Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Le Figaro published an article yesterday about this map, which shows the stations and lines on the Paris metro and RER with the highest incidences of theft and violent theft.

Anyone who knows Paris is unlikely to be surprised by the statistics. Suburban lines in the north an east are significantly more dangerous than those in the south and west, Paris Nord is the most dangerous mainline station and Chatelet-les-Halles tops the list for metro and RER interchanges.

There are some oddities, however. Paris-Est has a higher total of thefts than Paris-Nord but those at the Gare du Nord are far more often violent. Nation and the Gare de Lyon both show high levels of violent thefts but don't figure on the list for non-violent thefts and bag snatching. (Nation is the only station where I've ever caught anyone trying to pick my pockets, but when I turned around and caught the guy in the act he just apologised for "bumping into"me.) Meanwhile, at Montparnasse and Saint-Michel, you might lose your wallet but are unlikely to get hurt in the process.

The figures for Chatelet-les-Halles, with 409 violent thefts and 1245 non-violent, particularly stand out. That's an average of more than one violent and almost 4 non-violent robberies per day. On the other hand, they need to be put in perspective. The metro carries more than 4 million people per day, while the RER has 2.7 million passengers. Even standing in one of the city centre stations at rush hour, with trains with a capacity of over 1000 passengers going by every one or two minutes, that's hard to imagine. I haven't done the exact maths, but a rough estimate suggests that in fact the chances of being victim of a crime at any of Paris's stations, or at least of a crime serious enough to report, is actually extremely low. Here's hoping I'm right!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Journées du Patrimoine

Saturday and Sunday were the Journées du Patrimoine here in France, meaning that hundreds of important buildings and institutions across the country opened their doors to the public. One of the joys of living in a capital city on occasions like this is that you get to see the really important stuff and we chose one of the most important places of all: the Assemblée Nationale, which is the French version of the House of Commons.

We went at lunchtime, meaning that the queue was a not too ridiculous 45 minutes long, including the security check. You had to shuffle round in a prescribed order, essentially going at the speed of everybody else who was visiting, although it was possible to stop to take photos.

What was a little bit disappointing was that, while the actual debating chamber is quite large, only a bit of it was opened to the public, and although you could see all the rest, there was only time to snap a quick picture before they hurried you on to let more people in.

Cool things included the Assembly Post Office, where you can send mail with themed stamps and a special postmark, and these little caricature sculptures of famous people linked with the Assembly. Jean-Marie Fruchard was clearly not too popular!

There were also busts of Marianne, whose official face used to change every year until that became too complicated and they settled on the version that is used today.

I took the opportunity to revise my (very limited) knowledge of French government and elections. The deputies at the Assembly are directly elected. Cabinet ministers do not have to be voted in as deputies but are appointed by the President, who is elected separately in a presidential election. It is not impossible, or even uncommon, to have ministers with important portfolios who have never won a public election.

The Assembly can have a vote of no confidence in the executive (the president and the government ministers), but this is generally a symbolic way of demonstrating opposition and the executive is rarely actually overthrown. The president, on the other hand, has the power to dissolve the Assembly. Jacques Chirac did this in 1997, but unfortunately for him, the majority of the newly elected Assembly that followed was in opposition to him. A large part of the agenda for debate is set by the government, meaning that the executive has a lot of power.

The Upper House in France is the Sénat, whose members are indirectly elected by locally elected officials. Like the Assembly, the Senate can submit bills to the government and also amend them, although if the Senate disagrees with the Assembly, the government can decided to give the power to decide solely to the Assembly. As a foreigner living in France, however, the process for electing the senators was interesting to me because, as I have the right to vote locally but not nationally, it offers the only opportunity (albeit indirectly) to have a say in national politics. Looks like I might have to develop an interest in local elections after all!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Inefficiency or In Efficiency?

The other day, I had a terrible realisation. I needed an official document in order to attend an important appointment on Monday morning. To obtain the document, I needed to make an appointment with another agency and provide some personal data. The data would need to be processed before the document could be supplied. It was Thursday, the second appointment was on Monday morning and there was no way I could take time off work, so I essentially needed the initial appointment to take place within 24 hours, outside the normal working day, and for the information to be processed within 48 hours of me supplying it.

What were the chances?

Within ten minutes I had an appointment with the first agency to take place at 7am the next day. The information would be processed by 7am the next morning and I could pick it up any time up until 9pm in the evening. When I attended the appointment, the people at the agency were friendly, caring, efficient and did exactly what I needed them to do. The document was ready at the time they said it would be, neatly stored in an envelope with the other papers that I had requested.

"In which parallel version of France did these miraculous events occur?" I hear the frustrated foreigners cry.

Well, the data I needed to supply was a blood sample and the document was the results of the tests. When it comes to the French health service here, there's no messing around.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Brittany: The Big Sea and the Little Sea

One of the things I was most looking forward to doing during our trip to Brittany (the other being eating galettes!) was going to the seaside. And so we did. Multiple times. (We ate galettes multiple times too.)

We went to the beach in the south, on the Côte Sauvage on the Quiberon peninsula ...

And in the north, at Val André.

We walked to Cap Fréhel one evening and watched the sun go down...

But best of all, we fulfilled my long-held dream and visited the Golfe du Morbihan. (Mor bihan means “little sea” in Breton.)

Almost entirely enclosed by the arms of two peninsulae which curve protectively around it, the Golfe du Morbihan is home to dozens of tiny islands dotted around in a sparkling sea. It was frustratingly difficult to take photographs of, because the land is so flat and the vistas so wide, but it was every bit as beautiful as I had hoped. We took a ferry to the Ile d'Arz, one of the smaller of the non-private islands and hired bikes for the afternoon. 5 hours was just enough to cycle around, eat lunch, admire some prehistoric remains and have a dip in the sea before catching the boat back to Vannes.