Locals mourn the French mayor killed while trying to stop illegal dumping

Residents of a southern French town have paid an emotional farewell to their longtime mayor, who was killed trying to prevent fly-tipping.

Locals mourn the French mayor killed while trying to stop illegal dumping
All photos: AFP

Jean-Mathieu Michel, 76, died on Monday evening after he pulled up and ordered two workers who were dumping rubble by the side of the road to take it away.

The men obeyed, but when the mayor told them to wait for the police arrive to issue them with a fine they attempted a getaway, reversing into Signes's mayor of 36 years and killing him.

Investigators are treating Michel's death as accidental, but it has plunged the town and mayors throughout France into mourning for a man described by residents as a devoted public servant, a man of the people.

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday posthumously awarded him the Legion of Honour, France's highest civilian honour, for “tireless devotion” to his town. In a message read out at the funeral, Macron vowed to “personally see to it” that anti-social behaviour would be met with an “uncompromising” response. 

Hundreds of people attended the service in the valley town with a population of 2,800, 50km east of Marseille. They included France's minister for territorial cohesion, Jacqueline Gourault, and Senate President Gerard Larcher. 

Deputy mayor Alain Reichardt told the mourners that Michel, known locally as “Jeannot”, had died “trying to uphold the law, defend his territory and ensure respect for the environment”.

Michel was driving around the town with three other people to view sites for municipal garbage bins when they came across the men on a road leading to an unlicensed dump.

The driver of the van, a mason working for a construction company, has been charged with manslaughter.

His lawyer Julien Gautier told reporters the 23-year-old was “devastated”. A 20-year-old apprentice who was also in the van was released without charge after questioning.

On Thursday, hundreds of residents had observed a minute's silence for Michel outside Signes's town hall and then sang the national anthem.

“He was a lovely man, devoted to his town to the point of dying for it,” former kindergartern principal Doris Ziglioli told AFP. 

The mayor of nearby Belgentier, Bruno Aycard, described Michel as “a gregarious character who adored his village” and loved attending municipal feasts where bouillabaisse, a traditional Provencal fish stew, is served. Aycard described the dumping of waste as a problem that also plagues his town.

“No one should die for a pile of stones,” one woman wrote in a book of condolences opened for Michel.

The death comes amid mounting concern in France over violence against elected representatives following a spate of attacks on the offices of MPs from Macron's Republic on the Move party.

While those attacks were mainly carried out by opponents of a free-trade deal with Canada championed by Macron, many mayors have also complained about 
what they call the public's increasingly aggressive attitude.

“I think that citizens allow themselves to say or do things they would never have done before,” Marie-Jeanne Beguet, mayor of the eastern French town 
of Civrieux, told French online news site 20 Minutes.

“Like for example insulting a mayor and using inappropriate terms. It happens very easily, there are no barriers anymore.”

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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/
But while the map – created by – 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