The paradox of France

“Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s about as French as it gets. It’s as French as croissants, saying “oh la la”, and chic fashion.

Something else very French  seems to be the cultural paradox of progression and tradition.

Traditionally meat lovers, more than 50% of French residents are now reducing their weekly intake of meat. In the past year, veganism alone has doubled to 4%. Add this to the figure for vegetarianism, and around 10% of French residents have already stopped eating meat, yet food outlets still struggle to offer anything without meat, let alone without dairy products. Tradition still rules.

Before and after the 80km/h speed limit reduction in Corsica.  (Copyright Corse-Machine – link to original).

This week, the 90km/h speed limit was reduced to 80km/h in an effort to reduce the high road toll. A sign of progression, yet speeding fines remain low, and many speed cameras don’t work. The public backlash has, as expected, started. One jokey comment I saw asked if it’s worth going through the time, effort and money involved to obtain a driving license when those without one (or disqualified) can drive a two-stroke car on public roads at up to 70km/h. Thankfully, those two-strokes aren’t allowed on the motorways with the 130km/h speed limit.

The joke image on the left is another reaction: before and after the 80km/h speed limit reduction in Corsica (where many road signs are peppered with bullet holes). The speed limit reduction is a start at reducing a high road toll: progression is winning this one.

Also this week, a hundred women signed an open letter published in a French newspaper condemning the #MeToo movement — a movement which denounces sexual assault and harassment. Don’t get me wrong: I can see what the letter is trying to say: women shouldn’t play the victim card, but this poorly written, illogical letter goes no further to fix that problem. Among the sentiments are these two statements:

A woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being a man’s sexual object, without being a “whore” or a vile accomplice of the patriarchy.


She can make sure that her wages are equal to a man’s but not feel forever traumatized by a man who rubs himself against her in the subway, even if that is regarded as an offense.

The letter doesn’t address those women leading professional teams who don’t enjoy being a man’s sexual object, nor how this is considered professional. What happens when it’s the boss making the moves? How can anyone — male or female — enjoy being a sexual object in the workplace when accepting such an activity potentially puts others at risk?

As for the subway comment, what on earth do equal wages have to do with a man rubbing his penis against a stranger? The argument, like many others in the letter, makes no sense! You can see the full translation here and make up your own mind.

Having lived in France for more than ten years, I’ve heard the creepy workplace comments and seen the open sexism first hand: when I first moved here, it felt like the sexism clock had turned back twenty years. But I’m also relieved to say that those behaviours have decreased in France, or at least where I live. Let’s hope that this is one aspect of traditional French culture that dwindles further despite this embarrassing open letter, and turns progressive tout de suite.

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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2 comments on “The paradox of France
  1. rosemarykneipp says:

    I have to say that I do find the reaction to the new speed limit rather annoying. We often take the very busy riverside road along the Loire from Blois to Amboise and it is a mixture of different speed limits – 90, 70 and 50. It is a winding road as it follows the river and the site of many accidents. Although a very seasoned driver in France (I have lived here for more than 40 years), I still find it annoying that as soon as the limit goes up to 90 kph, motorists get impatient if you drive at a safer 80 or even 85. In particular, with cruise control, many drivers stick to 90 regardless of bends. You are actually forced to drive at 90 to avoid accidents! I, for one, will be pleased to see the speed limit go down. My (French!) husband often gets speed fines along that road in the 70 kph sections because he doesn’t watch out for them enough. At least if the limit is 80, the fines will be lower :).

    I have heard many comments of the type “it will just get drivers riled and there will be more dangerous overtaking”. But the reaction was the same when the city speed limit was dropped from 60 to 50 kph. People just need to get used to it. And I will feel safer when we’re no longer flying over small country roads at 90 kph!

    • Wendy says:

      Oh yes, that pressure to speed up on windy roads is horrible. And in fact, it should be easier to overtake if the car in front is going slower, surely. There’s a road around Lake Annecy that drops between 70, 50 and 30, and I thought I was in a 50 zone but was only doing 40, and that’s where I received my only ever speeding fine. The grumpy policeman was not sympathetic and refused to let me off (and tried to charge me for having a British license, but thankfully I knew it was legal). Unlucky day.

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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