Sure, it occasionally leaves us horizontal, but it’s a proud part of our identity, says freelance journalist Marie Le Conte
If you want to become – or remain – the president of France, you have to touch a cow.
François Hollande touched a cow; Nicolas Sarkozy touched a cow; Jacques Chirac touched more cows than anyone can remember; and every party leader or Elysée hopeful has had to touch a cow at one point or other. It cannot be any cow: the ceremonial patting must occur at the Paris International Agricultural Show, an annual event that does exactly what it says on the tin, and is attended by every French politician worth their salt.
The fair often becomes the scene of minor gaffes as senior politicos trip over themselves to show just how provincial and normal they are, with predictable results – a particularly amusing example in 2015 involved the then prime minister, Manuel Valls, getting thoroughly sloshed.
“From the liver’s point of view, wine really is alcohol!” was the title of the letter, which pointed out that nearly 60% of all alcohol consumed in France is in wine, and that alcohol kills around 50,000 people a year in the country.
Emmanuel Macron didn’t appear drunk at the agriculture show last week, but alcohol did end up causing him a headache. Speaking to journalists from the regional press, the president admitted to drinking wine every day “with lunch and dinner”, and being a staunch believer in his predecessor Georges Pompidou’s saying: “Don’t piss off the French.”
“It is a danger to public health when young people binge-drink spirits or beer,” he added, “but wine isn’t the issue.” He then confirmed that his administration had no ambitions to make the Loi Évin, a law passed in 1991 putting restrictions on alcohol and tobacco, any stricter than it already is.
This clearly didn’t go far enough for Christophe Castaner, the secretary of state for parliamentary relations, who took it upon himself to add in a TV interview: “Let’s not get carried away – there’s alcohol in wine, but it’s not strong alcohol. Wine is a part of our culture, our tradition, our national identity. It’s not our enemy.”
Shockingly, this didn’t please everyone. In an open letter published by the newspaper Le Figaro on Monday, nine health professionals politely but firmly reminded the head of state and his minister that wine is – believe it or not – an alcoholic beverage like any other.