The British have Brexit. We French have our wine delusion

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.

“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.

That this needed to be said is quite remarkable, but perhaps unsurprising; behind that glass of red sipped at a family dinner lies an interesting quirk of the French, and how we like to see ourselves.

You see, French people are civilised. They care about the food they eat and the bottles they carefully pick to go with it. They look down on anyone unsophisticated enough to suggest that their habits might not be as refined as they think.

Sure, they might occasionally drink more wine than the food can soak up and find themselves horizontal, but they don’t get drunk like the British do. Over the Channel lies a an island of feral binge drinkers who do shots and throw up on themselves and pass out in public. Isn’t it ghastly? Like retired people showing their slides after a holiday, French expats in the UK and holidaymakers who have been there catalogue instances of the British binge culture –it’s almost a national sport.

Of course, data collected by the World Health Organisation in 2015 shows that French people drink nearly as much as their British counterparts – 11.6 litres of pure alcohol per capita compared with 12 – but this doesn’t matter.

Every country has their very own national delusions – Brexit certainly counts as one – and France is no exception.

In a way, Macron embodies a lot of ours. He arrogantly charmed his way into the presidency, frequently pontificates about philosophy, unashamedly talks about his love of classical novels and poetry, and is passionate to the point of absurdity about the French language.

France isn’t, in reality, the France we know from the movies, and everyone knows it deep down. But it doesn’t hurt to pretend once in a while. However, deciding that wine simply isn’t a normal alcoholic beverage because it happens to be quintessentially Gallic is not harmless, and though the current crop of politicians are knee-deep in patriotic cliches, future generations might finally decide to put health before tradition.

They just need to make sure they touch a cow first, if they want anyone to pay attention.

 Marie Le Conte is a French freelance journalist living in London | Source: The British have Brexit. We French have our wine delusion | Marie Le Conte | Opinion | The Guardian


Surprised about Wallonia’s CETA stand? You don’t watch enough movies

For two decades now, among foreign movie buffs, the European city most closely identified with rising anxieties surrounding globalization, immigration and economic dislocation has been the hard-scrabble Wallonian industrial city of Seraing, near Liege. Seraing is the hometown of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the celebrated Belgian movie-making brothers and repeat winners of Palmes d’Or at Cannes, who have set their remarkable explorations of economic distress in the region they know best.

READ ENTIRE STORY at the Source: Surprised about Wallonia’s CETA stand? You don’t watch enough movies –