Read any Asterix book and you will get the impression that all events in France are celebrated with a banquet, a meal, a coming together of friends to eat, drink and be merry. How many of us have wondered if this was just the comical writings of a fanciful duet highlighting a pseudo stereo-typical ideal of the French lifestyle?
However, it seems that René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo hit this particular view on French culture pretty much on the head.
As I was discussing plans for my first weekend in Provence, I was told not to make ANY plans for the Sunday. ‘I need to vote’ she tells me. ‘OK, well that’s 10 minutes sorted then, what about the rest of the day?‘ Says little old confused me. After it was explained over a coffee and stern look, I discovered that voting in France is more than just a democratic right. No it is almost a duty and it is not taken lightly by anyone.
And because of the popularity it shaped the entire day. Almost all the TV stations had live coverage, people passed each other on the street and checked each other was voting. Even in the bakery that morning, the lady serving said to us ‘n’oubliez pas de voter’ whilst handing our baguette over. All day with her freinds, everyone was talking about the candidates and what would happen if they did, or did not get into power.
As early evening approached, we were together with some good friends talking about politics and the state of the world. My French is pretty poor so keeping up was both interesting and totally confusing. With cheese, wine, bread, and other extravagant food related items starting to appear I notice that the TV channel had a countdown timer on it. I assumed it was for the closing of the polling stations. I was wrong, very wrong!
As 8 o’clock grew closer I noticed people were starting to move onto the edge of their seats. The pace and volume of the conversations in the room was heating up. Even the rather over stylised television coverage, mostly hosted by young blonde women in low cut tops, was becoming harder to ignore with music rapidly increasing in pace and amplitude.
This wasn’t the timer for the closing of the stations at all, this was a timer for the results! No waiting until morning to see who got 1st, 2nd or 3rd like in the UK. This was almost German style efficiency, and no sign of a French man on strike anywhere. As the timer got down to the last 10 seconds silence fell, all I could hear was the racing heartbeats of an entire nation. Then a sudden intake of breath, no one moved………….. The result…………. and then back to full steam debate about what this all meant, and of course eating and drinking.
Now all the parts of the puzzle made sense. This is a day for more than just an election. The gauls were voting a new leader for the village and the feast was part of the tradition. Take note of Asterix and Obelix. They can teach you more than you might think about the French!