Stories du Moment
Government shake-ups, birth rates, Olympics, and tales of a Parisienne
Three weeks into the new year and it’s clear from the news cycle that 2024 will be a wild ride— I guess go big or go home, n’est-ce-pas? Let’s jump in.
THE GREAT FRENCH (RE) SHUFFLE
It’s been a doozy of a month for French leadership. Macron’s cabinet reshuffle has led to some very controversial appointments, including the youngest ever prime minister, Gabriel Attal (34). It’s not the age I have a problem with, it’s the wholesale lack of experience, problematic right-wing measures (he’s the genius who went after the abaya last August, for example), and embourgeoisement général. The nepotism isn’t great either — he appointed his ex-husband to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs, a man who has zero prior experience in foreign affairs. I’d argue that his weak English skills are also a strike against him if he’s meant to deal with foreign affairs, but I am but a plebe, right? 🤷🏻♀️
Attal was just as wrong for his previous role as Education minister and has now passed that job off to someone else who is also wrong for the job. Days after she was appointed, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra failed to give the true reason she sends her kids to Stanislas, the elite private Catholic school in Paris — the same school that was under investigation last year following accusations of homophobia, sexism, and a widespread anti-abortion stance. She claimed the decision to put them in private school came out of frustration for teacher absences in her son’s public school and unaccounted for hours of lessons. Sounds like the real reason, according to her son’s former teacher, is because the school refused to bump her son up by a year. Whatever the real story may be — a mix of both, perhaps— it’s a lousy look to be facing a PR crisis right out of the gate.
That worsened over this weekend when Mediapart reported that Stanislas had set up a selection system to allow the best students to enter its preparatory classes (post-baccalaureate) without going through the national higher education admissions platform Parcoursup, a step meant to level the playing field for students regardless of their background. Guess who got to bypass the admissions platform because of Stanislas’ secret procedure? The new Minister of Education’s son.
That isn’t the only drama. Rachida Dati, the right-leaning current mayor of the 7th arrondissement and former justice minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy was named Minister of Culture, which, according to many reports, she seems to have agreed to in some kind of electoral pact with President Macron (which he denies) for her bid for Paris mayor in 2026. A few days into the job as cultural minister and she has publicly committed to winning her nemesis Anne Hidalgo’s seat.
As France 24 reported, Dati “was also charged in 2021 with corruption and abuse of power in connection with payments she received from the Renault-Nissan group” and its fallen, former-fugitive CEO Carlos Ghosn. That doesn’t seem to worry our President. To this ongoing trouble, Macron said “that it was not the first time ministers in his government had faced charges and the presumption of innocence must prevail.” Perhaps there are simply no candidates out there with clean, abuse-free track records!
MACRON WANTS TO BOOST THE BIRTH RATE
How, you ask? With what Macron called “demographic rearmament" in his two-hour press conference last week, prompting some applause from the far right whose spokesman calls for a “family ministry” to be established in France and igniting the ire of women on the left:
“The implementation of natalist policies, profoundly contrary to the autonomy of women, constitutes a worrying political and social regression,” said a spokesperson from the CIDFF, an association that helps women and families. (The Guardian)
He also opined on the need to put all school children into uniforms and restrict their screen usage, reaffirm “civic values” in schools and establish greater law and order in society. As for how the remainder of his term will tackle the issues citizens are actually most concerned with — inflation, the cost of electricity, the climate crisis, the housing crisis, and job insecurity— well, he evaded them altogether.
PARTAKING IN THE OLYMPICS BEYOND PARIS
Yes, you can bypass Paris altogether if you’re interested in experiencing the Olympics without all the fanfare in Paris. In my report for Bloomberg, I look at some of the key events taking place in other French destinations and overseas territories (eg: Tahiti) and where to stay along the way.
LESS FRENCH BUBBLY FOR AMERICANS?
You know times are tough when people are drinking less. That’s been felt across the board with wine consumption but it was particularly noticeable when it came to Champagne which shipped less bottles overseas in 2023. Champagne houses didn’t suffer much, though: sales for premium cuvées increased. Buy less, buy better really does apply to everything. (CNN)
BEYOND THE MYTH OF THE PARISIAN WOMAN
I don’t know how I came across this essay but clearly Substack knows what I’m interested in. Emmanuelle’s experience as an interracial French woman with a very French name is completely in the spirit of my book The New Parisienne. We need more stories like these in both English and French if we’re going to break the myth’s cycle or, at the very least, understand its sources and implications.
“The Parisian woman is a myth we all grew up with, deeply rooted in France’s DNA. The problem is that it didn’t evolve with time, but above all, it doesn’t reflect the country’s social change.”
A FEW OTHER RECOMMENDED READS
— How well do you know Paris and its literary landmarks? Take the quiz! (NYT)
— Weeks after reading this harrowing medical tale, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. (NYMag)
—This really helped clarify my feelings, perhaps it will help you. “That Numbness You’re Feeling? There’s a Word for It”
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