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TRADITION

Is France facing the quick death of its sacred bistros?

The bistro - one of the most culturally recognizable things in France - is dying out, a new study suggests. And the French aren't happy about it.

Is France facing the quick death of its sacred bistros?
Photo: Yanick Carer/Flickr

There were a grand total of 34,669 bistros in France in 2014 – which absolutely pales in comparison with the 600,000 cafe-bars that existed in France at the beginning of the 1960s

The stats come courtesy of pollsters Ifop and were published by Le Parisien newspaper on Wednesday. 

The researchers found that these 35,000 bars are spread across a total of 10,619 towns and villages – meaning that there are 26,045 towns and villages in France that are officially a “no-bistro zone”, according to the paper's calculations. 

Things have got so dire in some rural areas that the inhabitants of one in three villages have not only lost a bistro or café in their own village, but also in the villages around them.

The finger of blame for the huge number of closures was pointed at the smoking ban, the exodus from the French countryside towards the cities, and the rising cost of drinks.

“Three quarters of the inhabitants of these small villages believe the social link has been considerably weakened,” said Dominic Philippot from Ifop.

Most inhabitants agree that a café or bistro plays a central role in the local economy of small towns and villages and in those villages with no bistro, eight of ten respondents long for a café to open.

According to a separate 2013 report by national statistics agency INSEE, the worst hit regions are Alsace, in the east, which saw a 25 percent drop in the number between 2003 and 2011, Nord-Pas-de-Calais (24 percent) and the Ile-de-France area around Paris (23 percent).

Indeed, the INSEE study found that over the last ten years, an average of 2,700 bistros have closed down, while only 2,200 have opened. 

That means around 500 are vanishing for good each year, or a drop of 14 percent between 2004 and 2014. 

Corsica, the Rhône-Alpes and Languedoc-Rousillon have been less affected.

Some local residents and officials are taking a stand against the demise of the bistro.

In the Alsace village of Ohnenheim, the Town Hall has bought up the last alcohol license so it can open a public bar in the building.

“Many politicians have understood the urgency to save our bistros and bars, and have bought bars or licenses and put in new motivated teals of staff, said Marcel Benezet president of the Synhorcat union which represents bars and cafes in France.

According to the Ifop poll most respondents believe it is the role of local politicians to organize financial aid for bistros to ensure they stay open.

Although many point out that the establishments should diversify if they want to survive.

In some villages the local bistro provides dinners to the nearby school, while some suggest the bistros, given the local knowledge of the staff, should become tourist offices.

Some establishments organize a “bistro-hike” where a guide would take clients on a walk of the area before everyone sits down to dinner.

And many say more bistros and bars should become delivery points where local residents can pick up parcels and goods they have bought online and other post.

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CHRISTMAS

Do the French do Christmas better than Anglo countries?

With the festive season upon us, The Local has compared holiday traditions in France to those in English-speaking countries. Where do you think does it best?

Do the French do Christmas better than Anglo countries?
Photo: Nikolaj Potanin/Flickr

The food

Photo: Josh McGinn/Flickr

Christmas is all about delicious food but who cooks up the better feast? Traditionally, the French have a late meal on Christmas Eve called Réveillon, featuring a vast array of fancy treats including oysters and other sea food delicacies, and foie gras of course. And perhaps turkey. 

This is a tough one, and as much as we tend to think seafood has no place on a plate at any time over Christmas (unless you are stuck on a desert island), the idea of a big meal on Christmas Eve sounds fun compared to the usual midday mountain of meat and veg, that is served up on Christmas Day in the UK. 

READ ALSO: The dishes that make a French Christmas feast

The desserts

Photo: Distopiandreamgirl/Flickr

When you compare the dark stodgy blob that is the British Christmas pudding to France’s chocolate covered yummy-looking Bûche de Noël (Yule log cake) there’s no doubt who should take home the title for the tastiest Christmas dessert. But then we've never seen a Christmas log set alight with brandy before. Given that most of the time no one has any room for dessert anyway, we'll say both countries lose on this point. 

The booze

Photo: AFP

For most, Christmas is just as much about getting sozzled with old friends and family as it is about eating or opening presents or even going to church! But who’s better at celebrating, the French or the Anglos?

It’s hard to judge, but one thing we do know is that booze can turn even the lamest gathering into a fun event. The moderate French drinkers are going to have to step aside, the Anglos win this round. French workers just don't seem to do office Christmas parties like Anglos do, which perhaps for all the wrong reasons have become a highlight of the festive season.

And there's no better place to be on Christmas Eve than the pub. Or Boxing Day for that matter.

And Baileys liqueur is made for the festive season.

The Christmas markets

You can find Christmas markets in most big cities in the UK now, but they just don't compete with the tradition in France, especially the east of the country where Alsace is home to some of the best (see below).

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES – The best Christmas markets to visit in France this year

IN PICTURES: The best Christmas markets to visit in France this year

Crackers and paper crowns

Ok, the jokes are definitely lame and you were probably over the whole idea of crackers once you hit your teens. But you have to admit that bonding with your friends and family as you all groan over the awful knock knock jokes that come out of them year in, year out is really a Christmas tradition in its own right. 

However it isn't one that has made it to France quite yet although it is upheld by many Anglos this side of the Channel. Perhaps the French aren't quite ready to wear paper crowns at the dinner table just yet?

Photo: Christian Guthier/Flickr 

The decorations

Photo: Nikolaj Potanin/Flickr

In Anglo countries, some people go more than a little overboard on Christmas decorations and turn their whole property into a winter wonderland, with life-sized reindeers, glowing snowmen and Christmas trees.

In France, public places are decorated but in their own homes the French usually keep it simple. We've sided with the Frenchies on this one. Decorating the town square is quite enough and there’s no need to annoy your neighbours with a crazy light show every night.

Chances of a white Christmas

Hard one to call this. Both countries have been hit by some early winter weather this year, but in general the chances of getting a white Christmas in most of France and the UK appear minimal. But at least in France you can head to the Alps or the Pyrennees if you want snow. The Auvergne and the Jura in the east also offer good chances of experiencing a white Christmas. And France has the Mediterranean for those who want to escape the rain and cloud.

The Music

Wham, The Pogues, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Slade, Frank Sinatra…France is not the place to be if you like dancing around or singing along to Christmas classics.

Tree or nativity scene?

Photo: Sophie/Flickr

The Christmas tree is a must-have in most Anglo households. Whether real or artificial, it’ll definitely make you and your guests feel festive. Many French families prefer putting up nativity scenes in their homes or they opt for a Christmassy looking wreath. To be fair, who would want to lug a tree up six floors in Paris apartments? Nevertheless, sorry our Gallic friends. Christmas without a tree is just not Christmas. 

The presents

Photo: Nicholas Jones/Flickr

When it comes to Christmas shopping the French don't go as bananas as their Anglo cousins, which is not surprising given that in general France is less consumerist and materialistic than the UK or the US.

In France at Christmas the motto is “quality not quantity,” and people will shop in the traditional Christmas markets as much as in the deluxe stores. As a result, they don't waste millions on crap presents that get stuck in the loft or put on eBay once the turkey has been digested. OK, it's not so good for the economy but scaling down the gift mania might not be such a bad idea, so we’ll side with the French on this one. 

Boxing Day

Compania Piwowarska/Flickr

The French may have a bunch of public holidays but they don’t get a day off on December 26th (Boxing Day), which the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries do.

The two-day holiday means Anglos can unwind at home after the big celebrations but many French people have to head back to work the day after Christmas. Horrendous. And if the 25th falls on a weekend, which luckily it doesn't this year, the French don't even get an extra day's holiday. It's not even up for debate who wins this round.

The cards

Photo: Anne/Flickr

Sending Christmas cards is popular in many Anglo countries but it’s not a common custom in France. While it’s nice to get a hand-written card in the mail, many people just send them out because it's considered a social faux-pas if you don't. In the days of texting, Facebook, carrier pigeons, there's clearly no need to send Christmas cards. 

Plus, since 1962, France has had a law that stipulates any letter to Santa must be responded to in the form of a postcard. This is a much better way for postmen to spend their time than delivering soulless Christmas cards.

The sales

Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

The day after Christmas, hordes of Brits storm the shops early in the morning for the Boxing Day sales. However, shop owners marking down prices on a day that should be reserved for nursing your hangover doesn’t seem like the most sensible idea. The French definitely have this one figured out with their sales starting in January after everybody has recovered from the festivities. 

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