Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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Sounds like where I grew up (in the middle of South Georgia, no where near Atlanta). My parents were in the very tiny minority that did not vote for the most powerful man in the world.

Citizens of other countries could also be represented by a powerful figure, if they had the determination to weld their separate small countries (60 million is small today, if you hadn't noticed) into one large one (which would involve tossing out lots of entrenched parochial small-time politicians), and give up enough of their subsidies to spark rapid growth.

But they won't. They prefer instead to do what Europeans do (i.e. moan about GWB being too powerful).

True, they vote for the most powerful man in the world - because he represents THEM. :) Who should be voting for the pres of the US, Londoners?

I used to live in Asheville, at least you're in a beyootiful part of the country.

ZF, from your other comments I would have thought you'd be against a huge central government for Europe!

Camay, I guess what I meant is that I wish Americans were more interested in and understood more about the culture and history of other countries before voting for a man who has such an impact on the rest of the world.

It is really beautiful here, you are right!


The last couple of hundred years have certainly shown that "a huge central government for Europe" is something we perhaps all ought to look on with concern, if not horror (history also suggests that Europeans have the most to fear from such a thing).

My own experience though is that ordinary Europeans are much less different from ordinary Americans than are the social political elites who govern them. Certainly ordinary people on both continents are about as equally ignorant of the world beyond their own continent, as numerous surveys have always shown.

This reveals that a concern about how informed voters are in the US versus Europe is really predicated on the idea that voters in the US aren't subject to 'adult supervision' in the way that voters in Europe are (partly because their betters control the media and partly because, due to the EU's famous 'democratic deficit', they don't get to vote on the big issues anyway).

To look down on the US for this reason is to adopt what is 'au fond' an aristocratic attitude (that a small, significantly hereditary 'nomenklatura' should be running the state), which is entirely characteristic of European elites. Personally I don't find this at all persuasive or intellectually superior, primarily because:

(a) The difference reflects the fact that Americans have tackled a problem which has always defeated Europeans - how to create a continent-wide democracy which does not descend into despotism. Europeans try to shrug this off as some sort of accident, but that won't work because America's founders went about it deliberately, documented every step and made their reasoning clear. Europe's history of authoring and implementing constitutions (and very especially France's) is a sick joke by comparison.

(b) In terms of performance, America's record over the past 200 years, with (quelle horreur) all those uninstructed ordinary people in charge and not supervised by their betters, is quite simply the most consistent track record of success in recorded history, not excluding the Romans. As Warren Buffet once said, ' in 200 years nobody has made money betting against the United States'. During the same period the elites governing Europe have trashed their entire continent more than once, lost their empires, succumbed to successive invasions, and (in Eastern Europe) had to live under foreign domination for decades. All of this by the way for often painfully avoidable reasons. It's a dismal record of failure, mitigated only by a reasonable if anemic economic performance during the past 50 years, achieved under a US-provided defense umbrella.

The vanity of European elite opinion, however, is equalled only by their ignorance of history, and so what do they do? In the face of all this they habitually lecture us on the ignorance of our voters, an attitude I see reflected in your post. Given the above, really, this should be a little embarassing.

By way of a disclaimer against an impression by the way that this is just the perspective of an ignorant American, or someone who resents the EU 'in crowd' from the outside, I am in fact a European, still carry a European passport, graduated in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford, speak fluent French, live an affluent life on both continents, and so on. I'm perfectly qualified to pass as 'superior' European myself, but do not see I would source the justification!

Hm, very interesting comments, ZF!

I don't think most Americans would argue with the proposition that American education needs to be improved. A recent study at Yale showed that Yale graduates felt that the educational deficit was the gravest danger facing the United States. You don't have to be a snob or unpatriotic (or worse, European!) to say so. I don't feel entitled to criticize Europeans the same way, and I don't feel as personally affected by European problems; but I must say that in Europe I have rarely met the common U.S. combination of mind-blowing ignorance of basic facts combined with smug arrogance. Perhaps you have.


Here are four balls on which I find I usually receive a pretty disappointing return of serve in Europe.

Try asking some well-educated Europeans with strong ideas on American governance a few simple questions about how the US constitution works (we are after all the most powerful state in the world, and they are typically quick to complain that the operations of our government affect them).

Or my favorite is, ask them what percent of the US GDP they think is spent on defense. Typically the answer is central to their world view but they have never taken the time to look it up, or spent five minutes researching the matter if they are inclined (as they so often are) to quarrel with the official figures.

Another one is to ask them what percent of the US GDP is spent on health care provision by the government as opposed to private provision (an amount which is actually similar to what many EU countries spend on their public healthcare systems).

On a more practical level, ask them what sort of health care is provided to say a disabled or critically ill illegal immigrant child taken by its parents to a US hospital emergency room (my wife is a pediatric tertiary care specialist in the US, so I'm hard to deflect on this one).

I usually find that "mind-blowing ignorance of basic facts combined with smug arrogance" is a good description of what comes back!

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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