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MAYOR

The rising tide of violence against France’s local mayors

As one French town said farewell to its mayor, who was killed while tackling fly-tippers, new figures have revealed the extent of violence and threats against local officials.

The rising tide of violence against France's local mayors
French mayors play a vital role in society. Photo: AFP

Jean-Mathieu Michel, 76, died after he pulled up and ordered two workers who were dumping rubble by the side of the road to take it away in the southern town of Signes, where he had been mayor for 36 years.

Now figures from the Ministry of the Interior reveal that in 2018, 361 mayors and their deputies were attacked.


Mayors at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel. Photo: AFP

The death of Signes' mayor has revived the feeling of abandonment of many local elected officials.

The role of mayor comes with many powers and responsibilities, and even village mayors are responsible for a bewildering array of tasks, from planning permission for home improvements to organising elections and preparing budgets.

READ ALSO Why village mayors are so important in France

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the trend is likely to increase with 317 attacks in 2016 and 332 in 2017.

Of the 361 mayors and deputy mayors who were victims of “wilful bodily harm” in 2018, 261 received threats or were victims of blackmail, 145 of “non-criminal physical violence” and 178 of verbal threats.

In a message read at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel by Jacqueline Gourault, Minister of Territorial Cohesion, Emmanuel Macron promised to “personally ensure that in the face of incivilities and the disintegration of the meaning of the State and the Nation by some, the answer is always firm, exemplary and without complacency”.

There are more than 35,000 mayors in France and while jobs like the mayor of Paris come with a multi-million pound budget and a team of staff, just over half of French mayors oversee communes with less than 500 people, and take a very hands-on role in the community.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel, who was described as a “lovely man, devoted to his town”.

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

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

 

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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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