The Art of French Solidarity

The Art of French Solidarity

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French bashing: Air France manager's shirt ripped off
Air France manager has his shirt ripped off during disrupted talks. © Kenzo Triboullard/AFP

Sacré bleu, but the poor old French get a terrible time in the Anglo-Saxon media. With the recent Air France protests leaving their HR director literally shirtless, the press literally had a field day laughing at how crazy those “Frenchies” are.

French-Bashing” is officially a phenomenon that the French press has been aware of for years. It seems that everyone the world over loves to scorn Gallic shrugs, allegedly rude waiters and politicians that have a sex life worthy of a bad soap opera. Anyone recall a certain Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Or how Francois Hollande cheated on his ex, First Girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler? Almost every aspect of French life is up for a good old-fashioned ribbing, sometimes justifiably so. While they get praised for their cuisine and their fashion, French people are often much-maligned abroad for just about everything else.

François Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler
President François Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler in June 2013 (Reuters)

Maybe it’s jealousy, maybe it’s just a bit of fun, for Anglo-Saxons at least. But to focus on negative points is taking a rather narrow view, n’est-ce pas? After all, the French were the forefathers of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. All these principles are worth fighting for. But there’s another very positive principle that shows up in daily life in Paris again and again– so much so, we hardly even pay attention to it.

In a nutshell, it’s solidarity. I’m not talking about in a political sense, or charity, or the trade unions (that’s a long chat for another day). The essence of solidarity is summed up in the two words that Parisiens use with their friends often: Bon Courage.

To wish a friend “bon courage” or “good courage” (we don’t really have a good equivalent for it in English) is more than just wishing a friend good luck. Good luck is to wish that the winds of chance blow in the recipient’s favor – but in a changing world, this could go either way. “All the best” is certainly very nice – but again, it’s based on hoping that life will go well for the individual. Hope is wonderful, even essential – but it’s not certain.

On the contrary, “bon courage” is more grounded in reality. Let’s face it, we all need courage sometimes. Tricky bosses, life transitions, difficult partners – the path of real life never did run smooth.  In contrast with “good luck” which assumes that the person needs luck to succeed, “bon courage” posits that the person would be better off with a good dose of bravery when faced with life’s challenges, because these are inevitable. “Bon courage” means to hold your head up and keep going strong when life gets rough, because it will. Be the rock for yourself and for others to rely on.

Another of my favorite French sayings (and movies) is “La Vie N’est Pas Une Longue Fleuve Tranquille“, which means that “Life is not a long quiet river.” Life is all about change. This is what keeps it interesting. But change comes with its challenges too, leaving us no shortage of situations when we do need to be brave. And couldn’t everybody use a little less bashing and a little more courage?

Aoife Drew
Raised in Ireland, Aoife Drew has lived in Belgium, Australia and the U.S. but has had a life-long passion for France, her home for over 10 years. Bilingual in French and English, she works in marketing and communications and writes for several publications, such as the Sunday Independent, Image and Kering’s K-Mag. She has two small children aged 5 and 6, her best work yet.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Aoife:
    Thank you for so eloquently defining Bon Courage, a metaphor for solidarity in France. Looking forward to reading more of you.
    Bon courage,
    Jane

  2. Hi Aoife,

    I like article and I am eager to read the one related to unions. Just a quick one, “La vie n’est pas un long fleuve tranquille” instead of “une long fleuve”.

    All the best,

    Franck

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