condemns the shooting, “ But what else is there to do at the moment?”

The French are worried about their culture drifting more and more toward conditions that existed prior to the Revolution. Class distinctions were in full force and there was much repression of minorities and the disadvantaged. That is why on July 14, 1789, one of their first targets was the Bastille prison where they freed the oppressed and also liberated a lot of badly needed gunpowder.

The French are an interesting lot. In a study comparing them to Swiss-Germans, researchers described differing communication styles (the French being more global and roundabout, the Swiss-Germans more detail-oriented). The French possess contradictions in their individualism and power distance, preferring both their freedom and yet strong leadership both at work and government. The French are “polychronic (doing more than one thing at a time) while Swiss/Germans like to take things in sequence. The French love to talk about politics and the French way of life, especially in social engagements, probably making them more sensitive and well-attuned when things go awry.

Let’s not forget that the French have been quite creative over the years, giving us great wines and food, wonderful fashions, a different kind of sense of humor and above all else, a clear sense of our human rights. They have also presented us with their own brand of feminism which is characterized as I learned when speaking with French men and women, by a combination of political and social egalitarianism and a willingness to use one’s feminine charms as a source of power.

French protestors want to make sure police action does not escalate. Frequent use of firearms would threaten their sense of wellbeing, not to mention self-image. The French pride themselves as living in a country that is not overly plagued by excessive gun-violence. They mean to keep it that way.

While not yet mentioned in the news, I can imagine comparisons the French are making to the U.S. Surely someone is saying (by way of a Google translator): “nous ne voulons pas être comme l’amérique” (“we do not want to become like America”). This makes sense if one compares French and American crime statistics.

For example, France has one-third the number of guns per 100 residents and one-third the number of intentional homicides. The murder rate in France per 1 million people is one-fourth that of the U.S.

Let us hope that the French successfully emerge from their latest crisis with a deeper understanding of themselves. Who knows? Perhaps they will provide the world with yet another template for how human beings can live in social harmony.

Anthony R. Candela, Author

Saying aloud what should not remain silent.

Books by Tony…

Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy

A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports

Vision Dreams: A Parable

A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.

buy his books here.

More About Tony…

Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.

Follow him on Facebook for more here.

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