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How do you spoil French Christmas? With Australian wine? British cuisine? Or maybe just a good old school argument.
Any party that involves a family reunion brings with it its fair share of political disagreements and wrangling. But yelling at each other about the news is such a French tradition that a famous 1898 caricature of a family brawl can be found in most school history books.
Here are the four almost guaranteed topics for the French to scream at each other on their turkeys this Christmas (and if you want to make five, just mention the next presidential election).
Debate: Foie gras is a staple of the French holiday season, but increasingly controversial, with some cities banning the delicacy, made from not-so-delicately force-fed duck liver. Above all, the city of Lyon banned foie gras from its own events, a decision so controversial that the green mayor Grégory Doucet had to defend it in an article he wrote for the Journal du Dimanche. “This is not a boycott, nor a ban,” he argued, seeking to reassure liver lovers in what has been described as the food capital of the world.
The green mayors of Strasbourg and Grenoble have taken similar positions, offending producers while pleasing animal protection NGOs like PETA, who sent Doucet a box of faux vegetable fats (see what they did there?).
Green presidential hopeful Yannick Jadot tried to avoid being offended by asserting that he preferred “artisanal foie gras” to “industrial force-feeding”. Conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse also embarked on the quarrel by declaring: “Animal welfare is an issue in which I am personally involved … but at one point, France is France and the liver gras is France “.
Either way, foie gras is always a holiday favorite. According to a recent CSA survey (commissioned by the association of foie gras producers), 75 percent of the French population intend to eat it during the holidays. But according to a 2017 YouGov poll on behalf of the animal protection NGO L214, 58% of French people are in favor of a ban on force-feeding. Which makes for a Christmas full of guilt.
If you want to spice up the argument: You can mention that the UK has been trying to ban imports of foie gras for months and is already asking chefs to replace it with fake fat.
If you want to calm things down: Keep it basic with a poultry liver pate.
Debate: All hell broke loose in French political discourse when people discovered in November that the gender-neutral pronoun iel had been added to the online version of Le Petit Robert, one of the main dictionaries of the language of Molière.
French does not have neutral pronouns and uses masculine pronouns to denote, for example, a group made up of men and women. Iel is a fairly recent creation and comes from the contractualization he and she. It is an alternative to masculine pronouns and can refer to people who identify as non-binary. But it’s hardly used outside of feminist and LGBTQ + communities – Le Petit Robert admits it’s a “rare” word – in part because a third grammatical gender neutral causes headaches when applied to a language as strongly gendered as French.
Le Petit Robert’s move prompted The deputy François Jolivet, supported by the Minister of Education (and anti-awake activist) Jean-Michel Blanquer, to write a letter to the French Academy, the body of intellectuals armed with the sword, French-speaking people in charge of regulating the language. The addition is “an ideological intrusion,” Jolivet wrote, “possibly heralding the advent of” awakened ideology “which destroys our own values.” The First Lady Brigitte Macron also weighed: “The French language is so beautiful. And two pronouns are good.
If you want to spice up the argument: Bring in other ‘gender inclusive writing’ initiatives, like the focal point (·) to challenge the use of the masculine grammatical gender in collective nouns.
If you want to calm things down: Bring both a Petit Robert and a Larousse to the game of Scrabble.
Debate: Millions of French people had their noses blocked before the holidays, with pharmacies across the country selling six times more self-test kits than a month ago, Le Journal du Dimanche reported. But as the Omicron variant injects a dose of uncertainty into festivities across the continent, the looming threat of postprandial health restrictions is sure to intensify.
In some cases, it won’t be pretty. According to an Ipsos poll, 41% of French people say that talking with their relatives about the vaccination or the health pass creates “tensions or serious conflicts”. This will not be helped by Prime Minister Jean Castex, who announced last week that unvaccinated people will soon no longer be able to use the health pass, even though they may have a recent negative COVID test. The French government is also considering making the vaccination passport compulsory in the workplace, but stops before making vaccines compulsory.
Questions that can be tricky at the table include: “Am I going to have to home school my offspring for a week?” “…” Is my anti-vaxxer cousin using one of the 110,000 false passes detected in France? … “How do we keep the drunken uncle from soaking and gorging himself right off the punch bowl?” Merry Christmas!
If you want to spice up the argument: Mention the Dutch lockdown.
If you want to calm things down: Bring a positive and negative COVID test to dinner. Wait, no, sure don’t do that.
Debate: Wind turbines might be a bit more specialized, but depending on how close your dinner party is to a wind farm, it can get ugly fast. According to the national federation Vent de Colère, hundreds of local groups across the country are doing Don Quixote against gigantic white windmills. One particularly fun trope like this: the furious windmill selfie. The main criticism concerns the aesthetics, but also the impact on the local fauna.
The French public is also divided, according to an IFOP poll. Some 54% of French people are in favor of new wind turbines and 46% are against it. What’s interesting – and will make a spicy conversation for dinner – is the generational divide: 81% of 18-24 year olds are pros, compared to just 44% of those over 65. So a classic battle between Generation Z and the Baby Boomers.
Far-right presidential candidates have taken up the issue: the leader of the National Rally, Marine Le Pen, called in October for the “dismantling” of the 8,000 French turbines, while the former right-wing expert Eric Zemmour said it was a “disaster”.
If you want to spice up the argument: Tell your father that you read in a newsletter called Brussels Playbook that the EU wants to speed up approvals for green energy projects, in order to prevent opponents from stopping them. Throw an “OK, boomer” and you get a fire of five alarms.
If you want to calm things down: Change the subject for Eric Zemmour – that will eliminate the windmills.