torsdag, december 17, 2009

L'Echo du Berry and ME

A week ago (10/12) monsieur Frédéric Merle - a journalist in the regional newspaper L'Echo du Berry - called me to ask if I would like to be interviewed concerning how I felt about being a Swede living in France and especially Région Centre and La Châtre.

The newspaper L'Echo du Berry do this kind of interviews with people coming from different parts of the world, moving to and establishing themselves in France and especially Le Berry/Région Centre.

These interviews are centred around some main subjects and in my case these were:

-Equality/L'égalité -Politeness/La politesse
-The social life/La vie sociale
-The countryside/La campagne
-The culture and the traditions

-The drinking/La boisson
-The bureaucracy/La bureaucratie
-The 'Swedish model'/Le modèle suédois d'aide social.

Concerning equality I said that I had found a certain ambiguity between the declarations of the French republique and the reality. In reality the hierarchies are more elaborated here than in Sweden.
I believe - without being able to relate to a more profound experience of the French society - that it's easier to get in contact with decision makers and politicians in Sweden than in France.
Of course I related to Sweden, partly because this is the only experience I can relate to partly because monsieur Merle wanted me to compare the two countries.

Politeness was an issue that came up spontaneously.
I talked about the differences in the way we great and adress each other in Sweden and in France.
In Sweden everyone says 'you' in a more intimate way ('tutoyer').
In English speaking countries one uses 'you' both when knowing someone well and when being more of strangers to each other but everyone knows when it's used and what it means in a certain context.
In France - as we know - as in many other countries, it's a difference between 'toi/tu' and 'vous', the latter more formal and used when adressing people you don't know to well or elderly people. The former used between friends and relatives.
However the 'vous' is often combined with a more polite behaviour, in my opinion.
My impression from the visits to and my stay in France is that people in general are more polite than Swedes and not least in comparison with the inhabitants of Stockholm, known to be rather unpolite.
In France it's always 'bonjour', 'bonsoir', 'merci', 'pardon', excusez-moi' etc. and even if one can claim that this is only a superficial behaviour, I personally feel that it's genuine, expressing respect for other people creating a more respectful atmosphere.
Of course this can be exaggerated when it comes to the previosly mentioned hierarchies but every behaviour has its negative sides.

Under the headline The social life I told the reporter that I found it easier to get in contact with people in France or at least on the countryside.
One are often invited spontanously to someone or someone rings the door bell wanting to say hello and offered something to drink or eat.
In Sweden this is much more complicated (maybe less in the countryside), often preceded by planning and fixed days and dates.

The country side was a headline under which I declared that I found it very surprising to discover that a small town like La Châtre, had a cinema, a theater, a museum, five super markets, a lot of different stores with all kinds of products.
In a town of the same size in Sweden (4500 inhabitants) you can't find more than a gaz station and a kiosk in which you can buy some hot dogs, at the most.
Otherwise you have to travel to the nearest major town and this could be ten, twenty or more kilometres away.

I also talked about the culture and traditions stating that the patrimony/cultural heritage is more important in France than in Sweden. My expericnce is that culture per se - in all its diversity - is much more important here than in Sweden.
In Sweden I feel that culture partly only funtion as distraction and amusement to some extent being used as a way of gaining positive results on the international market when it comes to export and import industries.
In France this might be the case too but the over all importance of cultural expressions in all its different forms tends to be more accentuated here than in Sweden - unfortunately from a Swedish point of view.

When it comes to drinking habits I told the reporter that Sweden was a part of the so called 'Vodka belt' or 'Aquavit-belt' incorporating the other Nordic countries, the Baltic countries, Russia, Polen and some other countries near us.
This implies that Swedes in general drink heavily during week-ends and mostly liquor.
In France the drinking is more focused on wine and less on heavier alcohol and one drink the wine when eating and mostly in moderate proportions. This is of course a truth with modification but a general overview would surely support this my opinion.
In Sweden there has however been some changes the last fifteen-twenty years, meaning that we drink more 'cultivated' but still the 'week-end booze' is the general drinking habit.

The bureaucracy is more elaborated in France - at least from my experience - and this is again probably related to the stronger hierarchial structures in society, combined with more decisional levels.

Lastly we talked about the 'Swedish model', up til this day a very significant trade mark of the Swedish society, so it seems.
I told monsieur Merle that the Swedish model has been under strong revision the last fifteen-twenty years and that the present government wants to make more changes in this system.
The Swedish government is using the so called 'working model' or 'back to work as fast as possible-model' meaning that they want to avoid people falling deeper into a social welfare system, passivating them.
This is something that links France and Sweden together.
The former social welfare system guaranteed people a certain amount of money and standard even if they were unemployed but sometimes this could continue for years, meaning that people lost their ability to strive for a job or a better life.
The social welfare system also implied that people having problems with drugs or/and other social problems where guaranteed a certain amount of money paying for their rent, light, telephone, travelling tickets (in order to visit the job centers and other authorities). It even guaranteed a newspaper.
These civic rights are under considerable change today though.

This interview came about thanks to one of the participants in the GRETA education (look at my blog) I participated in. She had informed the newspaper about this very rare specimen, called a Swede!
I think I'm one out of two Swedes in La Châtre and there are not more than 15-30 000 Swedes in the whole of France (the figures differs), to my knowledge.
This being compared with the 100 000 Swedes living in the London area!

(Picture logotype L'Echo du Berry copied from:

torsdag, december 10, 2009

The Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies

The day of the Nobel Prize Awards is the one day of the year when we will be able to see the greatest amount of men dressed liked penguins and women in dresses in all the colours of the world (almost).

I last visited the City Hall of Stockholm in connection with a shooting of a film a couple of months ago. As extra in this film I did the role of one of many journalists. This time there will be 'real' journalists but also all the laureates, their families, our Swedish politicians, students and not least the royal family.

I have previously written about Herta Müller and from what I've heard the Nobel Prize Committee obviously found her reaction, when hearing that she had been rewarded, somewhat 'mild'.

This have to do with the fact that Sweden and not least the Nobel Committee expects every laureate to fall to the ground and praise them (and the Lord?) loudly. When this is not the case, they are disappointed.
I remember Doris Lessings reaction. She wasn't at all surprised being rewarded the Nobel Prize in literature, on the contrary she felt it strange not being rewarded earlier as she already had been rewarded other literary prizes!
I like this approach!

(Photo prize plaque copied from:

tisdag, december 08, 2009

GRETA La Châtre 1+8/12

Education at GRETA.

What is Greta?

Well it's not a woman from Germany but a group of public educational centers for adults. These educations are complementary to other previous studies and not directed to people who is in need of catching up with school or university studies they previously missed.

The specific education I'm now attending concerns the tourism in the central region of France - Région Centre - (Visa Accueil Tourisme) but also take a wider grip on tourism as a phenomena.

The primary goal is to give the participants good and profound knowledge about Région Centre and its different tourist attractions, cultural heritage and to simplify and ameliorate the welcoming of tourists and all this in order to augment the interest for this region.

As tourism is an essential source of income it's important to take advantage of the great interest people around the world bear for France, its culture, history, food and landscapes.

The knowledge about tourism also implies getting to know some of the habits and traditions in different countries and how people from these countries usually prefer being welcomed.

This includes such things as what they prefer to eat, how they like to be addressed and not least learning some phrases in different languages.

As you know the French are seldom willing to learn nor appreciating speaking other languages but French! 

I know that one of the participants at the course objected to this and therefore displayed that he could both speak and read English and even learnt some phrases in Swedish! To be honest there where other participants who also spoke English, some German and Dutch.

Generally however the attitude has been: Either you learn French or you will be lost (somewhat exaggerated).

We got to listen to people talking English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese and was also given the opportunity to learn some useful phrases in these languages.

France is the leading 'tourist country' in the world with about 78 million visitors every year! This is quite impressing.
Most tourists however stay in Paris or near the Alpes or the Mediterranean Sea and this is a pity as other parts of France do offer a lot of interesting sights and events, not least Région Centre!

If you look at our blog ( you will find a small collection of the many interesting sites to visit in the region.

At first the education was to last three days and three hours each time, but as our teacher couldn't make it the third date, we met for almost six hours the second and last time, 8th of December.
This the last meeting also became a formidable feast where each and everyone had brought something to eat and drink! Mon Dieu! This is one of the things I like about France: Food is culture and the participants had brought pies of different kinds, sausages, pâtés, wine and even champagne! This would never happen in Sweden!

We got to learn a lot about the region and we discussed not only the different sites to visit, like castles, churches and events but also talked about music, literature, film and a lot more.
I think this was a very useful education and after finishing the lesson we got our Visa Accueil Tourisme, proving that we had participated in these courses.

We all decided to meet the 8th of January in the home of one of the participants, to eat and drink and conduct further discussions concerning how to promote Région Centre and the different cities and sites in the region.

This education can be supplemented next year if one wants to become a 'tourist ambassador'.

Some information concerning GRETA in French:

Visa Accueil Tourisme: 3 séances pour:
- Connaître les enjeux du tourisme en Région Centre
- S’impliquer dans l’accueil de touristes étrangers rencontrés sur son territoire
- Connaître les potentiels touristiques de la Région Centre
- Conseiller les touristes étrangers
- Acquérir et pratiquer le vocabulaire de base de l’accueil en langues étrangères.