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How a noisy cockerel exposed France’s rural and urban divide

A French court is set to rule this week on whether Maurice the early-rising cockerel should be considered a neighbourly nuisance in a case that has exposed France's rural and urban divide.

How a noisy cockerel exposed France's rural and urban divide
The case centres on a noisy rooster - picture posed by a model. Photo: AFP

A woman from the picturesque island of Oleron off France's western coast has been summoned to court on Thursday after a legal complaint by her neighbours who are troubled by the early crowing of her rooster during their holidays.

The case has attracted attention because the cockerel is an emblem of France, while the plaintiffs have been portrayed as pushy urbanites who keep their property in Saint-Pierre-d'Oleron as a second home.

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Mayor of Gajac Bruno Dionis du Sejour. Photo: AFP

“They come twice a year to the island,” the owner of the cockerel, Corinne Fesseau, told the local France 3 channel. “I've been here for 35 years.”

Such tensions are nothing new in France, where thousands of wealthy families own second homes in the countryside, but the case has become a cause celebre that reflects fears that the traditional rural way of life is under threat.

“Today it's the cockerel, but what will it be tomorrow? Seagulls? The noise of the wind? Our accents?” Christophe Sueur, the mayor of Saint-Pierre-d'Oleron, told AFP.

Many rural areas are in decline in France, hit by a crisis in the farming sector and shrinking populations as young people leave to pursue their 
education and careers in the cities.

The growing gap between rural and urban France has been highlighted during seven months of anti-government “yellow vest” protests which began last November.

Fesseau, who is set to appear in court in the town of Rochefort on Thursday, had threatened to bring her cockerel to the hearing with her.

The issue of complaints about rural noises in France has lead one local mayor for apply for protected heritage status for sounds including a cockerel crowing, a donkey braying and church bells ringing.

The mayor of the village of Gajac in the Gironde département in south west France has requested that the Ministry of Culture issue heritage site protection to rural sounds after “an accumulation of complaints from people who decide to settle in rural areas and bring cases before the courts in the name of so-called sound attacks”.

The mayor also penned a furious open letter last month which defended the rights of church bells to ring, cows to moo, and donkeys to bray throughout rural France.

The reference to church bells was to a 2018 battle in a village in the eastern Doubs region where the owners of a holiday home complained that the 
daily tolling at 7am was too early.

“As soon as you criticise the bells, you are attacking a whole village,” the mayor, retired farmer Bruno Dionis du Sejour, told AFP this week.

“It's humiliating for rural folk to find themselves in court because of someone who comes from elsewhere,” he added. “When I go into town, I don't ask them to remove the traffic lights and cars.”

His letter compared the ignorant newcomers to villages who complain about the noise or smells to “fools who discover that eggs aren't picked from trees.”

Dionis du Sejour was also worked up by a 2016 case in the Perigord region when a couple had to fill in their pond after a complaint about the loud croaking of frogs.

“Why do frogs croak? To reproduce!” he said.

He has been backed by parliamentarian Pierre Morel-a-L'Huissier, a rightwing MP who represents part of the Lozere region.

“Country life goes on 365 days a year. People live here and try to make a living,” Morel-a-L'Huissier told AFP.

“What is unacceptable is people who are not from there trying to impose their ways at the expense of rural life.”

French vocab

Cockerel – le coq (for those with filthy minds, in France a coq is the farmyard animal and nothing else)

Noisy – bruyant

The peaceful countryside – la tranquillité rurale

Church bells – les cloches d'eglise

A donkey – un âne

 

Member comments

  1. It should never have gone as far as court. What’s wrong with these people? It’s the countryside for Gods’s sake.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/cartesfrance.fr
But while the map – created by cartesfrance.fr – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.
 

 
 
 
Here are some of the key points.
 
1. Everyone hates Parisians
 
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
 
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
 
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
 
 
2. Staycations rule
 
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
 
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
 
 
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
 
3. Northerners like a drink
 
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
 
 
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
 
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
 
 
4. Poverty
 
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
 
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
 
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
 
5. Southern prejudice
 
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
 
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
 
 
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
 
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
 
For more maps that reflect France, head to cartesfrance.fr
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