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GLANCE

Thousands of bridges in France ‘in urgent need of repairs’

The death of two people after a bridge collapsed on Monday is renewing calls to review the deplorable state of the country's bridges.

Thousands of bridges in France 'in urgent need of repairs'
Two people died after the collapse of the bridge linking the towns of Mirepoix-sur-Tarn and Bessieres, 30 kilometres north of the city of Toulouse. Photo: AFP

A teenage girl and a lorry driver both died, and several other people were injured, when a bridge at Mirepoix-sur-Tarn, south west in France, that was used daily by people commuting to Toulouse, suddenly collapsed on Monday morning.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation, although local authorities say they believe the cause was a heavy lorry driving onto the bridge, which had a weight restriction.

“We think that the truck weighed over 40 tonnes. The lorry was well over the limit and the bridge broke,” the mayor of the town of Mirepoix-sur-Tarn, Eric Oget, told AFP.

The bridge, which was built in 1931, could take a maximum weight of 19 tonnes. It had passed recent safety inspections.

The incident prompted renewed scrutiny of the uncertain state of France's bridges.

A report following the collapse of the Genoa bridge in northern Italy last year, killing 43 people, had already concluded that at least 25,000 bridges around the country are in need of urgent repair.

Published in June, the authors called for a 'Marshall Plan' to renovate the ensemble of the country's bridges, to prevent future accidents.

One of the authors of the report, Member of the French Senate Patrick Chaize, told Franceinfo on Tuesday that there is a “lack of awareness” in France regarding the deplorable state of the country's bridges. 

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The collapsed bridge at Mirepoix-sur-Tarn, near Toulouse, was not under close watch by the authorities. PHOTO: AFP

Local authorities said on Monday that the Mirepoix-sur-Tarn bridge was not on the list of bridges in need of urgent repair and was not under close watch. The Haute-Garonne department council said the bridge had undergone a “thorough” inspection in 2017, which had shown “no structural problem”.

Chaize, who belongs to President Emmanuel Macron's party La République en Marche, said Monday's incident echoed the findings in their report.

“When we called our report Bridge security: Avoiding a Crisis this was exactly to avoid a disaster.

Unfortunately, the Mirepoix accident happened,” Chaize said. “An intervention is needed urgently.”

One of the first things that needs to be done, Chaize said, is counting the bridges.

“We don't even know exactly how many bridges there are in France. This might seem crazy, but it's the truth. The estimate is 250,000, but it might well be 200,000 and 300,000,” he said. 

Counting is a necessary step to then establish a general overview of the scope of damages and the degree of urgency of the reparations needed.

After the Genoa bridge collapse, French authorities inspected the countries 164 largest bridges.

Twenty-three were identified to be in urgent need of construction work. Two of them are still classified as in a state of absolute urgency: the Caronte bridge on the A55 in Bouches-du-Rôone and the Echinghen bridge on A16 in Pas-de-Calais.

According to Chaize and his co-authors, the decay of the country's bridges has “gained pace the past ten years.” Many of the bridges were constructed after the war and haven't been properly taken care of since.

There has been a “chronic under-investment,” the authors conclude. They ask the government to increase the amount of money allocated to the maintenance of state artworks from an average of €45 to 120 million yearly from 2020 onward.

They also recommend dedicating €130 million a year to a special fund that local governments may use for security purposes (this fund is now used for maintaining security of the country's tunnels, set to end in 2021).

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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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