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RURAL

World sheep-shearing championship held on French soil for first time

Sheep shearing experts flocked to a small town in the French countryside on Thursday for the opening of the annual world championship, a four-day event held for the first time on French soil.

World sheep-shearing championship held on French soil for first time
Anne-Lise Haugdahl from Norway at the world sheep shearing championships in France. Photo: AFP

More than 320 competitors from 34 countries as far apart as Norway, Japan and the Cook Islands, are battling it out to win titles in woolhandling, machine shearing and “blade” shearing, a traditional method using scissors.

And the 5,000 sheep on site will no doubt appreciate a hair cut, with temperatures expected to peak at 34C over the coming days in Le Dorat, a town in central France.

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Jessica Morgan from Wales participates in the sorting of fleeces. Photo: AFP

It is the first time the international competition sets foot – and hoof – on French soil, although the town, which is home to 1,800 people, has previously hosted the French sheep shearing championships in 2013 as well as the Six Nations tournament the same year. 

Last year, it also welcomed a 24-hour sheep shearing marathon, with six shearers clipping around 2,500 sheep, producing six tonnes of fleece.

“The world championship, it's so fantastic, so spectacular, we want to share it with the French people,” said Christophe Riffaud, president of the Association for the World Sheep Shearing Championship (AMTM) who has competed in Northern Ireland and the Netherlands.”

“I like the physical aspect of the job,” said Canadian Pauline Bolay, one of only two women among the 323 participants.

Sheep are typically shorn at least once a year to avoid sickness caused by ticks, flies and other insects in their wool.

Endurance, speed and flexibility – particularly in the back – are considered key skills for this iconic rural activity, with professional shearers typically paid per animal.


Amelia Seifert from the US sorts a fleece. Photo: AFP

Competitors in Sunday's machine-shearing final will be tasked with shaving 20 lambs in under 16 minutes.

Quality is the most important aspect, making up around 60 percent of the final grade. 

Judges “check for marks, uncut fleece and uneven levels of shearing,” the AMTM said on its website.

New Zealand is the favourite to win the world title, after celebrating home-turf victories in the machine shearing and woolhandling categories in 2017.

South Africa picked up first prize for blade shearing.

Apart from cherrypicking the best of the best, the event aims to educate the public about how wool goes from sheep to jumper.

“Ninety percent of French wool gets sent to China to be washed and processed,” Riffaud said. “There's not much demand for French wool because of its structure, but we want to promote it as a quality natural product”.

The seven-hectare site is also displaying around 100 exhibits made from wool, including a wedding dress and jeans, in a bid to promote the fruits of the French countryside.

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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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