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Strasbourg Christmas market reopens, one year after attack that shocked France

The celebrated Christmas market in France's eastern city of Strasbourg opened for another festive season on Friday, with shopkeepers and visitors vowing not to be cowed by an attack last year by a radical Islamist gunman that killed five people.

Strasbourg Christmas market reopens, one year after attack that shocked France
All photos: AFP

The annual celebrations around a giant Christmas tree will be shadowed by the events of December 11th, 2018 when Cherif Chekatt, 29, went on the rampage at the market.

This year, some 500 members of the security forces will be on duty – in uniform and plain clothes – and checks are being set up around the city centre.

“We have no specific elements of concern – terrorist or otherwise – concerning the Christmas market in Strasbourg”, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told the Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace newspaper.

Castener said he wanted to “bring a message of vigilance but also calm, confidence and an invitation to the festivities.”

'Out of the question'

The stallholders who run some 300 wooden chalets selling local produce, souvenirs and Christmas products say they are still haunted by memories of the attack but that the market's work must go on.

Setting out her wares at the stall where she has worked for half a century, Monique Kuprycz-Adam said that the atmosphere was still oppressive but there was no questioning of shunning the event.

“My family has done the Christmas market since 1906. That (closing the stall) would show that we are scared and is out of the question,” she said.

The historic Christmas market, which is being held in the city for the 450th year, is of key economic importance for Strasbourg and other cities and towns of northeastern France.

Every year sees a huge influx of visitors, with 2 million expected in Strasbourg and 1.5 million awaited in nearby Colmar, home to one of France's prettiest markets, to enjoy the shopping and goblets of mulled wine.

The Strasbourg market, which will stay open until December 30th, has a budget of up to €5 million but brings in €250 million in income for the city.

“The Christmas market is something magical for the young, the grown-ups and the elderly,” said Christiane, a pensioner visiting the market on Friday. “We will think about the attack but it won't stop us. Otherwise they will win.”

'Can't ever forget'

Most of Chekatt's victims were foreigners or had been born abroad. They included a Thai tourist, a Franco-Afghan garage owner and an Italian journalist.

He also wounded 11 people during his shooting and stabbing spree before being shot dead by police after a two-day manhunt

Chekatt, who was on a watchlist of suspected Islamist radicals, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group in a video found by investigators on a USB stick.

But the government dismissed a claim by IS that it was responsible for the attack.

“Whether it's two years, three years, four years, ten years, I personally would still have the sounds of the gunshots in my head and the sparks from the gun,” said Maxime Sengel, manager of a restaurant near where a victim died.

“That's something we can never forget,” he added.

France has been targeted in a wave of attacks claimed by, or blamed on Islamist radicals since 2015.

In the most recent attack, a radicalised employee killed four of his colleagues at Paris police headquarters in October before himself being shot dead.

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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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