Update from Etienne on French elections

Francois Fillon, the candidate of the center-right Républicains, got some good news today, and some bad news. The bad news was an investigation underway by the French government into possible wrongdoing has now been extended by its assignment to three magistrates who may eventually decide to proceed with formal charges. Part of the good news, though, is that these magistrates may also decide to dismiss the charges altogether, a result the Fillons’ lawyers have been arguing for vigorously from the start. Perhaps the best news for Fillon, though, is that the statement announcing the news concedes nothing much is likely to happen before the presidential elections this spring. Fillon initially said he would withdraw from the race if there were formal charges, though he has backed away from this of late. Were he elected president, he would be immune during his term of office, assuming he was not removed.

So it now hangs in the political balance for Fillon. Many polls show large majorities of likely voters in April want Fillon to withdraw, but that does not include his likely supporters, currently numbering 20-21% in tracking polls. It is not clear who would succeed Fillon as the candidate of the Républicains were he to withdraw. Everyone will be watching the polls carefully for the next few weeks to see if his support, which dropped substantially but has recently stabilized, will start tanking again.

Some say it would be far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, who has had a narrow lead over the large field of candidates voters will choose among in April. Others say it might well be Emmanuel Macron, a new face this year. So recent developments for Macron independent of how l’affaire Fillon will play out are themselves of interest.

Last Wednesday, the field for the late April first round elections was finally clarified when Francois Bayrou, a centrist also-ran three times before, decided to propose an alliance with Macron, a media darling and very clever young politician aiming to seize the center in French politics though until recently he was a socialist and held a ministry in Francois Hollande’s government. Macron accepted Bayrou’s proposal almost at once, suggesting it was a done deal when Bayrou proposed it Wednesday. It is not clear what Macron gets out of this deal electorally: Bayrou’s support comes from various parts of the French political spectrum except the extreme left and the extreme right. But plainly it is better to have Macron as a confirmed ally than as a lurking foe. Macron understands perfectly well (as does Bayrou) the value of sustaining his apparent political dynamism, in the polls and in terms of media coverage. The first polls out since Bayrou’s withdrawal show Macron mildly up.

So the prospect of Fillon’s collapse must be intriguing to the new Macron-Bayrou alliance.

On the left, too, there is talk about alliance, but it’s, so far, a lot more bluster than talk. The socialists being led by Hollande have pretty much collapsed: Hollande decided he could not win again; his surrogate–Prime Minister Manuel Valls–lost badly in the socialist primary to left-leaning candidate Benoit Hamon, not widely known publicly though plainly well enough known to party activists. Hamon has just concluded an alliance with a small left green faction. Hamon alone has 13-14% of the vote according to recent tracking polls. The alliance with the green faction yields another 2% at most. The big additional votes on the left–11-13%, according to recent polls–are locked up by a farther left group, France Insoumise (“France Unbowed”) headed by Jean-Luc Melenchon. Do the math and it’s clear that if the squabbling could be overcome, a large bloc of voters could be assembled, assuming no desertions. It’s a bloc potentially bigger than Le Pen’s bloc, which currently around 26% in tracking polls. Even if Melenchon himself can’t find harmony with Hamon, might his voters just desert him? It’s a long shot, but the sudden prospect of the left winning the presidency, after Hollande’s collapse suggested only the political wilderness for the left just a few months ago, might be very tonic.

It’s a year of great flux in French politics. Old party structures are teetering and the political battlefield is littered with the corpses of old political lions. Personality is king, and even some of the candidates running in April have only fig-leaf parties, recently created personal vehicles, for their institutional base. This includes Macron, Melenchon and, to a slightly lesser degree because her Front National has been around longer, Le Pen. All told, more than half of French voters support one of these “personalities.” The other two leading candidates, Fillon and Hamon, were dragonslayers within their parties. Fillon knocked off party fixtures Alain Juppé and former President Nicolas Sarkozy to be the candidate of the Républicains. Benoit Hamon knocked off the sitting Prime Minister to become the socialist candidate. Except to Le Pen, voter loyalty to candidates is middling at best; many polled say they could change their minds. Of course, Le Pen shapes much calculation among the remaining candidates. She has gained slightly in recent polls for the second round, where until recently it was universally expected she would defeat any opponent. (Only the top two candidates in the late-April first round face off for the second presidential round in early May.)

If Fillon is seriously wounded or collapses and if much of his vote goes to Macron-Bayrou–two big ifs–it is not unimaginable that Le Pen could be edged out of the second round altogether. Her support is firm but also seems to have a ceiling; polls show she has not gained or lost much support for several months now; she oscillates within a very narrow band. Might voters be more strategic in the first round this year, even though historically they seemed to vote their hearts? Le Pen is a looming presence, and for most voters an anxiety-provoking one; the specter of Donald Trump has not yielded her much in the polls–nor, concededly, cost her much either, at least yet. Might voters–other than Le Pen’s, of course–see the longer-term value for the whole political system to have a final presidential faceoff between a center/center-right formation and a left/center-left formation? I could never have imagined such a thing a year ago, given Le Pen’s steady support on the right and the damaged left from the slow-motion collapse of the socialists to the squabbling and atomization farther to the left. But this has been an extraordinary year in French politics, and with familiar institutions in disrepute and familiar faces falling by the wayside, voter mobility may be a wild card. I’m certainly not predicting, at this point, that Le Pen can be edged out–far from it. But the math is there: voters are divided into four large blocs of the polling data is to be believed: the far right (Le Pen) holds about 26%, the center (Macron-Bayrou) 22-24%, the left–if it could get organized!–about 26%. Fillon, center-right, holds 20-21%. That’s between 94% and 97% of voters currently expressing a preference; the rest goes to small parties right and left. If Fillon is substantially further damaged as the first round nears, who gets his stash? Or do lots of Fillonistes just stay home? Very narrow margins may determine who gets into the second round.

There’s a kind of shadow voter presence behind all the above. Currently predicted abstentions in the first round are substantial–35+ per cent in most polls that display that statistic. How many of these voters, seeing the polls narrowing and the excitement around new faces mounting, might yet be mobilized to vote as the first round in April nears, and for whom would they vote? We have no real idea right now but you can be sure expert observers and political organizers alike will be thinking a lot in the coming weeks about this further wild card turning on voter mobility. What rough beast, it’s hour come ’round at last, might be slouching towards Paris to be born?

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French Elections – a Cheat Sheet

French elections differ from American ones. Our politologue, Stephen “Etienne” Roop, is trying to help the rest of us figure out the French elections.


The last shoe in the candidate melodrama for the French presidency dropped just minutes ago:  Francois Bayrou, three times previously a candidate for president of France, has decided not to run a fourth time.  So now the personnel are set for the first round of the presidential election in late April.

But Bayrou did not go away quietly.  He proposed some kind of alliance with his rival for centrist voters Emmanuel Macron.  What the terms of this alliance might be Bayriou did not specify, nor, curiously, did anyone at the press conference ask about.  (I listened live.)  But it was not like being Macron’s vice president.  Bayrou was, he said, skeptical of tickets, and that “… there is only one president of the republic.”

Will Macron be interested?  He is faltering a bit in the polls lately, but not badly, and, generally, the overall race is tightening up again, after a few disastrous weeks for another of the (many!) candidates, Francois Fillon, involved in what is, even for France, a rather startling tale of no-show or little-heavy-lifting jobs for family members.  (The whole sordid affair has come to be named, after Fillon’s wife of no-show job fame, “Penelopegate.”) Nonetheless Macron is far ahead of Bayrou in the polls and it is not clear what Bayrou brings to Macron electorally–Bayrou’s support comes from many pockets of the French political spectrum except the extreme right or left, and these add up to the meager showing of about 5% in recent polls.

This is not the only alliance in question.  On the left it is a burning question.  The recent and unexpected winner of the socialist party primary, Benoit Hamon, has had some pretty fiery exchanges recently with a rival, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has created his own party as a vehicle for a presidential run.  Hamon has more support in the polls but unlike Bayrou’s, Mélenchon’s support is not negligible, is steady, and comes from a distinct spot in the French political spectrum, the far left.  Hamon is to the left within the socialist party.  Together an Hamon-Mélanchon alliance would command–assuming no desertions–30-32% support among French voters, more than the pretty solid 26-27% currently supporting Marine Le Pen.  With 30-32% behind leftist-alliance candidate X, X would almost certainly get into the second round of the French presidential election, probably with Le Pen, and likely beat her.  (Virtually all polls until recently have shown Le Pen would lose badly in the second round against any candidate but her numbers, in a few recent polls, have been rising for the second round.)

Even if Hamon and Mélenchon cannot make nice-nice, might their voters?  The old party monoliths are crumbling fast in France, and this year has the carcasses of many old party lions on the field of political battle. Leftist voters might see the opportunity to capture the presidency as a pretty appealing prize.  

And in this year of great divisions, just a few points of support can be decisive.  Only the top two candidates get into the second presidential round, and its winner becomes president.  Before all those dead lions accumulated, I might have said, “Impossible!”  Now I’m not so sure.

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Fête de Noël à Boston 2016

Version 2

Voilà notre Fête annuelle de Noël à Back Bay, Boston. Learning French Christmas carols is the icing on the cake of our regular lessons. We sound particularly good because we are enthusiastic, understand all our words, and have 3 trained singers with us. JOYEUX NOËL !


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Liberty and my French friends grieve for us !


My French friends seem almost as upset as we are at the idea that Trump could – will! – be the President of the United States. That somehow calms me, knowing we have their support. Here are some of them:


Stupefaction from Michèle:

A 5 heures du matin (heure de Paris) stupéfaction : Trump était annoncé gagnant. Incroyable! Atterrrant! Ici c’est ressenti très violemment: dans le monde actuel, instable et dangereux, ce n’est pas rassurant de voir ce personnage à la tête du pays le plus puissant. Et sa victoire pourrait bien être annonciatrice de ce qui pourrait nous attendre l’an prochain : l’élection de Marine le Pen. …  A 5 heures j’ai decidé de m’endormir et viens juste de me réveiller .Malheureusement, rien n’a changé. Michèle

Several hours later, Michèle becomes disgusted but then determined that we should organize a “November 9 Movement”:

Je suis dégoûtée par la vulgarité et presque obscénité de Trump et catastrophée, bien sûr, car ce résultat est négatif au plan international  comme au plan économique, et au plan de la politique intérieure (immigration, avortement, port d’armes etc ect..). Catastrophée aussi en pensant à  l’écho chez les politiciens français en vue des élections de l’an prochain, dont j’ai très peur.

Mais il faut calmer le jeu et réagir.  D’une part tout ne sera sans doute pas réalisé parmi les folies dites par Trump, peut-être se calmera-t-il un peu? D’autre part il peut y avoir des réactions positives à cette défaite: si pendant les 4 ans de Trump les autres s’organisent (rénovation du partie démocrate, peut-être création d’autre chose, mouvements sociaux progressistes…)..C’est très difficile, bien sûr. Mais le parti démocrate semble de toute façon avoir besoin d’une rénovation, d’une meilleure assise populaire, de leaders différents (même si je respecte la combativité de Hillary).  La prise de conscience était peut-être inévitable. Peut-être aussi que Trump va vite montrer ses limites et que cela favorisera la riposte.  Vous allez crééer un puissant “Mouvement du 9 novembre”. Au travail tout de suite!

Courage et Amitiés transfrontalières…

Muriel tries to reason with the disappointment and thinks we Americans are just not ready for a woman president. (Susan thinks that seems to be true of a majority of white, uneducated American males!) :

Bon, ce n’est pas la fin du monde et la campagne électorale fut médiocre mais quand même ! Quelle déception ! On pouvait avoir une femme à la tête des USA ! Les Américains ne sont pas prêts …
Bises et courage

Ghislaine is angry, stunned, and sad:

[…] ce matin je pleure sur l’Amérique, enveloppée d’une colère et d’une
incompréhension totales. Trop tôt encore pour coucher les mots justes
sur cette nouvelle qui nous glace.  Je t’embrasse

And Marie-France dreads the reaction of France’s extreme right wing:

C’est sûr c’est lui. … Et ici en France les extrêmes FN etc se réjouissent! !!! Quel monde…





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Chapeau! = Bravo, Mark!


Michel says:

On a besoin de chapeaux chics.

Susan réagit:

Michel demande des chapeaux chics. Alors, Mark voyage à Paris pour nous les acheter. Et nous voilà !   Chapeau !

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Practicing our French at a Back Bay French restaurant

A lively, delicious class at La Voile where we ordered in French, used our French cuisine vocabulary, chatted with our French waiter in French, and were offered un verre de champagne après le dessert. Alexis nous a même appris un nouveau mot: ‘déchiré’ pour signifier wasted. How useful was the expression Passez-moi le pain, s’il vous plaît!

4-person French class at La Voile, Boston

Happy French students sitting around a table

Another picture of important people sitting around a table

Another picture of important people sitting around a table

Rembrandt must have been thinking of groups like us.


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July 14 terror in Nice, France

This post has 3 items, all relating to the horrific attack on Nice, France, yesterday.
1) your basic French vocabulary about terrorism
2) graphic showing love for France
3) my response to the horror of yesterday’s attack
Basic French vocabulary about terrorism:
la fête de la liberté – freedom celebration (July 14)
la fête du quatorze juillet – Bastille Day
le cauchemar > la nuit cauchemardesque – nightmare > a horrific night
l’attaque (f) 0
un camion – truck
écraser  > tuer 
Le/s coup/s de feu est/sont tiré/s – The shot/s was/were fired
la trajectoire délibérée – the deliberate path
le meurtrier abattu – the killer shot
le chauffeur – the driver (different from English)
la mort > le mort, la morte, les morts – death, the dead man, the dead woman, the dead (pl)
la Promenade des Anglais – the most touristic site of Nice, along the ocean, site of killing.
J’ai eu peur. – I was afraid.
Je suis hébété/e, Je suis sidéré/e  – I am dazed/ flabbergasted
Tout le monde crie, pleure – Everyone is screaming [not crying], crying. (crier / pleurer) 
Les gens tombent – People are falling.
Le drapeau est en berne – The flag is at half-mast.
le bilan: 84 morts – bottom line: 84 dead people
Des victimes sont de toutes les origines et de tous les âges – The victims are of all origins and all ages



I was wearing a French Revolution Bicentennial t-shirt all day when I heard and watched the horrific news. It made me really want to go shout our support out for France, who, coming to the end of a 3-month State of Emergency, just had to prolong it for 3 more months. The French Library/Alliance française of Boston held its annual Bastille Day party here right here on our block – with vigor, loud music, lots of children and more police protection than it’s ever had before.
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Our terror – the French care!

As we plunge into our horror and puzzlement over our recurring acts of terrorism, we tend not to realize that people in other countries are also horrified. Just as some of us were when the French were attacked last November and January. This past w-e, right after it happened, I received two messages of compassion from French friends about the Orlando massacre. I’d like Americans to know the French care. One is from Michèle, the other from Ghislaine in Paris.

Juste un message pour te dire mon horreur devant le dernier acte terroriste d’Orlando!  Pour des raisons que tu imagines, l’écho de ce massacre est particulièrement grand en France. Comment allons nous nous sortir de cette barbarie? Michèle

Another one, from Ghislaine:

Ce soir, nos cœurs pleurent à nouveau avec la fusillade d’Orlando qui touche de plein fouet une jeunesse libre et paisible et à travers elle toute une population. Mes pensées vont vers les victimes de l’intolérance, de la bêtise et de cette folie meurtrière que rien ne semble arrêter. Avec Orlando, je revis le Bataclan, et c’est horrible. J’ai peur que Trump se serve de cet événement tragique pour proférer des paroles haineuses que pourraient hélas “avaler” bon nombre de citoyens américains. Mais, je suis sûre que ton pays que j’aime tant, saura rebondir comme il l’a fait après l’immense tragédie des Twins Towers. Susan, toutes mes pensées pour toi ce soir. Ghislaine

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A new French trendy adjective

A new word is trending in France: ‘bisounours.’ The first few times I heard it, I couldn’t imagine what it could mean and wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly. Eventually, I looked it up under a spelling I imagined and found it as a noun but not an adjective, as it was used several times last weekend. 
The noun means stuffed bear. I knew the words ‘bisou’ (familiar for kiss) and ‘ours’ (bear) but couldn’t imagine why or how they’d go together. And where an earth would the N in the middle come from? The adjective I’d heard referred to such different nouns as a film and the prime minister’s migration politics. But the dictionaries and French friends I consulted had no clue. One of them had heard it, though, and sent me her reaction to my query. It explains why she wasn’t familiar with it: 
Cela fait partie du vocabulaire qui n’est pas de ma génération ! Ce mot est né relativement récemment, je dirai dans les 10 dernières années et encore. Il est devenu “à la mode” depuis 2 ou 3 ans seulement. Il signifie quelque chose de naïf, d’exagérément sentimental, un peu bête…., en tout cas pas réaliste et enfantin.
Go forth and be a trend-setter in French words: ce n’est pas un défi bisounours!
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They caught the last terrorist!

Ils l’ont eu  vivant – finally! We won’t have to wait any longer for that shoe to drop. Some tension will be lessened. But there are so many other shoes around the world!

(This refers to Salah Abdeslam, the final terrorist in the November attacks on Paris who is now, thankfully, in prison.)

We Bostonians remember the capturing of the Marathon bomber and the relief it gave us. Similar cases that way. He’s also in prison but, in both cases, there will be years of legal efforts without a real, satisfactory conclusion.



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