Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Same but different

Each day I see the differences between a Latin country and an Anglo-Saxon one. I had never imagined there could be such strong differences in outlook, behaviour, temperament. You see it in driving, family, education, service, and light switches and plug holes to name a few. But what's a French Home Show like? Is it the same or better than what I knew in NZ? Same but different.

I've attended Home Shows in NZ from both the customer and the vendor perspectives so I was interested to see a Home Show a while back in Chartres. Same in that the traffic was horribly clogged to get to it, the search for a car park, the smells of food, the noise of demonstrations, queues, freezing temperatures outside but sweltering ones inside the exhibition halls.

The Home Show at Chartres had a new flavour for me. With such a large population in France and within Europe where was more of a focus on artisans and their wares. There were things you wouldn't normally see in NZ shows.

Of special interest to me were the furniture makers, the upholsterers, the musical instrument refurbishers, knife-makers, clock and watchmakers, the clog makers, the rugs.

Of limited interest to me were the cottage industry clothes, handbags and hand made jewellery.

As expected there were lots of wine and food stalls. Working exhibits included carpenters, thatchmakers, mosaic decorators, furniture decorators. After a few hours I got choosy and jaded by the food and clothing and dinky and kitchy candles and wall ornaments. There was a stand on solar energy and another on heating but I found the lack of really eco-products disappointing. NZ shows have rain tanks, solid wood burners, worm farms etc. There was a landscape garden display but it was static and quite conventional. Overall I found the show interesting but I wouldn't want to do it often.

Another thing I won't be doing often is teaching Bellydance. After teaching two classes at the Dance and Fitness Centre in Cafeolait the teacher decided to come straight back after having her baby and seems to be stalling about giving me lessons in return. She said we could start in December, then she changed it to January. I do hope she'll keep to the bargain.

 It was an exhausting and challenging opportunity teaching beginners. The class was still mixed ability so I did my best not to give exercises too hard but interesting enough for those with dance experience. On the final lesson I introduced them to veilwork. That was well-received. The exercise did me good.

Well-received isn't the word I'd use for two other recent events. I received a message via Facebook from the 'ex-gangster'. It's been a year since I've heard from him and was subjected to his appalling behaviour the last time we met so I was very surprised to get a short incomprehensible message. He'd come across me on Facebook and worked out that I was still in France. He asked me if I'd gone to a high school in Morocco. Bizarre, he knows that's not true so I told him he must be looking at his own profile instead.I don't think all the marbles are in place.

I went back to the sous-prefecture in Rambouillet because I now had an expensive translation for my NZ drivers license so surely now I'd get my French one? Nope. First I was told I didn't need the translation (B.S) then told nothing had still been done about it, three women crowded around a computer trying to work out which date they should go by; the date on my visa or the date stamp on my first Titre de Sejour. They didn't know the anwser and still couldn't fathom the translated drivers license.

I didn't leave until they gave me a paper saying I could drive for six months while they tried to work out what to do. I was left standing for an hour and a half with no explanations while they disappeared and fluffed around.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Primitive art at Musee Quai Branly

After celebrating Jean-Claude's birthday by treating him to a night at a Paris hotel and dinner at one of the oldest Auberges in Paris we made the most of our next day by spending it at Musee Quai Branly which specialises in primitive art from around the world. It was established by President Chirac in his day.


Featured regions include Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Objects on display are diverse but can be relied on to include masks, costumes, musical instruments. The place was very busy with school groups and two temporary exhibitions: Samurai outfits and in another room Maori artifacts. The later was a bit serendipitous.

Generally the museum is well laid out but you have to go out of it to eat anything and then go through security again to get in.

Merchandising is kept to a minimum. I enjoyed spending several hours going through it fairly methodically but one thing really bugged me. The standard of written English on the exhibits. Frankly, it's awful to see the carelessness in a museum of this size in Paris; spelling and grammatical mistakes in headings and body text. The so-called English section of their website is really crappy and even their map to the complex includes inexcusable mistakes.

This is France, not Timbuktu. They have access to native English speakers but they don't seem to notice they are lacking in professionalism and care. Obviously no-one checks what they write. They should be embarrassed and ashamed as a national monument.

I feel irritated because it's abundantly clear throughout my time here that France desperately needs some expertise in English but the government here seems to do everything in it's power to keep experts like me out.

What also gets up my nose in monuments and restaurants in France is their use of American English. I can't understand why they choose that when the rest of the world (including non-English-speaking countries) use standard English. It can't be a tourism decision as most visitors would not be from the USA.

 For many of us who don't live in the US it's yet another example of American cultural imperialism otherwise its use wouldn't exist outside the US. For goodness sake, there's nothing dangerous about the letters S or U. It's no advantage to non-US citizens to be identified as Americans these days-it can be dangerous.

I don't want to be identified as American so I won't use their spelling. It must be confusing for foreigners. I've written to their communications department alerting them to their errors in English usage and offering my services but I'm not holding my breath for a reply.

The Samurai exhibition was excellent; great to be up close to all that armour, some of it many hundreds of years old.

I didn't learn much from the Maori exhibition other than it was selected and presented predominently by Maori. Lots of stuff I would have liked to see from everyday life wasn't there. There was an undercurrent of politics of course.


The pieces on display were of good quality and the main information panels were displayed in French, English and Maori. It seemed to be well patronised.

Photographs can only be taken if you don't use flash.

Carless days...and months

I'm currently having some time out from my job; taking some annual leave left over from the previous year. Time out means staying in bed longer, doing things I wouldn't normally have time to do, spending some time with Jean-Claude and wondering where this life of mine is taking me. I have no clues as to my future, in any shape or form and while that may appear romantic and exciting it's impossible to put down roots. You could say I'm free but free to do what?

For one thing I still can't do anything about getting a car. Once again the French administration has shown its appalling lack of service, incompetence. Months ago I went into the sous-prefecture with all the documentation required to convert my NZ driver's license to a French one. I went armed with additional proof that this process was, indeed, approved by the French Government. OK, my documentation was all in order and I was told that I would have to stop driving on the expiry date of my old visa. Well, how long was it going to take to get the new license? She shrugged and said she had no idea, that every country was different.

I had no choice. I reached the expiry of my visa, my renewed tire de sejour kicked in but there was no sign of anything relating to the driver license so I waited some more. I couldn't drive, I couldn't even practice driving. Two months later I went in and explained the situation was getting critical. There was then a lot of 'kerfuffling' in the background as if they couldn't find my dossier (that would have been a complete disaster as one must have applied for a license exchange within one year of arriving in France).

Finally the woman came back to the counter and said there was a problem. Signal for twisting guts and a hot flush to arrive. I was told that the woman responsible for my dossier had left to have a baby and she hadn't been replaced by management and they were a bit over-worked so....nothing had been done. And that's a real weakness in France; people don't do things if it's not written into THEIR contract, teamwork doesn't seem to exist so unfortunate people like me are just conveniently ignored no matter how it screws up their lives. Nobody cares, no-one is accountable, no one takes initiative.

Oh, and by the way, this other woman had decided that my impeccable documentation was now no longer complete. I needed a translation of my license. No problem, I smiled, this international license supplies the translation. You guessed it, she refused to accept it. For goodness sake, how much translation is required of my name, a date and a few random letters of the alphabet? Because that's all there is.

No, I must find an officially approved translator, spend money, get it sent to me, come back and get this woman to give me a 'note from the teacher' to say my real license was on its way. My disguised anger should have choked me. Instead I had to be gracious and grateful. After emailing translators and getting no reply I decided to go to the NZ Embassy in Paris and organise it all there. I should have the translation in a week (having paid 60 euros).

The one thing I am grateful for is that NZ and France have an agreement to exchange licenses so I don't have to spend thousands of euros and a lot of stress doing French theory and practical tests here.

On checking the internet, here's the latest info on French driver licenses

New driver's licence from January 2013

As of this date, the licence will take the form of a credit card with a photograph and will include the details of the types of authorised vehicle. This new licence will contain a microchip and a machine readable zone. Note that from January 2013, drivers with an older licence will have their licence changed, and all old licences will be renewed by January 2033. It will be required to renew the new style licence every 15 years.

This reform is part of a European directive of 2006 which provides a single, secure format driving licence issued in all countries of the European Union (EU).

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Considering Intergenerational Fairness

Last month I attended a conference on a topic which is not yet often discussed; that of intergenerational fairness. I hadn't thought much about it before and I know I'm not alone in that. The conference, based in Budapest, Hungary, was jointly hosted by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology and WHAT IF - sustainability as intergenerational fairness.

The goal of the conference was to explore an intergenerational perspective on the domain of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT has changed lifestyles, production regimes, public governance and participation but it has also created new forms of “divide”. While solving problems it creates new issues and challenges spanning sustainability and social justice.

Panel sessions focused on two topics: ICT as a possible solution to the generational divide and the other on ICT and generational divide: open issues, challenges and risks. Presentations, debates and discussions asked whether access to ICT should now be seen as a human or ‘generational’ right. The following issues and questions represent the key ideas and presentations from delegates to the conference:

ICT has done wonderful things for economic development and some forms of communication but it has also created problems. We must fix the problems we have created. Maybe our trust in technology to fix what’s not working in today’s society is too strong. Fairness between the generations raises the issue of competition for jobs. It is probable that we have entered a time when a grandfather, father and son could be competing with each other for work. How are we bridging the Digital Divide. Can it help us? Europe needs to deliver new solutions but how to do this? Pre 1925 European companies were innovative. Now they do 10% of what the US is doing and most of the true US innovation comes out of ‘garage’ companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google.

There is intergenerational inequity. Each generation has the right to benefit from natural and social resources as the previous generation enjoyed but now there are issues of debt, caring for an aging population, access to life-long education. What are the links between the generations? Problems cannot be solved by ONE generation. There is an unfair distribution of rights and opportunities; current generations are competing and conflicting. It’s not just the realm of future generations, it’s happening right now across all ages. This is the first time in history that we have been in this position where future generations will be worse off than the previous.

Issues of intergenerational fairness explored during the conference covered families, entrepreneurship, innovation, welfare state, employment, education, energy, intercultural dialogue, poverty. In the past we had different stages of knowledge and control of it: first the church with its fundamentalism, then the state with its conflicts of interest and finally the markets had control but created financial crises.

These days we are losing nature and the environment is not the same. WE are in a new situation. Where is the old curiosity-based science where innovation comes from? These days it’s all about money generation and profit from the get-go. Globally people have LESS rights now than they had before so we must renegotiate this. Governance isn’t working – we now have huge debt and insecurity, anguished hedonism and it’s not fulfilling for people. We know now that MORE is NOT better. Well, only some of us do - alas.

What we need is more participation by citizens, more intergenerational interactions, more curiosity and imagination, more innovation and entrepreneurship and perhaps ICT can help with this. Digital literacy should be a human right to freedom of association and assembly on the internet. People must have access to accurate and comprehensive information. There must be equitable access to higher education. Life-long learning is still not part of the right to education but older adults should have the right to become digitally literate in order to be able to participate in society.

Key issues are employment, skills and poverty. Some delegates felt the State should be legally obliged to ensure digital literacy. There’s also a moral obligation to provide equal opportunities. We must reach all learners because there is a wide societal interest in life-long learning. Adult training courses in Hungary of more than 2490 hours must include a digital learning module in order to receive funding support (Hungary 2009). Therefore public policies and programmes are needed to progress things.

Digital literacy raises issues of lack of resources for many people as they cannot purchase the hardware necessary, such as smart phones, laptops, high-speed broadband. Therefore we must find a way to reduce this ‘gap’ in order to increase social cohesion. In the near future everything around us will involve the internet. Everywhere there will be screens- our appliances will have screens, a new environment for all generations to adjust to.

It’s worth noting that the future doesn’t have relevance for many people. They are thinking short term, maybe their lives are short. Maybe they struggle to provide the basics of life for themselves so for them intergenerational fairness is not ‘on the table’. They have no space in their 'survival' to contemplate it and no resources or voice to do anything about it.

A down-side of ICT is that we are so connected these days with gadgets for doing things and for communication and being in contact 24/7 – where is the digital peace? Family members aren’t speaking to each other- they are absorbed in connecting elsewhere with gadgets. We are totally dependent on electricity for basic needs. What if there's an outage of several days? In 1997 there was a power outage in Auckland, New Zealand that lasted several days. NZ's largest city-impotent, chaotic. It would be much worse than that now.

Next year is the European Year for Active Aging and solidarity between the generations. We need intergenerational ‘teaching’ going both ways. Institutional changes are needed for a fair society to emerge. There will be an EU-wide event in Brussels on Intergenerational Fairness in the first quarter of 2012. I wonder what can come of that. Politicians don't have our true interests at heart so we all need to take responsibility for being aware of this current issue and coming up with strategies to deal with it. What are your thoughts?
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