Yesterday I was sitting with some French friends in a pleasant Paris café. My friends were all cursing the government.
To hear them tell it, President Nicolas Sarkozy does nothing but flex his muscles for young women passing by. And the prime minister is an idiot. And parliament hasn’t done anything sensible in ages and all of them are just drains on the country’s budget.
In short, we have nothing to envy the French for. Everything here is bad – the authorities are incompetent and the opposition is weak.
We laughed and talked for a long time and then toward the end of the evening one of my friends placed a newspaper on the table called “Le Canard Enchaine” (translation: A Duck In Chains) with the words, “This is our democracy!”
The satirical weekly has been coming out every Wednesday for about a century now. My friend assures me that no self-respecting Frenchman would miss their weekly dose of disdain for the authorities. And all for just 1.20 euros.
The newspaper criticizes absolutely everything. There is no presumption of innocence between its covers. To maintain its editorial independence, it accepts no commercial advertising. All of its revenues come from sales. And judging by its enormous popularity, that is plenty.
A little while later we were walking through the streets of the city. We came across crowds of tourists from every corner of the world.
By the entrance to one of the city’s best-known gay bars, the Open Café, a crowd of gays was standing and talking, not fearing that someone would suddenly pelt them with rotten eggs. Some Orthodox Jews emerged from a synagogue. People were dining and drinking fine French wines with cheese while loud music filled the air. A homeless man on a bench was listening to an iPod.
And it was hard to believe that everything sucks in France.
-- Natalia Morari, blogging for RFE/RL's Moldovan Service