In praise of charm

One of the things I love about the French is that almost all of them are naturally charming and I’ve found the men to be incorrigible flirts, whatever their age. Let me explain further.

Last week I was waiting for yet another delivery. Typically the driver will call to check whether I’m home. If not, he  – it’s always a he – knows he can leave it at the security office at the entrance to the Domaine. On this occasion, I’d just missed his call and when I rang him back, he’d already dropped the box off with Security. I told him it wasn’t a problem and I’d pop down to collect it later. He then complimented me on my voice, I thanked him and was about to hang up when he asked whether we could have coffee together sometime.

Assuming he was joking, I laughed and said maybe, next time. We continued chatting and he then asked how old I was, to which I replied that you should never ask a lady her age but that I was probably a not dissimilar age to his mother. He was genuinely shocked but then enquired whether I was interested in a younger man. I laughed and said I’d put him on the list!

The list comprises a number of my cycling friends and acquaintances, many of them much younger, who’ve been impressed enough with my cooking to demand my hand in marriage. Easy to say when you know I’m already happily married, hence the list. Should anything ever happen to my beloved………………

Clearly, it’s not just M Macron who has a thing for older women. I should add that this is not a first for me. I’ve been chatted up by many a younger man, often while I’m out on my bike with my beloved riding a mere 500 metres ahead of me. One of my younger clubmates offered to come round and do any odd jobs that needed doing while my beloved was away on business. A girlfriend advised me he wasn’t really offering his services as a handyman which was a real shame as I so need one.

However, the situation was probably best summed up my beloved when a French colleague told him that he would never leave his wife home alone surrounded by Frenchmen for an extended period. Quick as a flash my beloved replied:

My wife likes men who are tall, blonde, with rippling muscles and who weigh more than her. I really don’t think I have anything to worry about, do you?

So true!

UK Mothering Sunday: Happy Mothers’ Day

Mother’s Day seems to be a bit of a moveable feast with it featuring on different months and days around the world. Not that I need to be concerned: I don’t have any kids, just the one big baby to look after.

My mother died some years ago so I don’t have to worry what to buy her to celebrate her special day, though she was an easy woman to buy presents for largely because she used to tell you what she’d like as a gift. She would say things like: “Your mother’s run out of her favourite body lotion.” Additionally, she never wanted a card because she felt they were a waste of money. She preferred us to spend more on her gift – no flies on her! My father famously would buy her a birthday card and use it for a number of years in succession.

In case you hadn’t guessed, in our household my father was the purchaser of all cards and gifts. My mother was however very generous. If you went out with her and saw something you liked, she would buy it for you. She saw no need to wait for your birthday or Christmas.

Getting married oh so many years ago and acquiring a mother-in-law, whom I refer to as the outlaw, meant I then had to buy two presents for Mothers’ Day. As you all know, my beloved is not good at either purchasing cards or presents. The outlaw’s present was always what you might call “nominal.”

Once my mother died, I advised my beloved that I would no longer buy the outlaw a Mother’s Day card or present, though would continue to purchase her birthday and Xmas presents. Consequently, the outlaw hasn’t received a Mother’s Day card since 2011. My beloved’s excuse is that Mothering Sunday in France is in May so he can’t buy her a card in March. This is despite his regular trips to UK.

My beloved is the apple of his mother’s eye and can do no wrong, ever. She has recently moved involuntarily into a very nice nursing home close to my beloved’s brother and sister-in-law. The burden of caring for the outlaw has fallen heavily on their shoulders in recent years and frankly this long overdue move will certainly lighten their load. She’s been adjudged unable to care for herself and was becoming a nuisance to the other residents in her apartment block.

To give his brother a helping hand, my beloved has taken charge of the disposal of her property. In reality, of course, this means I’m doing it. Fortunately, my beloved along with his brother and uncle holds the outlaw’s enduring Power of Attorney. Even more fortunate, it’s joint and several, meaning one of the attorneys can act on the others’ behalf.

Thanks to Money Laundering Regulations, professionals such as solicitors and estate agents need to “know their clients.” Typically this involves seeing original identity papers such as a passport and documents which confirm one’s address. Not a problem as my beloved was over in the UK last week and could visit the solicitor and estate agent in person. However, the uncle, who’s the outlaw’s younger brother, is in his mid-80s, lives in the west country and doesn’t possess a passport, driving licence or even a free bus pass.

My brother-in-law is fretting as to whether the outlaw has enough money to remain in the home until the end of her days. She’s 93, she’s got dementia, she’s probably got sufficient funds. Plus, it’s unlikely she’ll remember that today’s Mothering Sunday. I’m  not however completely heartless, I gave my beloved a small edible gift to give to her last week when he was in the UK.

 

 

The Food in France

Background

Is there any country more renowned for its food than France? French cuisine is arguably the most revered on earth – indeed the very word “cuisine” is French. Training in traditional French methods and cooking techniques is considered a core component of many a chef’s basic education, regardless of their country of origin.

The French have elevated food into an art form. Nowhere else on earth is so much attention paid to what people are going to eat and how they are going to eat it. The reasons are steeped in history but include the quality of ingredients and creativity of the chefs, the availability of incredible produce and simply, the love of good food.

Sharply dressed waiters, beautifully set tables with linen cloths and long, leisurely meals are the hallmarks of classic French dining, a culinary tradition that’s been the epitome of elegance for decades.

Can’t you just smell that bread?

From the simplest crusty baguette eaten with ripe brie to a beautiful lobster bisque or hearty beef bourguignon, France is heaven for any food lover. Or is it?

Slippery slope

Despite it being the international standard for haute cuisine, top French food critic Philippe Faure recently blasted the “lamentable” standard of cooking in France, and sadly I had to agree with him.

Thirty or 40 years ago you could cross the country stopping randomly every 20 kilometres and eat very well; there were good bistros everywhere. But that is no longer the case.

So does French cuisine still deserve to be held up as a gastronomic benchmark or is that all in the past? Does where you live in France make a difference to the food you eat? Or does it simply depend on how much money you have?

I talked to friends (French and non-French) who live all over France and they agreed that French food isn’t what it once was. Many labelled it boring and unimaginative, saying it’s rare to find anything different on restaurant menus. Those, like me, who live near to Italy say the food there is cheaper and better quality than in France. Although, if you spend a bit more on mid to luxury range French cuisine, then the quality improves. Worse still, and which chimes with my own experiences, some complained of patchy quality, with the risk of eating mediocre or inconsistent food running high.

How has this state of affairs come about? Well I’ve written about the French’s secret love affair with fast food (burgers and pizza) which is increasingly taking over its tables, largely due to the lack of time for a proper lunch and the arrival – and popularity – of online food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. And don’t even get me started on the French invented horror that is O’Tacos!

The figures don’t lie

These are the figures that reveal France’s growing love of fast food:

  • According to restaurant consultant Gira Conseil, fast food in France accounts for turnover of €54 billion. That’s more than half the total turnover of the €88 billion food service industry, meaning fast food accounts for more consumer spending than traditional restaurants.
  • €4.8 billion is the staggering 2017 figure (up 4% on the previous year) for the turnover for McDonald’s in France in 2017, the biggest in the whole of the restaurant industry. The turnover of the next largest group was a measly €1.7 billion.
  • According to French corporate services company Edenred, French employees get an average of 31 minutes for lunch. The much spoken of two hour lunch is a largely thing of the past for the majority of French employees, most people are looking for something that can be prepared and eaten as quickly as possible.
  • France has 32,000 fast food restaurants , with the number increasing rapidly due to growing demand.  The majority of these are burger joints, 2,100 of which belong to a chain.
  • On average consumers spend €9 on a fast food meal, revealing the French are not entirely sacrificing quality in the name of convenience.

So where and how can you find a good meal?

My husband claims that I’m like a truffle hound when it comes to finding good restaurants. I put this down to the training I received at my father’s knee.  So here are a few salient tips to steer you in the right direction:

  • Planning and Preparation: read plenty of blogs written by locals to suss out the best places to eat and make a reservation. If they’re good, tables will fill up fast. Look in particular for restaurants that are local institutions, they’ve been around for donkey’s years for a good reason. In particular, choose family owned and run establishments, they have skin in the game.

  • Seasonal and local: look for restaurants with their short menus on a chalk board – dishes change with the seasons. Look in particular for the words “fait maison” (home-made). Generally, avoid restaurants with large, laminated menus. Don’t go a la carte, prix-fixe menus are generally better value.

  • Effort with ambience: when in doubt opt for the restaurant with linen napkins (and maybe tablecloths) and fresh flowers. See which ones are popular with locals rather than tourists. Failing which, just trust your nose and instinct, and ask plenty of questions about the menu.

What are the French doing to improve this state of affairs?

Today, 21 March, 5,000 chefs from around the world will create a French-style dinner, based around socially responsible cuisine.  It will be a demonstration of cuisine which is firmly rooted in its time and is sensitive to the needs of today: respecting the planet and healthy eating. Visitors and locals will be able to sample tasty food which showcases not only local farmers and produce, but also socially responsible cuisine focusing on environmental protection.

So all over France until 24 March, you will find initiatives and experiences to be shared and enjoyed. In particular, Provence in 2019 has been designated the foremost destination for gastronomy and will be promoted at Goût de /Good France events both in France and internationally.  For the first time, the Bouches-du-Rhône department and Provence Tourisme are launching Marseille Provence Gastronomie 2019 (MPG2019), a year of gastronomy in Provence under the patronage of renowned French chef Gérald Passedat. It will be a year of celebrations, meetings between chefs, gourmet markets, picnics, urban vegetable gardens and more – a genuine gastronomic journey through Provence!

 

 

My least favourite places to visit

IMHO these three are the worst places to visit in France. That said, their equivalents in other countries are probably no better.

1. Any mobile phone/internet provider shop

My own experiences are strictly limited to Orange but judging by the queues outside the other operators in France, they’re probably similar. Thanks to having our own company, we’ve managed to move all of our services onto a “Pro” basis. The advantage being we get “service” 24/7 and we can book an appointment with a dedicated “Pro” advisor at our local Orange shop.

However the advice, particularly when we’re talking “internet,” only goes so far because we’ve had an extension fitted so that our WiFi reaches beyond the walls of the office. We had said extension fitted by a specialist arm of Orange pitched at larger corporates, rather than ourselves, which offers an all-singing, all-dancing service costing an arm and a leg, and the rest of one’s torso. We’re currently waiting to access FIBRE which we fervently hope will give us greater capacity and a speedier service.

2. Any pharmacy

The French are by and large all hypochondriacs and, if they’re feeling under the weather,  their first port of call is the local pharmacy – there’s one every 100 metres. Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration! But go into any pharmacy and you’ll generally find a long queue. Admittedly many of those queueing will be elderly and probably looking to have a friendly chat with someone about their various ailments.The outlaw (my mother-in-law) would love it here!

The pharmacists are all very knowledgable and will quiz you about your symptoms to ensure they’re suggesting the best rather than the priciest  products. My favourite pharmacy, largely because it’s a little goldmine, is in the Cap 3000 shopping mall in Saint Laurent du Var. It has an unrivalled selection of goodies, masses of staff, is always full of customers and has security on its doors.

Of course, the pharmacies lighten the load of the local doctors. Most are privately owned by the pharmacist, there are few pharmacy chains in France – or indeed in most of Europe. There’s (fortunately) no equivalent of Boots or Wallgreens.

3. The Post Office

Most French Post Offices are well-organised with plenty of machines to weigh and frank your post, thereby minimising the number of staff. Again, there’s a “Pro” service which allows you to jump those inevitably long queues, providing there’s someone staffing the desk. The problem is that once again the place is generally full of the elderly – you know I don’t include myself in that description – who are unable/incapable of operating said machines. Many of them use the Post Office bank and always seem to require counter assistance. I’ve found the only way to hurry them up is to give them a helping hand. While they can use the Post Office during the week, they seem to prefer Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings!

I seem to spend an inordinately long time each week at our main Post Office. During the summer, it’s a nightmare parking nearby as it’s close to the beach and is one of the few roads with free car parking, so there’s rarely a space. Of course, they could install those machines which allow you to park for 15 minutes only but any trip to the Post Office generally takes at least 30 minutes!


Perils of aging I

Anything that talks about baby boomers tends to catch my eye, particularly since I recently experienced my maiden “Senior Moment.” So as soon as I spotted an article about tech products for baby boomers, I just had to read it.

Admitedly the article was US centric and more than a bit patronising about the ability of the older generation to cope with new technology. I’ve experienced this down at the Post Office where I often lend a hand to those more elderly [than me], to speed things up. Equally, of course, there are plenty of tech-savvy elders – ourselves included. Though the article claims tech products are starting to become more senior-friendly through voice recognition, touch screens and sensors. Its thrust was that the best tech products for elders need to serve a real purpose in their lives, many of whom may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive impairment.

Of course, I dismissed most of these innovations out of hand as being for baby boomers so much older than us. As I scrolled through the article I sadly noted no one seems to have yet perfected a robot that can do all or even some of the housework. One of those would be worth their weight in gold. No, most of them seemed intent on keeping track of the elderly in one way or another. No doubt so anxious relatives can ensure they don’t swan off with their inheritance!

There was one however which caught my eye. My beloved would love to have a dog but a) we live in an apartment b) I know I’d end up looking after it and c) he would want a large dog. My beloved always scoffs at small dogs. I think he feels it would be an affront to his masculinity to be seen walking a ball of fluff. That said he’s inordinately fond of his niece and nephew’s dog, a mini dachshund with attitude! So, when I saw this I thought: problem solved!

Ageless Innovation: Joy for All – Companion, life-like pets

A spin-out from the Hasbro toy company has developed fun and engaging, furry, life-like companion pets (pups and kittens), designed to create a connection between them and older adults. The pet responds to voices with little barks or purrs, and even has a heartbeat activated by petting. Its marketing blurb goes on to say:

In between naps and being adorable, real puppies require a lot of special attention. Joy for All Companion Golden Pup has all the love in the world to give but won’t chew up your slipper! [Nor, more importantly, will in wee or poop on your floors.] Thanks to built-in sensors and speakers, the pup can recreate some of the more delightful moments of owning a dog, including being a best friend for aging loved ones.

I watched the video and the puppy appears to be modelled on those cute Labrador ones which promote a well-known brand of toilet paper in the UK. It’s undeniably charming and I could see it bringing comfort and joy to those with cognitive impairment. My mother had Alzheimer’s and I would happily have spent US$119.99 (plus taxes) because I think she’d have enjoyed petting it. Alternatively, she might just have thrown it at me. We’ll never know!

The downside is that you can’t take it for a walk. Lots of the elderly where I live – we’re talking 80 years+ – have small dogs and I regularly see them out walking their dogs and stopping to chat to other neighbours and dog owners. The dog gets them out and about in the fresh air and gives them a connection to others. That might just be why France has so many centenarians!

Birthday bonanza

I recently posed the question as to what my beloved wanted to do to celebrate his birthday at the end of April. He discovered we could fly to Majorca for next to nothing, leaving plenty to splash on a five star hotel. But which one, there were so many? My beloved wisely left the choice to me.

As I was reviewing hotel candidates, I reflected on how we had spent my birthday. I had a “day out” in Toulouse. This wasn’t my choice. My beloved had a client meeting in Castres which we’d already explored on an earlier trip. We’d both previously visited Toulouse but those visits had merely whet our appetites to see more of the city. Thanks to the freezing cold weather my “day out” was more of a half- day thus most of Toulouse’s splendours still remain unexplored.

Now, as you know, I’m not big on birthday celebrations which is just as well because I’ve spent plenty of my special days either with my beloved’s salesteams or, alternatively, home alone while my beloved was living it up in the West Indies, Mexico or other such exotic spots.

I’ve noted that he’s pretty much always available to celebrate his birthday. Last year, for example, we spent five days in Paris for his while mine was celebrated at a favourite spot in Seefeld just before we returned from Austria.

In years past I’ve celebrated with a girlfriend – champagne and oysters – whose birthday is a few days before mine. However, she now lives in Paris and her other half makes her day into a really special occasion.

It’s not that I want a song and dance made of my birthday, more an equal sharing of the spoils. My beloved is exonerated from buying me a present. Gift giving is so not one of his competencies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to expect him to plan a pleasant day out together.

I had tried to book one of Toulouse’s top restaurants but, even a couple of months in advance, an early January Tuesday lunchtime was fully-booked! I never leave booking restaurants to my beloved, he forgets all too easily and the time I spend reminding him can be more wisely spent on making the booking.

As soon as we arrived in Toulouse, I spotted a lovely brasserie in one of the main squares and my beloved secured the last available table for two – result – where we had an enjoyable lunch albeit the day after my birthday.

We had travelled down to Castres on my birthday but Monday evening is never a great time to eat out as, along with Sunday evening, most restaurants are closed. Still, we’d brunched the day before at one of our regular spots with my sister and brother-in-law, so I really don’t have anything to complain about, do l?

Outlook

My new windows are in and I’m as pleased as punch. They do a much better job of keeping the heat in, and the noise, dust and wind out. Thanks to the amount of research I did beforehand over the choice of windows and contractor, the process was relatively painless. What’s more, it’s also partly tax-deductible as we’re doing our bit for global warming!

I say relatively because I organised to have the windows installed in what turned out to be the coldest week of the year. Luckily it was dry and largely sunny.

Work of this type is a dirty and dusty process although the workmen were incredibly neat and tidy and did a good job cleaning up after themselves each day. Nonetheless, there was dust everywhere!

The contractors advised the installation would take 3-4 days. We realised after day one it was going to take all week. I however had a fixed price contract so the extra time taken ensured an impressive finish, after I’d established on the first day that I had an eye for detail and would be satisfied with nothing less than the best.

Workmen in Britain typically pitch up and expect tea (or coffee) and biscuits before getting down to any work, and then at regular intervals throughout the day. Not so in France. They’re here promptly at 08:00 am and work through until light falls, saving less noisy work for 12:00 – 14:00 lunchtime period. As it was bitterly cold, I treated them to a post-lunch coffee and slice of fruit cake. I found this helped them focus on that all-important finish.

We spent the whole week swathed in cashmere, something we now typically only wear on winter holidays. But it was the only way to stay warm while daytime temperatures were below 10°C and the windows were wide open. In addition, we had lunch out every day to save me fom cooking or having to prepare food in dusty conditions.

Aside from the dust everywhere, the floors got really dirty, far too dirty for Bob (my automatic floor sweeper). After the workmen departed it was all hands on deck, including my beloved, for a big clean-up. As anticipated, my view now looks even better!

 

Senior moment

It’s happened and I’m going to have to get over it. Another birthday and my first senior moment. I’m on the slippery slope. Next I’ll be “having falls” and buying slippers and cardigans.

When I travel on business with my beloved, I take charge of all those pesky receipts. You know the ones he loses en route or I find months later in the pocket of something.

Having returned from our recent trip to Toulouse and Castres, I took out all the receipts, annotated and sorted them before putting them into an envelope. Their destination was the “expenses” drawer where I store everything until month end. At the same time I dealt with what seemed like an inordinate amount of post, much of which ended up being vertically filed.

Just a few days later I opened the “expenses” drawer but the documents on top were not the ones I was expecting. Where were the most recent expenses and post? I closed my eyes and indulged in a spot of visualisation. I could see myself getting the receipts out, sorting them but not putting them in the drawer. Had they gotten caught up with something else and been misfiled? Had they fallen down the back of the drawer?

I closed my eyes again and realised later that day I’d indulged in a spot of Marie Kondoesque tidying. That’s right. Anything on my desk that no longer gave me joy ended up in the waste paper basket which had already been emptied and sent for recycling! I can only assume that I had gotten carried away and vertically filed the expenses and post.

My beloved was rather enjoying my discomfort though, of course, he was thankful that it was me rather than he who’d had the mishap. He might be tempted to torment me in the future but he’ll soon forget it ever happened.

Luckily my normally excellent memory came to my rescue and I called the hotel and restaurants to request copies of those invoices which could be replicated. For those that couldn’t, such as tolls and petrol, I fortunately had a record on my credit card. My accountant’s not going to be happy as in France the rule is “no justicatif, no deduction” but I think I can cobble together enough bits of paper to keep her happy.

To be on the safe side, I’ll continue to steer clear of slippers and cardigans.

Fibre Frustration

In our town we live just about as far as you can get from the Orange internet connection consequently our unlimited broadband service has its limitations. For example, when we watch television over the internet it uses most of our available capacity so the laptops and iPads grind exceedingly slow, if at all.

In addition, I believe I may have mentioned that our WiFi service, thanks to our reinforced concrete walls, barely extends beyond the office. Two, recently fitted, very expensive, top-of-the-range, all singing all dancing extenders mean we now have greater coverage but not, of course, if we’re also watching the television.

We have patiently been waiting the arrival of the panacea for all our internet woes – FIBRE. Again, we seem to be the last people scheduled to get it in our town. Everyone else we know has got it. There was a brief flurry of excitement before Christmas, when a notice from Orange on the front door of the building announced the arrival of FIBRE and advising the work would be completed in a few days. Hallelujah!

Quicker than a rat up a drainpipe, I’d booked us an appointment with the Orange Pro advisor at the Cap 3000 shopping centre. We could barely contain our excitement – I know we need to get out more!

Our hopes were cruelly dashed. Yes, there is now a FIBRE connection to our building but it’ll be another six months until we can finally access the service. It appears that they first have to negotiate with the other internet providers to the building and connect them.

What’s the point in being Orange throughout, if everyone else then gets preference? No one could provide a satisfactory response to my question. Maybe they thought I was being rhetorical?

To make matters worse, Orange keep rubbing salt into the wound by emailing us weekly telling us FIBRE will soon be with us. Sadly, just not soon enough!

Things about France that surprised me: the French torch cars

Burning cars is something of a tradition in France, albeit one much despised by the authorities and (unsurprisingly) car owners and, unfortunately since the appearance of the gilets jaunes, it’s on the rise again.

Every New Year’s Eve nervous car owners across France cross their fingers hoping their cars – generally only those parked outside – will emerge unscathed. This is because of a longstanding French tradition where youths in the less celubrious parts of French cities torch scores of cars. The number of vehicles burned this New Year’s Eve totalled 1,031, an increase from last year’s 935.

However stats released last year by France’s official crime data agency (ONDRP) show that the number of cars burned each year has fallen by approx. 20% since 2010 – good news for car owners and insurance firms. The bad news is that tens of thousands of vehicles are still burned across the country each year.

Most cars are torched during the summer, particularly on Bastille Day (14th July) when those disaffected youths mark the annual fête nationale with their own pyrotechnic displays.

The main reason for the overall fall, according to the ONDRP, is the media take much less interest now in the mass burning of cars, which means there may be less of a thrill for the arsonists.

Authorities have previously refrained from reporting on the number of cars burned on New Year’s Eve after it was discovered that a district-by-district breakdown was fuelling destructive competition between rival gangs. In addition, extra police are regularly deployed in sensitive areas on specific nights of the year to try to prevent the blazes.

The stats also showed that the departments most affected by the problem were Haute-Corse in Corsica, Isere to the south east (including Grenoble), and Oise, to the north of Paris. Rural areas of France are much less affected than urban areas, possibly because everyone knows everyone else in small villages and cars are less likely to be parked on the road. Sadly the car owners most affected are generally those in the more hard-up neighbourhoods who may only have third-party cover.

So how did it all start?

The custom of setting vehicles alight on New Year’s Eve reportedly began in the east of the country, around Strasbourg, in the 1990s, in the the city’s poorer neighbourhoods. It was then quickly adopted by youths in cities nationwide.

Cars are often set ablaze whenever there is an outbreak of social disorder, as seen in the 2005 riots when hundreds of vehicles were torched and again now with the gilets jaunes.

According to an article in Le Parisien, there are many reasons why youths burn cars:-

Vehicle fires are often associated with a context of riots and urban violence. It can also be a ‘game’ to break the monotony, or it could be motivated by vengeance after a violent arrest. Or it could just be to get rid of a car used in a crime or as an insurance scam.

ONDRP’s Christophe Schulz

Why do the French really burn cars?

But to get the inside track, I spoke to a few French youths, not necessarily ones who’ve torched cars. I don’t want people to be confused by the title, French people don’t burn cars just for kicks, like: “I don’t know what to do today. Oh! Check this car. Why don’t I torch it just to pass the time?”

Truth is, in a riot, cars are the easiest thing to burn: they’re just there, in the street, exactly where you’re busy rioting. And you’re mad, you want to destroy something, possibly set it on fire, and guess what, there’s dozens of them, full of flamable parts, just sitting there, almost begging to be burned. In other words, don’t park where there’s a riot or likely to be a riot.

That being said, keep in mind a few factors: cars get burned every night for a bunch of different reasons, but they seem to interest the media only on New Year’s Eve. And while it’s true that many more cars are burned on that night (it goes from a few dozen around the country on a normal night to hundreds on New Year’s Eve), I also think that the media played a role, especially in the spreading of the tradition to other cities. If they hadn’t initially made a big deal out of it in Strasbourg, I don’t think kids from other cities’ ghettos would have done it too.

And there it is, the elephant in the room. Those car burnings don’t take place in random streets, most if not all of them are in poor neighborhoods, the projects, the places the French government created a few decades ago to lodge immigrants and has since totally abandoned – we even have a few on the Cote d’Azur. So, not unnaturally, their inhabitents feel excluded, because they are.

As [cycling] club secretary, I used to occasionally attend a meeting in one of Nice’s poorer districts. During the meeting the car park would be guarded to protect our cars!

You might be wondering why folk get away with this. Quite simply because you can’t put a guard on every car or car park. And also, because as previously mentioned, most cars get burnt in the poor neighborhoods. It might be a whole different matter, if it were happening in rich neighbourhoods but that’s where cars are typically parked in secure garages, with video surveillance – like ours – and are much less easy to access.

So, in short, some French burn cars as a protest because they can!