France for pessimists

So you’re a pessimist…

No country in the world is perfect and that includes France. Here are one or two or perhaps three things that need some work…

Bizarre bureaucracy

On a trip to Lithuania I lost my ‘carte vitale’ (the green card which enables you to get 70% of your medical bills paid for by the French government). When I went to the social services to get a new one, the receptionist was friendly and it seemed it wouldn’t be a problem until… she told me I was dead. ‘Dead?’ ‘Yes, dead. You died on the 24th of January 2005.’ As a result, my card was then blocked. I explained that I wasn’t dead, which she admitted seemed to be true and called someone else to ask what to do. I needed to get a new birth certificate, dated after the 24th of January 2005, to prove that I am not dead. And if I can get that, it would still take another 3 months for me to get another carte vitale. The only thing that is certain in life is death and taxes. I was in the strange position of having died, yet still paying tax.

merde in France
It is everywhere! Everyone in France has at least five dogs capable of producing 16 tons of merde every year. Is there a dog licence which could pay for clean ups? Non. So, do dog owners clear up after their dogs? Non. Do they even encourage their dogs to shit in the gutter? Er, non.
French plane trees
Overzealous Control of Trees
There are loads of plane trees around France but they are rarely allowed to grow normally. They are hacked back to sad, stumpy versions of their former glory.


In 2004 SNCF, the French railway company, paid 4 million euros to change its logo from sncf old logo to sncf new logo. This is because for years people have been telling SNCF: “Your service is briiliant, trains always punctual, no strikes, excellent facilities for cyclists and the handicapped and your prices are so reasonable. In fact the only thing that holds you back, is your crap logo…”

Dodgy politicians – and the public accepts them

According to a reliable source, Jacques Chirac gave each of his ministers 15,000 euros a month to cover ‘extra expenses’. When Chirac was accused of a scandal, French journalists spend days analysing his language, rather than the allegations against him. France does not have a Jeremy Paxman. It is very sad to watch sycophantic television journalists hanging on a politician’s every word.

bread shop in France
The Demise of the Boulangerie
When you think of France you think of wonderful baguettes, right? Well think again. An increasing number of French people buy their bread in supermarkets so that, as you can see in the picture, boulangeries are going out of business. A friend commented that French boulangeries sell 25 different-shaped loaves of the same crusty white bread.

Attitudes to the war

“Ah yes, we had it tough during the war…” I have a Polish friend who is incensed when she hears such comments from the French. Interesting fact: At the end of World War Two, there were 106 haute couture establishments in Paris alone. How many were left in Warsaw…?

On a recent French quiz programme the contestants were asked: How many French soldiers took part in the Normandy landings during the Second World War? The first couple suggested 18,000. The second couple thought the figure would be higher. The answer? 177.

French signposts
Poor Signs for Hikers
The Pyrenees are wonderful but the signposting is pretty bad. I lost the GR10 trail three times in one morning. Is this to discourage day trippers as one French friend suggested? Allowing people to get lost in the mountains sounds pretty irresponsible.
French Television
French Television bought the rights to ‘The Chair’ A quiz programme where contestants have a choice of four answers, presented by Jean-Pierre Foucault. This is very different from ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ a quiz programme where contestants have a choice of four answers, presented by, er, Jean-Pierre Foucault.
French Television II
While J-P Foucault is, in my opinion, dull, at least he is not a slimeball like Artur, presenter of the intellectually challenging, “A prendre ou à laisser”, the French version of Noel Edmonds’ “Deal or No Deal”. He often massages the shoulders of attractive female candidates to ‘help them relax’ – not something you see Noel doing very often.
bicycle after accident
Accidents Will Happen
After 26 years, I had another bicycle accident. I was knocked off by a woman who ‘simply didn’t see me’. The fact that she had jumped a red light – which she also didn’t see, and was driving without insurance didn’t help matters. I sustained a bruised little finger but my bike was a complete write-off. It took six months to get any money back and my insurance company, Axa, were useless. They said, “Well we asked her to pay some money but she said no!” (This is unlikely to be just a French problem).
ESC Car Park
Students and Transport
Students = bicycles, right? Er, wrong, at least not in Pau. Here is the car park outside ESC, a private business school.
ESC Parking
Crap Parking
There are only a few thousand car parking places around Pau University so it is completely normal to park on the grassy areas. What hope is there for cycling as a means of transport in France? Not a lot. Cycling is a sport – Sunday morning, out with the boys for a quick spin in your lycra, then put the bike away until next week. And watching the Tour de France on the telly.
bike rack flattened
What They Think of Cycling
ESC does cater for cyclists. Here you can see where five cyclists used to be able to put their bikes – until someone drove over it and flattened it – making it useless.
Tour de France
And the Pharmacologist of the Year is…
Once a year, doped up to the eyeballs and preceded by more motorised vehicles than there are competitors race around France. Before the riders come past, there are a huge fleet of advertising vehicles, tossing trinkets into the crowd. A few children have been killed in recent years, scrabbling to get a few sweets in front of an oncoming camion. Just in case you didn’t recognise it, it’s the Tour de France passing my front door.
SNCF and bikes
I wanted to take my bike on a train 200km away and cycle back. ‘Nope, it isn’t possible’ I was told by the information man. ‘No trains going that way accept bicycles. But you could ask the Stationmaster….’
SNCF and bikes
I asked the stationmaster who also told me it wasn’t possible – ‘but you could try asking the ticket inspector on the train…’ So the following morning I turned up with my bike, ready to face a ticket inspector who could have told me to fous le camp but instead I found a great wagon specially designed for bikes. Oh dear SNCF…
no bikes sign
A Lack of Regard for Bicycles as Means of Transport
This sign was outside Intermarche supermarket in Tarbes. Was there ANYWHERE for cyclists to lock their bikes? Er, no… Though there were seven bikes left against walls, poles etc.


Animal welfare

Fois gras? Very popular, particularly in the South West of France. Lots of happy ducks quack quacking around? Er, no. There are moves to ban the practice of forcing grain down the necks of geese, but it won’t happen here for a long time.

French milk
Poor Quality Milk
It is possible to buy reasonable milk in France – after all it was Monsieur Pasteur who invented the technique. But sadly the majority of French people, if they buy milk at all, buy a carton, or plastic bottle, of U.H.T. Interesting, on the bottle in the picture the word ‘milk’ only appears in the list of ingredients.
Dead buzzard
French Drivers and Speed
There are many birds of prey in France but now there is one less. If French drivers were to slow down a little, a large number of animals, as well as 8,000 people every year, might do better than this young buzzard.
French toilet
French Toilets
Not as common as they used to be but still around. A perfect way for losing your keys or wallet down an unpleasant hole. For some reason the French call them ‘Turkish toilets’. How do you say ‘passing the buck’ in French?

Things aren’t all bad in France. There are many things which are wonderful. Want to see an optimistic view of France?

Or maybe you’d like to see some photos of my cycling in the area?

Col du Tourmalet       3 days in Western Pyrenees    South West France Coast cycle  Col du Portalet and Spain      Lourdes to Gavarnie

Or more things about France?

A 2 day hike in the Pyrenees     Chemin de la mature     French food

Or something to read in French?

I’ve written a French joke book and three novels in easy French so if you fancy brushing up your knowledge of French, take a look.

Learn French with jokes (now with audio). 

Parce Que Je T’aime     L’amour par internet      Bruno et l’amour


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