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What is rude?
Equalite Fraternite Bourges
numbering in France Bourges
and Caesar The
King of Bourges Duty
to French Bourges
and Calvinism French
Cultural Dimensions French
Guillaume Pelvoysin August
29 1944 Bengy
sur-Craon's history Marianne
Bourges and King Arthur
Reveillon du Noel
In the Cher there
is an architectural
feature in older houses called a 'chien assis' or sitting dog. The
typical country house is made from the local stone covered with
rendering. The roofs have a steep slope and are covered in tile or
slate. There is usually only one story but the attic is very big
because of the steep slopes. A sort of dormer is put into these attics
that cuts the roof line, called 'chien assis'. If the opening is a door
then it is likely that the attic is used for storage and utilities. If
the opening has a window then it is likely that the attic has been
converted into a living space, probably a bedroom. I have started a
photo collection of these odd dormers. Click on a picture to see it
What is rude?
If you are waiting
for some service
and are being ignored - is that rude? Maybe you are just not seen. But
when you sigh, tap your fingers, clear your throat, until someone looks
your way and you are still not dealt with - is that rude? And when you
are approached, there is no apology, perhaps even certain coolness - is
On the other hand, what if you are providing service and someone thinks
they are so important that they should be served before you are
available - is that rude? What if they make everyone uncomfortable with
their impatience - is that rude? And when you go to server them, they
do not even give you a civil greeting - is that rude?
There was a cartoon that made me laugh. A couple is in a restaurant
owned, run and frequented by Swedes. They notice how friendly everyone
is, how much fun everyone is having, and the lack of tension. They
decide they are going to move to Sweden. While they are waiting to get
their coats from the coat check, the girl is chatting to her friend and
paying no attention to them. They fret helplessly and finally decide to
not go to nasty old Sweden where people can be so rude. The cartoon put
the paradox in 5 or 6 little panels.
I noticed the human approach in Norway. Any little bit of business was
part of a much longer chat. I noticed the difference between Austria
and Germany. An Austrian said to us that Austria was like Denmark - it
was Germany except everything was more expensive, less efficient, less
stressful and more human - but only about 5% or so. They thought it was
worth a 5% drop in living standard to live in a friendlier place.
When we lived in England, we often noticed what appeared to be rudeness
from Americans and Canadians. Of course, the English, like the Germans,
are fairly efficient when serving people, but sometimes not quite
efficient enough for North Americans. The English are not quite as
strict about greetings but somewhat more strict then North Americans.
But the question of rudeness between English and American people is
felt on a personal level. Some particular English people find some
particular Americans rude and vice versa. Very few in either group find
the whole other culture rude.
The Berry region in France is particularly human in this respect. There
is a lot of waiting and a lot of chatting. When I am not in a hurry, I
love it. When I am in a hurry, I hate it. On balance, it is more
endearing than irritating. I think it is this attitude of the French -
the very civil, friendly, chatty way of going on - that makes Americans
label the whole nation as rude. The French are definitely not rude;
some individuals may be, especially perhaps in Paris, but not the
majority and certainly not the nation.
Sitting in the
car, waiting for Harry
in front of a post office, I saw again the motto that is on all the
French post offices, French Euro coins etc.etc.: liberte, equalite,
fraternite, the cry of the French Revolution and the motto of all the
France Republics since then. I suddenly realized what an amazing motto
I had thought, of course, that these were each attractive absolute
goals. We could have liberty, we could have equality, and we could have
fraternity, but what we could not have is all of them together at the
same time. All of them could not be absolutes; we could only have
awkward compromises between these ideals. There is an argument between
the rights of individuals and the rights of communities. There is an
argument between economic equality and entrepreneurial freedom.
This has led some people to leave out one of the three goal or to
supply a replacement for one of them. But maybe the problem is not with
the three goals but with the absolute achievement of them. Maybe the
right amount of liberty is the amount that is consistent with equality
and fraternity. Maybe the right amount of equality is the amount that
is consistent with liberty and fraternity. Maybe the right amount of
fraternity is the amount that is consistent with liberty and equality.
The goal of this motto could be thought of as not the achievement of
three separate things but the achievement of one thing, a society with
the right balanced of ideals.
Let's take equality. If we do not have enough equality then the
privileged become very fearful of the disadvantaged. They start to
favour police, walls and prisons; they want protection. The
disadvantaged envy and feel they are being harmed by the privileged.
They become militant and even violent. The outcome is a break in
society (along economic, religious, racial, ethnic etc. lines) and an
enormous decrease in fraternity with the 'others'. A sense of
brotherhood disappears between the two groups. The only way most people
feel they can deal with this situation is to circumscribe freedom.
If equality is taken too far, it takes a good deal of force to maintain
an strictly equal society. Liberty certainly suffers again. People who
are forced to lose something in order to protect the ideal of equality
are soon going to lose their feeling of community as well.
Looking at fraternity, if there is too little, it brings out the worst
in people. General selfishness, distrust and disregard for others are
not good ways to have a civil and law-abiding public. To control
violence and predatory behavior, freedoms are sacrificed. In the each
man for himself environment, equality suffers and the rich and powerful
get more rich and powerful.
If fraternity is too strong, people are under the thumb of their
communities and nations. Communities who police and protect themselves
in the midst of the larger society are particularly oppressive of their
own populations and destructive of cohesion in the large society.
Holding patriotism as an overriding value often leads to a militaristic
culture with an erosion of liberty.
Too much liberty leads to a society where everyone is elbowing everyone
else because one person's right to do something conflicts without
someone else's right to be free of the consequences of the other's
actions. Power (through litigation, money or violence) becomes
everything while equality and fraternity suffer.
Too little liberty allow small groups of people to control the society
with an obvious lack of equality between them and the rest of society
and no fraternity between haves and have-nots.
The society that is acceptable to us, is achievable and sustainable,
make us proud to be part of it, that society is the one that gives us a
good measure of all three ideals: liberte, equalite, fraternite.
we drive towards Bourges (the by
any route), the first sight of the city is the cathedral showing on the
horizon. It is very tall and sits at the highest point in the city.
Although there are some tall buildings in Bourges, it is the cathedral
that overshadows the rest.
During Paul's visit, I finally went inside.
Construction started in 1195. It is considered, jointly with Chartes,
as the first 'high-gothic' cathedral. And high it is - the ceiling
arches are 37 meters (about 120 feet) above the floor inside the body
of the church. On the outside, the roof and towers are much higher.
To me, the two most beautiful things about the place are the stained
glass windows and the flying buttresses.
Below are my pictures (click to enlarge) but better ones are found on
Road numbering in France
French have a great
game for matching the road numbers. We live on the D976 but nearby is a
old road marker for the N76. So a road changed its number - big deal.
But what happens when many roads change and it keeps happening. It
Once upon a time there were N roads, national roads, important roads
that were maintained by the national government. A group of nine
radiated from Paris, numbered sequentially anti-clockwise. Others split
off from these and carried the parent number as their first digit. The
roads kept their numbers though all the departments they transverse.
Oh, for the days of the logical N road numbering.
Each department also had D roads which they numbered with their own
schemes. There were C roads that were maintained by communes (towns).
You could more of less tell the importance and quality of a road from
its letter and the number of digits it had.
Then the financing of roads changed. This need not have disrupted
anything but it did. Rather than just leave the road numbering as it
was and simply send the bills to a different place, the numbers were
changed as the responsibility shifted. This has been going on for about
Many roads went from Nx to D9x as ours did. But you cannot count on it
as each department did as it pleased. The old road signs were also not
necessarily removed. This was OK because there was not that much
problem with following the signs for towns. If you are going from
Bourges to Nevers, you follow the signs for Nevers and don't worry
about there you are on the N76 or the D976. The signs tend to point you
to the better roads so there is no need to worry about the number of
digits in the road.
Then came another wrinkle. The French built autoroutes (like autobauns,
motorways or autostrata) and these are the A roads. The numbering is
similar to the old N system and the roads keep their numbers through
all departments. It would cause no problem, just continue to follow the
road signs for towns, except that some stretches are toll roads. If you
need to avoid the tolls then you have to tell the difference between
town signs via the autoroute and via the ordinary roads.
The European Union has also numbered existing roads throughout Europe
with E numbers. Another problem is that some stretches of road are now
(properly) two different roads Dx and Dy. In this case the one road
seems to disappear from signs and maps only to reappear a few miles
away. Thank goodness this is rare.
To drive in France taking an unusual route requires one of three
things: a GPS navigation system, a love of quaint things and puzzles
and a very good map, or good anger management. When I get down because
I am having difficulty navigating, I tend to become cynical. I start to
feel like someone is trying to control where I go or trying to make me
buy an electronic navigation system.
Here is an
interesting bit of Bourges
history. 2050 years ago the city of Bourges was called Avaricon by the
Gauls or Avaricum by the Romans, and was the largest and chief city of
the tribe called the Bituriges Cubi. It was built on a promontory
overlooking the joining of the Yeves and Auron rivers, well fortified
and surrounding by river and marshy ground.
The Bituriges tribe, along with many other tribes, was part of the
resistance to Roman conquest led by Vercingetorix. The Gauls decided in
the winter of 52 BC on a 'scorched earth' policy; they would burn the
towns and remove all the food, crops and livestock from the reach of
the Romans and then harass them without large battles while the Romans
were foraging for food. The plan was appearing to work well.
But the Bituriges wanted to save Avaricon from burning. "The Bituriges
falling prostrate on the ground, earnestly begged that they might not
be obliged to burn with their own hands the most beautiful city of
Gaul, the ornament and the security of their state; especially as the
town itself, almost wholly surrounded by a river and morass, and
affording but one very narrow approach, was, from the nature of its
situation, capable of an easy defence. Vercingetorix at first opposed
their request, but at length, moved by their prayers and the generous
compassion of the army, he yielded and sent a strong garrison to defend
In the spring of 52BC Julius Caesar arrived at Avaricum and began a
siege. Vercingetorix camped 15 miles away to trap the Romans there and
not allow them to forage. The allies of Roman in Gaul could not and
sometimes would not get supplies through to him. The Romans grew hungry
and Caesar offered to lift his siege because of the scarcity of food
but his army was by this time very angry and wanted to stay. Caesar
therefore began to build siege engines. During the 25 days it took to
build the apparatus, the Gauls continued their raids and attempts to
burn the siege engines.
When preparations were complete Caesar began to advance the towers. As
he started, a fierce storm struck and the sentries in the city took
cover rather than keeping watch. This gave Caesar the ability to move
right up to the walls of the city without opposition. The city quickly
fell. The Romans were set on revenge for their hunger and frustration.
Of the 40,000 people in the town, only 800 survived the massacre.
Later that year Vercingetorix's finally defeated Caesar and he died in
battle. The Roman army melted away from Gaul as the Roman Republic fell
into civil war. Vercingetorix enlarged and strengthened his
confederation of tribes. His Gaulish imperial state had a constitution
called the Charter of Avaricum. Each tribe had its own autonomy under
its own king but all owed allegiance to an Imperial Assembly and the
Emperor, Vercingetorix. For a hundred years or so this Gaulish Empire
grew stronger while the Roman one grew weaker. Later of course, Roman
triumphed over Gaul.
King of Bourges
Charles VII of France was called the
King of Bourges by his enemies because he had lost Paris and much of
the land we think of as France. He was also called Charles
Victorious because, in the end, he won the 100 Years War.
The war started in 1337 and continued on and off with the English
progressive taking more and more French territory. In 1415 Henry V won
at Agincourt. He obtained the Treaty of Troyes from the French king
Charles VI. Under this treaty Henry V married Charles' daughter
Catherine and their heirs were to inherit the French throne. The
Dauphin, who would become Charles VII, was declared illegitimate in the
treaty. When Charles VI died, Henry and Catherine's infant son was
declared King of France in Paris and accepted by the Estates General.
The Dauphin had very little left and was confined to the region around
At this low point, Joan of Arc arrived on the scene. She lifted the
siege of Orleans by improving the moral of the French army and after
other victories in quick succession made possible the coronation of
Charles VII at Reims. The infant Henry VI had not officially been
crowned at Reims and the tide turned in Charles' favour. Joan was
captured and burnt as a heretic in 1431, but by that time Charles was
safely King of France and in Paris.
Over time, the French regained the territory held by the English.
Later, in 1558, they regained the last English outpost, Calais. But it
was not until 1801 that the English finally dropped their claim to the
French throne. Of course, there still are the Channel Islands under the
Duty to French
I have always thought it
was odd that
the French felt such a duty to their language. The English seem to feel
that the English language should be made to work for them. The French
seem willing to work for their language.
Below is some of Edmund Blair Bolles' review of the book The
Story of French by
Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow found in the blog Babel's Dawn
(it's a great blog on language evolution). They have a great
take on French.
"Speakers everywhere think of their mother tongue as being easier, more
reasonable, better than other languages, but when the French make that
claim they are not exactly referring to the French language as she is
spoke, but as it exists in its ideal form."
"Every language has speakers who understand the difference between
correct and mistaken speech. … The French commentators refer to an
ideal French that will come to pass. The French are
version of a language that has never been realized….The ideal French
promotes 'the values of clarity, precision, and rigour'. Clarity and
precision are sought by most writers everywhere, but what is rigour?
Even with that English spelling, it's not a familiar linguistic ideal
to the heirs of Shakespeare, who like coinages, imported words, and
synonyms galore. Rigor is more for the heirs of Descartes. It means a
mathematical language where new words are despised and synonyms are a
waste of time. It is, to English-hearing ears, an anti-verbal attitude…"
"How did such an oddity arise? ….Cardinal Richelieu established
France's monument to its ideal language, the French Academy. The task
its leaders assigned themselves was to: Clear the language of all the
filth it has caught, either from the mouth of the people or in the
crowd of the court and tribunal or in the bad speech of ignorant
courtiers… That neatly summarizes the French dichotomy. There is the
language as people speak it (a dirty, ignorant mess) and then there is
the rigorous language that should be. The Academy is what catches the
foreigner's eye, but that is merely a visible token of something
inherent in French culture…."
"The Academy assigned itself the task of creating a great dictionary,
Their original plan had been to define the rules of usage by quoting
authors-an onerous task. So instead of reading and studying the
important works of the day, they decided just to make up the rules and
invent their own examples. That's the underside of idealism; it is too
easy. The English language has had two great quotation-based
dictionaries, Johnson's and the Oxford English Dictionary. They have
been paragons of actual usage and required very hard work on the part
of energetic men (Johnson and Murray). The result, of course, has been
an attitude toward language so removed from Paris that London might as
well be on a ring of Saturn….By itself the Academy's dictionary and
idealism could do nothing, but they, or more importantly, their spirit
has been adopted by the editors, writers, and schoolteachers who
produce successive generations of leaders…"
"They have no Dickens. But English has no Balzac either, and certainly
no Proust…The role of cultural will can play more of a part in the look
and feel of a language than the descriptive fatalists care to admit."
The Marais of
Bourges, the marshes, is
a national heritage sight. Historically they were the source of food
and of protection for the city. Near the center of the town is 135
hectares of gardens along a mass of canals, cared for by about 1000
market gardeners. Little flat-bottomed boats are used to get to the
plots. Every year there is a fair, Fete des Marais in September. This
is the smaller remains of the once extensive and uncultivated marsh.
The last time the marshes were used for protection was in the Franco
Prussian War where the artillery pieces were placed in the marshes to
make it impossible for the Prussians to capture them. The defensive use
of the marshes goes back to early Gaul.
Gardening goes back to the 1600s. The Jesuits bought much of the
marshes and then rented them out to people who would garden them.
During the French Revolution, the state's land was sold and so the rest
of the marshes became gardens. These gardens are what are left of
marshes that almost completely encircled the town.
The water in the marshes is now carefully controlled by associations of
gardeners. But there is no shortage of water as Bourges stands on the
hill where the rivers Yevre, Voiselle, Auron and the Canal du Berry
meet. There is a lake on the Auron on the edge of Bourges. Bourges is a
city of trees, gardens, water and parks.
Bourges and Calvinism
John (Jean) Calvin
was the theologian
father of the religions that came to be known as Reformed,
Presbyterian, Calvinist, Puritan and, in France, as Huguenot. He had
his conversion in University of Bourges. He came to Bourges as a devout
Catholic student of theology and law from the Universities of Paris and
Orleans and left Bourges as a convert to the new ideas of the
He became a Protestant in 1533, just 16 years after Luther publish his
93 Thesis and 12 years after Luther's final split with the Vatican. In
Bourges he studied Greek from a German professor, Melchior Wolmar, and
used the New Testament in the original Greek as material. Wolmar was a
believer in Luther's ideas. Calvin returned to Paris as an active
protestant. The next year after a 'demonstration of posters' lead
Francis I to react negatively to protestant thought, Calvin fled
France. He travelled some and then spent the rest of his life in Geneva.
One of the reasons that Bourges was host to reformers in its university
was that the Duchess of Berry, who was also Margaret of Valois, Queen
of Navarre and King Francis' sister, was a patron of the university.
She paid for Wolmar and others to come to Bourges and teach. Being the
Duchess of Berry, she took special interest in its capital, Bourges.
Margaret was a very well educated lady and famous for her culture.
Until Oct 17 1534 the King followed her lead and allowed reformers to
flourish in France.
Francis probably felt gratitude to his sister. He was captured in the
Battle of Pavia in Italy in 1525 and held prisoner in Spain by the Holy
Roman Emperor Charles V. Margaret negotiated his release with great
skill. She also rode horseback for many days through winter weather to
meet a safe-conduct deadline.
Calvin's followers in France, the Huguenots, increased despite the
crackdown. Some years later the French religious wars started
(1562-1598). The climax of the wars and the turn of the tide in favour
of the Catholics was the St. Bartholomew massacre in 1572 when about
100,000 Huguenots were murdered. In 1685 the last of the Huguenots fled
France, about 200,000 of them. They tended to be craftsmen, skilled
workers, and entrepreneurs and so France lost a great deal in the
killing and exile. It took some time for its economy to recover. It
became a wholly Catholic country; even its atheists were 'Catholic
atheists' not 'Calvinist atheists'. Yet it had a deep anti-cleric
streak which clearly surfaced in the Revolution.
Hofstede studies cultural
differences around the world. I have looked up the scores for France on
four of Hofstede's five Cultural Dimensions and compared them with the
scores on the few countries that we think I know fairly well. Below are
Hofstede's explanations of the Dimensions, the scores of 7 places, and
my reaction to the position of France in the score.
Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to
which the less
powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family)
accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents
inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above.
It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the
followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course,
are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some
international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal,
but some are more unequal than others'. Higher scores are accepting of
East Africa 64
This is not a measure of the inequality in the society but how
acceptable it is to the ordinary person. France is higher than any
other of my countries. This was a surprise to me. However, I am slowly
finding it more probable then I did in my first reaction. There seems
to be a real sense of equality in France, so maybe the French are just
not bothered by the exceptionally rich and powerful amongst them.
It is an oddity because the others (except Austria) seem to
more or less in order of their actual inequality - so the more
inequality, the more it is unacceptable.
Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its
collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated
into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the
ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after
him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we
find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into
strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts
and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for
unquestioning loyalty. The word 'collectivism' in this sense has no
political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the
issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one,
regarding all societies in the world. Higher scores are more
France is about in the middle here and that is about where I
would expect it to be.
Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity,
refers to the
distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental
issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM
studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies
than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain
a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different
from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar
to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called
'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in
feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in
the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive,
but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between
men's values and women's values. Higher scores are more masculine.
France is in the middle here too and that seems about right,
slightly lower score than I would have expected. Definitely the order
seems right. The Dimension does not do justice to the differences
between the sexes in these countries. I hear tell that French woman are
more practical then French men.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a
tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's
search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its
members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured
situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising,
different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the
possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and
security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a
belief in absolute Truth; 'there can only be one Truth and we have it'.
People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and
motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty
accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what
they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the
philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many
currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more
phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to
express emotions. Higher scores are more avoiding.
This is another that surprised me at first sight - France the
likely to avoid uncertainty - but than I came to accept it. I had to
put it in the context of their resistance to change in the French
language unless supervised by the Academy. Another clue would be the
nature of their bureaucracy, so large, so rule bound, so effective and
efficient, so always RIGHT. Still they did elect Sarkosy
was going to make changes - but everyone knew he could only make small
changes or he would have people shouting in the streets.
to some, the French healthcare system is the best in the world;
according to others, it is just very, very good.
In general the system works like this: everyone is registered with the
system, everyone pays for whatever treatment they want from whoever
they choose, the government reimburses some part (commonly 70%) of that
payment, if they want to rest covered they take out a sort of
insurance. The care is good quality in up-to-day facilities, with no
waiting lists and is fully computerized. People can pay for private
health care, but it is the same care from the same facilities for more
or less the same cost and you have to pay all the cost because the
insurance coverage is only available for those in the system. Therefore
everyone who can use the system does so. Coverage is for GP, specialist
and hospital services, dentistry, diagnostics and drugs. There is a law
of universal coverage for all legal residence of France (recently
amended to be slightly less universal for foreigners). Regardless of
the status of the patient, emergency care cannot be legally denied in
France. That is the principle of the system - not so much a universal
single payer system as a regulated and affordable compulsory insurance
system. It has been in existence since 1947.
Of course it is not exactly like that, practice is somewhat different
from principle. For example, people do not pay up-front as a rule.
People have a little 'smart' card, called a 'carte vitale', that is
recognized by the doctor's computer system. This allows the doctor to
bill the government ('d'assurance maladie') directly and so he only
requires the payment of the difference. If he has a way to bill the
insurance company he does not need that part either to be paid directly
from the patient up-front. Many people have the insurance as part of
their employment or if their income is very low, the government covers
all of the cost. So to most people the system appears to have no direct
So who pays? There is a deduction from employed and self-employed
people of a fifth or so of their salaries to finance of 'Securite
Sociale'. A significant part of this social security pool goes to the
health system. Short falls are covered by general taxation. Thus, all
those that are earning pay for the system with a ratio of their
There is a standard cost of all services and almost all public and
private doctors and facilities subscribe to this standard. However,
they are allowed to charge extra ('depassements') for special reasons.
One of the things an insurance policy can cover is depassements.
Another wrinkle is that the insurance is not straightforward insurance.
'Polices complementaires' or 'mutuelles' (profit and non-profit
insurance) are only available to those registered with the health
system. There are a very wide range of coverage types and premiums and
many providers (about 1000) but it is a highly regulated industry.
The recent changes to the universal coverage do not affect most people
in France, but did worry us for a while. In the past all EU citizens
living in France could register with the system. As of November 2007,
EU citizens who were not working, officially retired or having proof
that their care would be covered by their own government could not
register in the French system until they had lived in France 5 years.
We have now received the documents from the UK show our status as
pensioners and are re-registered in the system.
There are some interesting quirks to every country's health care.
France is no exception.
On the positive side…Compared to Canada and the UK, France seems to
have a lot of women doctors, close to half of doctors are women. There
are a lot more GPs and also specialists per population too. Doctors
appear to have time and we have never felt rushed. There are no waiting
lists. Preventative medicine is evident - we get in the mail,
directions and encouragement to take part in screening programs, flu
shots and the like that are appropriate for our age/gender. Our local
dentist has state-of-the-art equipment like I have never seen before.
Pre- and post-natal care and child medicine is especially outstanding
in France. The computer system appears to be the sort that Canadian and
UK authorities dream of. In 2000 WHO rated France first in health care
(UK was 18th and US 37th). Like Canadians, the French really value
their healthcare system.
On the negative side…The French have the highest level of drug
prescriptions in the world and an especially high use of antibiotics
and anti-cholesterol drugs. Buying non-prescription drugs in France has
been a bit of a pain. There is nothing like an English or North
American drug store at least not where we live. Supermarkets have
cosmetics and simple hygienic and first aid products but not any
non-prescription drugs. We have to go to a pharmacy and there you have
to produce a prescription, know exactly what you want for a
non-prescription drug or take the advice of the pharmacist. No
browsing, reading the labels, or comparing the price is
The system did not cope well with the heat wave in '03 when 15,000
elderly people died. Who knows whether another system would have coped
any better. It was an unexpected and difficult situation.
we are in June, recovering from
the tax form season. If you acquire income in two countries and live in
a third, your tax situation can be complicated. In our case, we have
such a tiny income that a good deal of the complication falls away.
Still it is nice to have it done for another year.
France has a different way with taxes then I am used to.
1. The French system is one of those that ignores that you
until tax form time and then asks you to state your earnings so they
can calculate your tax and send you the bill. If the government
suspects that you lied, they investigate. This differs from the
Canadian/British systems where the system knows what you earn and takes
the tax before you see the money. At the end of the year, you do the
form and they assess it so that you can pay or get back what was in
error. The French can arrange to pay two payments in advance of the
final bill but they are still faced with a few large bills rather than
the payroll deduction.
2. French taxes (if you count them all) are amongst the
in the world. None of less, the government ministries and the social
security system run in deficit year after year. This has a lot to do
with the up-to-date infrastructure, the large competent civil service,
and the generous social security system.
3. The mix of taxes is heavy on the sales tax side. France
gets a higher proportion of its revenue from wealth/asset tax and
inheritance tax. However, there is a limit in France for your combined
personal income, wealth and local taxes at about half your income. It
is a bit ironic that the capitalist US has higher corporate tax than
4. Despite the high sales tax which is regressive, the income
tax burden in France is light on large, poor families. This is partly
because of an unusual way to calculate the tax bracket. Each family has
a number of 'shares' depending on the number of people. The total
income for the family is divided by the number of shares to find the
correct tax bracket. Then that tax bracket's percentage is used to
calculate the tax for the whole income.
5. The French system like the UK one is pretty easy on
pensioners. There are accounts in France (from insurance companies)
that are tax shelters similar to Canadian Register Retirement Fund
Pelvoysin is the most famous
(maybe the only famous) person from the little village we live in,
Bengy sur Craon. He was born to the marshal of Bengy and he grew up to
be a master stone mason in the city of Bourges.
This was a good time to be an architect in Bourges. The city was
recovering from a major fire, the collapse of the Cathedral tower, an
earthquake and a major flood during his time building there.
The Great Fire of the Madeleine took place on July 22 1487. Fanned by a
violent wind it spread quickly through the crowded wooden buildings in
the east of the city until a third of Bourges was completely destroyed.
The town hall and all the archives of the city were destroyed. The
flames licked at the walls of the Cathedral but it did not catch fire.
Two churches were destroyed in the fire and were rebuilt by Pelvoysin.
Saint-Bonnet was rebuilt on wetlands starting in 1510 and Notre Dame
was repaired by him starting in 1525.
Also in 1510 Pelvoysin started working with Colin Byard and Jean
Chesneau on the North Tower of the Cathedral. He ended up in charge of
the work. The collapse of the tower on Dec 31 1506 had nothing to do
with the fire but poor foundations. The city needed money to repair the
damaged Cathedral but had none after the devastation of the fire and
they did not want to raise taxes. So a sort of 'telethon' was organized
where the faithful could pay for permission to eat fats in Lent. The
North Tower was therefore called the 'tower of butter'.
He is also remembered for the Hotel Cujas. Pelvoysin built it around
1515 for Durand Salvi, a rich Florentine Businessman. The building
takes its name from Jacques Cujas, the dean of Bourges Law University,
who bought it in 1585. It now houses the Berry Museum. (see below).
August 29 1944
started in June 1944
with the Normandy landings. Before the end of June, de Gaulle
proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic in
liberated Paris. At the end of August, the Germans were rapidly
retreating out of their positions in central France. During several
weeks major convoys moved day and night down the route from Bourges to
Nevers. This road goes through the village of Bengy sur Craon.
Allied aircraft frequently attacked these convoys, and also, everywhere
along the route the convoys feared finding themselves harassed by the
Resistance. They used their machine guns even when there were no
attacks. Along the route the shutters stayed closed.
On August 29th, a group was moving dead horses off the road where they
had been killed by the RAF the night before. The Germans broke
discipline and decided on reprisals. Three inhabitants of Bengy were
killed but that was not enough. At the Franclieu farm, another five
victims were shot by the Germans while doing farm work. Before leaving,
to complete the atrocity, the Germans burnt down three farms:
Franclieu, Rigolettes, and Ridonnes.
A cross was erected near the scene and after the war was over, a
monument was put there on land donated by the Loiseau family.
village of Bengy sur Craon has
been inhabited since pre-historic times. At 'La Croix du Ban' there is
the remains of a Gallo-Roman villa. It was documented with precision
but incompletely by Captain Grandjean in 1895. The living area had an
interesting mosaic but it can no longer be seen.
The villa seems to have been the rural residence of a well-off
landowner and the permanent centre of an estate that might be a large
as 200 hectares and employed about 100 people. Already at this time
cereal farming was one of the principle economic activities in the
The name Bengy probably derives from the name of the owner, Bannius, in
Latin. The first recorded owner is Curtis Bangiaci in 1130. The
spelling of the town was Bangi until the Revolution.
Christianity started to spread in the area after 450. It was probably
at this time that the first church was built, no doubt in wood. The
current church was built over its site. The church is in the Romanesque
style, built in the 12th century under the jurisdiction of the Canons
of Bourges. St. Peter's fountain shows Celtic elements,
the time of Christianization.
During the Wars of Religion, the church was partly burnt and the
village was destroyed. The church was repaired at the beginning of the
1700s. It took some damage in 1913 and has been restored.
The highway from Bourges to Never was constructed in 1830-31 and passes
through the village. In 1845-46 the railway Vierson/Saincaize was built
and in 1847 a station was built in the village. Bengy got a post office
South of the village is a military firing range. In 1856 a school for
artillery was created in Bourges. A firing range in 50 hectares and 2
km long was built. It was enlarged in 1861 and 1869 to be 250 hectares
and 4.5 km. The range passed in 1871 to the Experimental Commission of
Bourges that was created by Napoleon III. In 1914 the range was
extended to 12 km. The hamlet of Craon in the municipality was
destroyed and a 30 km range created in 1918. The Bourges establishment
with its Bengy range is the largest centre in Europe of artillery
expertise. The range area has become an excellent place for wild life.
The lake of Craon in the range is a resting place for numerous
migrating birds. Cranes stay all year around and geese over-winter.
Everything we get from the French
government or local government has the Marianne logo. It is a toned
down Marianne, made respectable now. She is still young and pretty but
not as sexy as she is sometimes. She looks determined but not as
fierce. And the Phrygian cap is not 'in your face' although it is still
there if you look for it. You can tell the logo image is not Liberty
because Liberty is middle-aged lady, modestly dressed with a tiara on
Civil servants are asked to consider how Marianne would do things when
they are dealing with the public. That is a pretty tame role for a
revolutionary symbol. The recent models for depictions of Marianne have
included Bridget Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Ines de la Fressange, and
Laeticia Casta. Maybe Sarkozy's new wife will be next.
Bourges and King Arthur
I always like to
hear that an oral
tradition has been found to have some substance. I so I enjoyed
encountering the story of Leon Mirot, following the directions of the
old poem, Chanson de Geste, discovered the ruins of Les Fontaines
Salees as the elfin ruins of the poem. Les Fontaines Salees is the
Gallo-Roman remains of a centre of healing. But what does this have to
do with Arthur and Bourges.
Geoffrey Ashe and Marilyn Floyde put forward a new theory of King
Arthur. There was a real, documented man called Arthur Riothamus, who
reigned as Over-King in Britain and Breton between about 454 and 470
AD. The idea is that King Arthur was Arthur Riothamus.
Arthur Riothamus was respected in France for his fighting skill against
the Saxons. He was requested by the Roman Emperor to help defeat an
invasion from the south. In 468 he went to France with a British army
of 12000 men to join the Romans, Franks and Burgundians against the
Visigoths. Apparently he was greeted as royalty when he landed and
fought a few battles with some Saxons on the coast. The Britons marched
on up the Loire Valley to Bourges where they waited for the Romans to
join them and to do battle with the Visigoths.
King Euric of the Visigoths was warned by a traitor of where Arthur was
and that he should attack Bourges before the Romans reinforcements
arrived. A long battle was won by the Visigoths who out numbered the
Britains. The defeated solders were expelled from Bourges and fled to
the Burgundians. They probably went to Avallon, the closest the
fortified central in Burgundy.
The theory is that King Arthur (Arthur Riothamus) was wounded and went
to Avalon (Avallon) for healing but died and was buried there. The
Glastonbury grave is assumed to be a hoax. The reason that the French
Avallon would be the place to go for healing is that from prehistoric
times until the 900s there was a community of women skilled in healing
at Les Fontaines Salees, near Avallon. This is the place that was
rediscovered by following an old poem. There are other 'coincidences'
between the two stories involving Morgan, Mordred, Excaliber etc.
The valley of the river Cure has been inhabited since Cro Magnon times.
At Avallon was a Celtic Druid College and later, under the Romans, a
famous school. In 376 St. Martin consecrated the pagan temple as a
Christian church. A female community of healers was nearby at Les
Fontaines Salees, until the Pope converted it to an abbey for men and
moved it away from the river in 877AD.
Back to Bourges, it remained in Visigoth hands for a while. In 476
Euric made Bourges the centre of his administration of Aquitania. The
main difference between the Visigoths and the Germanic tribes in
northern France along with the Gallo-Roman enclaves was that Visigoths
practiced Arian Christianity and the north practiced Nicene-Roman
Christianity. Between 486 and 507 Clovis established Frankish rule in
much of France. Bourges would have been taken early in this conquest.
Reveillon du Noel
Wonder what the
high point of a French
Christmas is? Of course, it is the meal! First you stay up very late on
Christmas Eve. Traditionally the meal is after Midnight Mass and it is
a long meal, called Reveillon or Awakening, somewhat ironically. The
feast is a family affair, at home or in a restaurant. The menu depends
on the region and is always luxury foods. There are different wines and
breads to go with each course. The dessert is often a Yule Log, buche
de Noel, but in Provence there are traditionally 13 desserts served. It
is one of the two best meals of the year. (People couldn't afford more
than two such expensive meals.) The second Reveillon is just a few days
later on New Year's Eve. This time the feast is with friends,
entertainment and fire works.
Of course, presents for kids are another Christmas highlight and the
French can shower children with expensive gifts with as much abandon as
anyone. Santa Claus is taking over but there is still Pere Noel (Father
Christmas) to visit your house, accompanied by Pere Fouettard (Father
Spanking). One is the carrot and the other the stick. Some children
even have their gifts delivered by Baby Jesus.
Christmas decorations are as gaudy and tacky as anywhere. There is a
bit of class sometimes in the creche. Every village has a nativity
scene in the central market or park.
I guess people always compare Christmas traditions with their own
childhood. It never really seemed right to celebrate with lobster on
the beach in Kenya. I never got into ghost stories at this holiday
(rather than Halloween) in England. Some feel Christmas as music, some
as food, some as gift shopping, some as family gatherings, some as
decoration, some as booze, some as dressy clothes and so on. I am just
not interested enough in food to spend a 100 euros plus for a bang-up
of a meal.