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‘Dead’ Frenchwoman spends three years trying to prove she is still alive

A 58-year-old French woman, who was wrongfully declared dead in a long-running dispute with a former employee, goes to court on Monday in the city of Lyon to try resurrect her existence.

'Dead' Frenchwoman spends three years trying to prove she is still alive
Jeanne Pouchain was declared dead by a court. Photo: AFP

Reports of Jeanne Pouchain's death have been greatly exaggerated as AFP discovered when it met her at her home in the southeastern town of Saint-Joseph, near Lyon, recently.

Pouchain has been trying to prove she's alive ever since a labour court, allegedly acting on information provided by a former employee of Pouchain's cleaning company, noted her down in November 2017 as dead.

The ruling, which capped a nearly two-decade-long wrongful dismissal suit, turned Pouchain's life upside down.

Wiped from official records, she lost her ID card, driver's license, bank account and health insurance.

She accuses her former employee of fabricating her death to try to win damages from her purported heirs – her husband and son – after two failed attempts to sue Pouchain herself.

“It's a crazy story,” Pouchain's lawyer Sylvain Cormier told AFP.

“The plaintiff claimed that Mrs Pouchain was dead, without providing any proof, and everyone believed her. No-one checked,” he added.

Her former employee was not available for comment.   

The woman took a case against Pouchain after losing her job with Pouchain's cleaning company when it lost a big contract in 2000.

In 2004, a labour tribunal ordered Pouchain to pay the woman over €14,000 in damages, but because the case had been taken against her company and not Pouchain herself the ruling was never enforced.

In 2009, the woman took a case against Pouchain directly, but that case was thrown out, only to return in 2016 before an appeals court, which, believing Pouchain to be dead, ordered her husband and son to pay damages.

A lawyer for Pouchain's former employee has accused her of having a hand in her own demise, saying she played dead to try avoid litigation, by for example refusing to answer correspondence.

Pouchain, who is seeking to have the court declaration of her death declared a fake, has denied those accusations.

She described her life as being in limbo.

“State agencies tell me I am no longer dead, but that I am not yet alive. I'm in the making!,” she told AFP.

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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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