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INSIDE FRANCE

Inside France: Summer weather crisis, turning off the lights and singing Macron

It was the week that France burned, but amid the soaring temperatures were French summer traditions, universal European sayings and some video of Emmanuel Macron wearing a beret and singing a song - welcome to our weekly newsletter Inside France, which looks at what we have been talking about in France this week.

Inside France: Summer weather crisis, turning off the lights and singing Macron
Devastating wildfires hit France this week. Photo by THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.

It’s been a dramatic week in France with some frankly extremely worrying scenes, but let’s start with something a little lighter – Emmanuel Macron dressed up in a beret forced to sing along to a ‘local song’ that he clearly doesn’t know.

The president was on a visit to the Pyrenees when he encountered the local choir and was forced into a rather uncomfortable-looking singalong. It looks to me as if certain choir members are rather enjoying Macron’s discomfort.

There’s a lovely phrase in French for what Macron is doing – chanter en yaourt (singing in yoghurt) which means trying to sing along when you don’t know the words.

Ablaze

Back to the serious stuff and some of the photos from France over the last week have looked like visions of hell as some of the country’s worst ever wildfires struck.

The fires are still burning, they have been ablaze for 10 days, and have destroyed an area of south west France that is twice the size of Paris.

Fortunately no-one died but businesses including five campsites have been destroyed and large parts of south west France have been blanketed in a choking smog as a result of smoke from the fires.

Even here in Paris, 600km away, the air quality dipped sharply and the air smelled of smoke – in fact the US rock band Pearl Jam, currently touring Europe, cancelled a concert in Prague after singer Eddie Vedder developed throat problems after an outdoor gig in Paris. 

Scorching

The wildfires broke out as France saw its second heatwave of the summer, with temperatures soaring across the country to 40C, making many everyday tasks uncomfortably sweaty.

The below meme refers to the stifling temperatures on the Paris RER suburban rail service, although I can confirm that the Metro was fairly sauna-like too, sadly without the fluffy towels and smell of pine.

And the new normal imposed by the climate crisis means we will all have to find ways to live with these temperatures in the future – in fact the Spanish National Research Council is predicting that 2022 will be the coolest summer for the rest of our lives.

The below cartoon from Coco in the leftwing newspaper Libération sums up the air-conditioning dilemma – soaring temperatures mean that people naturally want it, while at the same time knowing that fossil fuel consumption is what caused the climate crisis in the first place. The man in the street cries ‘it’s too hot’ while the householder replies ‘don’t worry, I’ve put on the air-con’, even as the world burns outside.

Summer breaks

But while summers are clearly set to change, some French traditions remain.

We’ve already started getting out-of-office email replies as French people decamp to the beach and interview requests are often met with the response “sure, how about September?”

Electricity

It seems hard to imagine as we swelter under the boiling sun, but winter is coming and with the likelihood of Russia cutting off gas supplies it’s likely to be a tricky one.

The French government is preparing an ‘energy sobriety’ plan to cut energy usage by 10 percent over the next two years – the plan is due to be revealed next week.

But in the meantime the French government spokesman Olivier Véran used his weekly press conference to ask everyone to make small gestures to save power – turn off the wifi router when you’re away, lower the air-con and – the favourite of dad around the world shouting at their kids – turn off the lights in rooms that you’re not using.

In French the favoured expression of exasperated electricity bill-payers is ‘it’s not Versailles here’ – a phrase so well known it was even used in an advert.

In the UK we say ‘it’s like Blackpool illuminations in here’ while Italian has a variety of phrases based around energy firm Enel such as ‘are you the daughter of Mr Enel?’ or ‘we’re not shareholders in Enel, you know’ while in Spain parents say ‘your dad doesn’t work for the electricity board’. Which just goes to show that some things are absolutely universal.

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.

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INSIDE FRANCE

Inside France: Strikes, Citroëns and Champagne communists

From good news for French bill-payers to the art of surviving strikes, via festivals and the iconic Citroën 2CV, our weekly newsletter Inside France looks at what we have been talking about in France this week.

Inside France: Strikes, Citroëns and Champagne communists

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. Members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.

After a surprisingly quiet summer in terms of strike action, French unions are once again causing chaos – this time all over Europe – as air traffic controllers go on strike in a dispute over pay, working conditions and future recruitment.

It’s obviously never fun getting caught up in a strike, especially airline strikes which can ruin important trips and much-anticipated holidays.

However they are a fact of life and I believe that one of the most important skills for life in France is learning how to be philosophical about strikes. Everyone finds their own path to this form of inner peace, but for me it was realising how much of the French social contract – from good public services to workers’ rights – depends on the power of the street to hold governments to account.

Oh, and strike days are also a great time to learn some new French swear-words. 

READ ALSO How to stop worrying and learn to love French strikes

It looks we may all be getting some practice at this soon in a possibly troubled autumn – unions and leftist political parties are already calling for demos later in September over the cost-of-living, and that’s even before Emmanuel Macron introduces his highly controversial bills for reforming both the pension system (again) and the unemployment benefits system.

Things could get lively. 

Bills

Whether because they’re afraid of social unrest or because they’re lovely people, the French government has announced that the cap on energy prices will be extended into 2023, albeit raised to a maximum 15 percent increase.

Bills increasing is never good news, and of course will hit those on low incomes the hardest, but a glance over the Channel at 200 percent increases in electricity bills is enough to make me thank my lucky stars that I live in France.

Champagne communists 

Running since 1930, the Fête de l’Humanité is a pretty big deal in France, attracting around 500,000 people – it raises funds for the Communist newspaper l’Humanité but attracts speakers from across the political left, as well as being a major music festival with dozens of well-known bands appearing over the three days.

But for my money, the best thing about it is that local Communist parties from all over France (and the world in fact) come and set up stands, most of which lure in punters with the food and drink speciality of their regions.

If dancing in a tent with drunk French Communists while sipping €4 glasses of Champagne is your thing, then you will love the Fête de l’Humanité. (And no, ‘Champagne socialist’ is not an insult in France, instead we say gauche caviar).

Podcast

If you like idle chit-chat about France – as well as some serious topics – check out our weekly Talking France podcast.

In the most recent episode we tackle the heavy subjects of assisted dying, plus the problems of the French nuclear industry, before heading to the lighter waters of Dijon mustard, Bordeaux wine and some topical French phrases.

Listen on Spotify, Apple or Google podcasts, download it HERE or listen on the link below.

Photo of the week

This has to be the French photo of the week, for all the reasons explained below

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. Members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.

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