Tag Archives: France

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose*

for hire

The French are looking to Germany and Switzerland for sex. No, really. The French who are known for their romance and liberal sexual appetite, are turning to countries known more for precision for the messy imprecise act of love. This isn’t some sort of cultural rebellion or irony like Le Big Mac; it is instead a response to France’s laws regarding prostitution. Prostitution is legal in France, but third-party procurement is not. Ordinarily most people can go out and fetch themselves some company, but the issue here is that of the disabled. People with physical and/or mental disabilities who want to hire people for sexual interaction need to do so over the phone or through a service, which is not legal in France. The issue of disability and sex workers is becoming more (internationally) popular these days and brings up many interesting questions.

It’s not possible to discuss any of them without addressing the legalization of prostitution. It’s a bizarre law that offers little if any protection to whom it claims to protect. If we really cared about the victimization of women, men, boys & girls they wouldn’t be working the streets in the first place. And speaking of working the streets…dropping the euphemisms would be helpful as well. Using words such as; escort, surrogate, and call girl creates a meaningless hierarchy. Does the teenager working a corner deserve less protection than the 35-year old with business cards and connections? We can’t really believe that an hourly worker is less deserving than a salaried worker? So let’s start with calling it what it is: prostitution. It is what it is, and if you find it repugnant you probably should not be one or hire one.

Now back to the issue of the disabled and sex workers. If prostitution were legal we’d be done with this chat. But seeing as it’s not, and there seems to be the beginning of a disabilities movement brewing, let’s discuss. At the heart of much of the rising outcry is that disabled people are entitled to a sex life. No one would argue with that. But the giant leap from “sex life” to paying for the sex life is worth noting. The underlying sentiment is that the only way for a disabled person to have sex is to purchase it. This is not only inaccurate but also a bit frightening. Who is determining this? How physically or mentally disabled does one have to be to forgo any chance of a romantic relationship? What is the cut-of? Does a woman who thinks she’s too big qualify? What of a man who considers himself too small? What about those with speech impediments, scars, skin diseases, disfigurements?

It’s not that much of a leap that legalized prostitution will go the way of legalized marijuana. With the right connections/doctors some people will be able to avail themselves of something, which is illegal to others. If you believe that this path is the one of least resistance to get these laws off the books than this is good news. If you believe that making judgements of people’s worthiness is nasty business, than it’s not. All men are created equal. Searching for exceptions or classifying groups is something we do when we cannot embrace the enormity of that concept.

*Gertrude Stein

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Posted by on July 5, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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The City Of Love


The news that France passed ‘marriage for all’ was delivered with jubilant footage. Members of Parliament cheering and tearing; there was hugging. It’s tempting to see France becoming the 14th country to legalize equal marriage as inevitable. Mais bien sûr! This is a country known for being far less rigid and puritanical than America. From a vantage point of 3,000+ miles France appears to be a more vivre et laisser vivre kinda place. This perception is distilled in mental images of Josephine Baker, James Baldwin (and just about every other writer found in any decent home library) finding a more agreeable way of life in France. The French, Parisians in particular, seem impervious to race and fluid when it came to sexuality. Sexual behavior and couplings seemed more akin to the pleasures of fine dining than a naughty or shameful undertaking. But is this live and let live kinda place actually for real? Have we, from 3,000+ miles, taken bits and pieces and formed an attractive if not entirely accurate picture?

Those hugging tearing politicians are just one image among many. Have you seen the violent protests and ugly worded signs? Have you heard the (translated) rhetoric? Much of the ‘anti’ argument (that has made the journey across the Atlantic) has centered on ‘the children.’ Almost without exception anytime ‘the children’ are invoked in an argument it is code for ‘no, look over here at this bright shiny thing.’ The children. That’s right, gay and lesbian French are fighting for their equality because of ‘the children.’ Opponents of equal marriage have declared that children need a mother and a father. That certainly makes for a nice sentimental placard but what does it mean? Are there no single parents in France (she says while spitting out her latte?) That’s pretty hard to fathom in a country known for being more lax about relationships outside of marriage. Are there currently no gay and lesbian households that include children? Doubtful, as some people come to relationships having already lived a bit. Without a law protecting equal marriage and the ability for both spouses to adopt a child, gays and lesbians will still parent. The children however will have less protection. It is remarkable in this day and age, when people are regularly parenting without benefit of marriage, that anyone would even attempt to wave the ‘one mother one father’ flag. No one, not any child expert, psychologist, sociologist or anyone would ever posit that a child is better served by fewer caring adults or instability. What children need most is a secure, stable environment in which the adults are focused on the care of the child. Denying their parents the right to marry or preventing the children from being adopted is simply not in the best interest of ‘the children’. That this or any argument is being made by a country known (to us) as being far more lax seems uncharacteristic.

It’s tempting to view an entire people as being cooler, thinner and far more adept at walking in heels on cobblestones than us. We’d like to imagine an entire country that sits down when drinking coffee, and not dressing their children in cartoon festooned garb. Knowing that there’s a place in which one greets the shopkeeper and ends every request with ‘if you please’ gives us hope. But there are manners (real or perceived) and then there’s real life. In real life the French aren’t that much different than us. Yes, they can do that scarf thing, and yes there’s the accent that can turn even a craggy old fisherman into Yves Montand, but when it comes to social issues, are they really that different? It is true that people of color, particularly artists, found an accepting home in France. But was that so much about French color-blindness as it was an appreciation for the arts or dare we say, Americans? When people of color moved into France in significant numbers troubles began to simmer. The 2005 riots were the result of a people of color feeling marginalized for quite some time.

Discovering that the land in which so much seems better, where the wine and bonhomie flow all day and into the night, is really not that much different than us is jarring but incredibly inspiring. It is a sign that Americans, with our baseball cap, sippy cup toting selves, with our puritanical views of sex and our discomfort with race, we too can pass a law that states that all people are created equal.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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The Personal Is Political

During the rare moments I was cognizant of a presidential election occurring in France, I wondered why we never heard of the candidate’s personal life.  I chalked it up to my own media feed not being as international as it should be.  Being an American, my experience with presidential races is that the public is wildly interested in high school antics, college-age romantic dalliances, inhaling, spouse’s income sources, how the dog travels, etc.  If you aren’t assured that a candidate watches the same television shows as you do or eats the same snack foods, how in the world can you make an informed decision?

Now that President Hollande is in office, a bit of his personal life is finding its way into our media.  His first lady (Ms. Trierweiler) is a twice-divorced mother and works for Paris Match.  They (somewhat surprisingly) will be the first non-married first couple of France.  This seems to be of interest to the French from the perspective of protocol.  After all, the highest offices are nothing if not bastions of antiquated protocols.  President Hollande was not living in secret; the voters knew of his marital status and voted for him.  It’s hard to imagine this happening in the United States.  Yes, the governor of New York is living with his partner without benefit of marriage.  But would voters have been disinterested in this arrangement if he wasn’t the son of a former governor and she didn’t have her own television show?  Doubtful.  Americans love a good scion story as much as they love celebrity.

Who one chooses to whisper goodnight to at the end of every day has nothing to do with job qualifications.  The only time when one’s personal life should become public is when his/her position and/or office are involved.  So why is it that we obsess over such things?  Why do we care whom and how people love?  I’m not so sure we actually do.  I think it is far easier to understand someone’s personal life (we all presumably have one of those) than to wrap one’s brain around the complexities of the issues.  International economics, national security, international relations, national economy, higher education, medical care, aging nation, worker readiness, jobs, housing, climate… Need I go on?  The issues are endless, particularly during a time of economic uncertainty.

If our candidate’s messages are being parceled out into lunchable size (and quality) it’s because we buy them and gobble them up.  If there really was a time that we sat down and read lengthy narratives about a candidate, it’s long gone.  Are we just lazier now; our attention spans withered into nubs?  Maybe.  Is it that with globalization comes too much information?  Probably.  Perhaps I’m romanticizing, but to my mind fifty years ago, the most one had to know about the rest of the world was; “we can kick their ass, right?”

If we’re lucky there will be one presidential debate in which the candidates discuss their ideas and what their plans are for implementation.  Will we watch it (either in real time or streamed?)  Or will we rely on what others tell us?  Can a candidate really be blamed for going for the soundbite when it stands to reason that is what the greatest majority of voters will actually hear?

There’s so much noise now living along side so many vital issues.  These are not the makings of a good marriage.


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Pow, Poo, Ooblee-pooh*

If you have waited in line to make a purchase in a chain store lately, I’m pretty certain you have been called forward by the nonsensical phrase; “the following customer.”  I admit, the first few times I actually waited to hear what came next.  The befuddling phrase does get my attention, I’ll give them that.  “The following customer will receive all of her items free.  Come on down Brenda!”  “The following customer really shouldn’t be buying those leather pants.  Sorry Brenda.”  What’s even more curious than the incomplete phrase is the fact that it has caught on like wildfire.  Is there some sort of chain store customer service standard of practice national convention.  Was there a vote?  How else do we begin to explain how so many salesclerks (not working for the same parent company) are spouting the same gibberish?  The trouble maker in me sees a wonderful opportunity for foul play.  We could sneak into the next (c.s.c.s.s.o.p) national conference and persuade them to beckon the customer forward with Ubbi Dubbi or Pig Latin.

I’m all in favor of creating or adjusting words.  Language should stay current to fulfill its mission.  But used incorrectly (which no doubt I’ve done several times already) just makes me nuts.  When did Americans decide that the word “anyway” needed an “s” on the end?  (Twenty years ago or so, if memory serves.)  Why?  What purpose does it serve?  It’s not just teenagers who add the letter, NPR commentators do it as well.  I can (mostly) ignore words such as “ironic” and “awkward” being thrown into the conversation willy nilly.  (Just so we’re all clear though, “ironic” is not synonymous with “coincidence.”)  Misuse is not the same as flat out cuckoo.  When I thank someone, what does it mean when the thanked replies “no problem?”  Who exactly has the problem?  I don’t even understand the origin of that reply.

I find myself starting to navigate my world as if I was in France.  I have mastered French at the level of a 4 year old slow learner.  Most of my request for directions, food and shoes in my size are pretty much dependent on gist.  As I go through my day in these United States, I must use all my senses.  Luckily, I know a smattering of sign language too.

My personal daily Nell ministrations aside, I worry about the apparent unconsciousness of this bastardization of language.  Like anything, if you’re going to do something, do it with intent.  My assertion of unconsciousness is egged on by the recent spate of “period” television.  I personally do not have memories of the Mad Men or PanAm time period.  But I will bet the farm that no one was slapping on an extraneous “s” to “anyway” in the 1960s.  I also don’t think people tossed around phrases like “workaholic” or “postpartum depression.”  It’s just a hunch.  Maybe I’m too binary, but what this says to me is that there isn’t anyone working on these shows who was alive during the portrayed period.  Not surprising by the way, is the fact that the British do a far better job at avoiding anachronism on the The Hour.  They did invent the language after all.

*Arthur Laurents’ slang for West Side Story (1956)

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Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Cultural Critique


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