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France’s Interior Minister defends ‘precious’ right of women to go topless

France's interior minister on Tuesday defended the right of women to sunbathe topless on beaches, after a police warning for a group who stripped off on the southern coast sparked a social media outcry.

France's Interior Minister defends 'precious' right of women to go topless
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. Photo: AFP

French gendarmes patrolling a beach in Mediterranean seaside town Sainte-Marie-la-Mer last week asked a group of topless sunbathers to cover up in response to a complaint from a family, the local gendarmerie said in a statement on Facebook.

It acknowledged their actions had been “clumsy” but said the officers aimed wanted only to calm the situation, insisting there had been no official order to ban topless sunbathing in the town.

The mairie of Sainte-Marie-la-Mer also issued a statement clarifying that there is nothing to prevent topless sunbathing on its beaches, adding that it was “very attached to the republican principles of liberty”.

READ ALSO What are the rules around going topless or nude in France?

 

But the case prompted an avalanche of criticsm on social media, with #seinsnus (topless) trending on Twitter in France.

“Is Sainte-Marie-la-Mer now Saudi Arabia?” wondered one user, while others slammed a creeping “prudishness” in France.

“It was wrong that the women were warned about their clothing,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin wrote on Twitter.

“Freedom is something precious. And it is normal that officials can admit their mistakes.”

 

“You will always see me in uniform,” the spokeswoman of the French gendarmerie Maddy Scheurer wrote on Twitter, adding a smiling emoji.

“But topless sunbathing is allowed on the beach at Sainte-Marie-la-Mer. It was clumsiness by two gendarmes who had the best intentions.”

Topless sunbathing in France is legally not considered to be sexual exhibitionism although it can be halted by local directives outlawing certain styles of dress.

But far from everyone in France takes their tops off on the beach these days and topless sunbathing has become less popular in recent years.

Surveys show that younger women are increasingly concerned about sexual harassment and body shaming on the beach.

Less than 20 percent of French women aged under 50 now sunbathe topless, compared with 28 percent 10 years ago and 43 percent in 1984, according to a recent survey by pollster Ifop of over 5,000 Europeans including 1,000 French.

This makes the French less willing to bathe topless than some other Europeans, with almost half of Spanish women saying they bathe topless and 34 percent of Germans.

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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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