Just south of Paris … a micro-study in French culture

Solitude - the Lutheran  pianist
The quiet dignity of a Lutheran pianist

Monsieur Vic works in a bank – a bank situated on the outskirsts of Paris. Actually it’s in Creteil. The bank is a well-known long-established bank and M. Vic has an apparently important position within the institution. At the very least, M. Vic’s title sounds impressive – and, as matter of fact, M. Vic knows a great deal about the political economy of France. He reads not only the weekly informed magazines (which he picks up from the newsagents) but he also stays in touch with the specialist journals that discourse on things like business strategy for the supa-mega-age of ‘now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t’ digitisation. He knows about globalisation and economics in the post-Michael Porter era. M. Vic knows his onions – il connait ses oignons.

However, when M. Vic was invited to discuss the micro-sociology of his workplace he declared that his job was a ‘non-job’, that it served no real or worthwhile purpose and that it was really ‘quite superflous and unnecessary.’ According to M. Vic the only reason his job existed was because it was less costly to keep him at the bank than to make him redundant. Although he saw the funny side of this semi-absurdity it also made him depressed because it rendered much of his life meaningless.

Still, M. Vic consoled himself by playing the ‘Game of Thrones’, by eating out at reputable restaurants (his New Year’s Eve dinner was something of ‘consequence’ even though he suffered considerable and noxious after-effects), and by reflecting on the changing culture of France. Basically he didn’t have much time for the way things were going – for the new cultural ethos. M. Vic thought that the people who worked at his bank (who were mainly aged between 20 and 40) reflected many aspects of contemporary French culture. Their conversations served as a good indicator:

What are they interested in, what do they talk about?’ he began: ‘Well, first of all they are not interested in politics. They know nothing of this or that policy and they simply do not engage with the major political issues facing France.

What are they interested in? Well, a majority of the people who work in the bank are women and they talk about five things. These five things just about cover their interests – the stuff they talk about in the public arena.

First, celebrities: Who is wearing what – who was on the telly – who is on the front cover of Closer or Hello or even Paris Match; like everywhere in the western world, France has gone overboard on ‘celebrity’; it has gripped the collective psyche.

Second they’re endlessly interested in fashion and all things related to fashion – like make-up, hair-styles and so on. Of course, this also relates back to the celebrities. They are attuned to whatever is a la mode.

Third, they discuss the cost of living – bills for this, that or the other; Shopping is very important; half the time instead of working they chat away about which supermarket is offering whaten promotionor where you can buy a vaccum cleaner that talks to you.

Fourth, they share stories about their families – and the latest family encounters or what their children want in the way of clothes or ipads or computer games;

And finally they discuss their distractions – their hobbies and interests (such as keep-fit or dancing or yoga or cooking) – and perhaps most of all, in this sense, they focus on their holidays – the one that they’ve just had – or their plans for the next holiday. Holidays come around quite frequently in France (bank holidays and so on) so they are busy comparing prices or considering places to visit or commenting on the ‘gentil’ people they met on holiday. Or they are moaning about the lack of value for money a holiday yielded or, conversely, the super deal they got – or even the way they bribed someone in order to get a better room in a hotel or holiday complex.

M. Vic paused. He looked wistful.

It turned out that he was wondering why this state of affairs had been brought into being, and so he added: ‘Much of this is down to the ‘net. What has the ‘net achieved? Well it’s amplified everything. The ‘net itself is more or less neutral. However, in the sense that it makes everything available the new French don’t have to bother that much about reading or thinking. Basically, that’s taken care of by the new information and communications technology. The ‘net functions as an external source of ready-made fact and value – as well as belief. It does the work for you.

The problem is that it’s amplified the bad as well as the good.’

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