Monday, 10 April 2017

French women behaving 'badly' - 1st April

I was in the countryside, accompanying JC at an annual hunters' lunch. This was a new experience for me. I knew almost no-one as it was not JC's usual club but social activities are rare for me so... why not.
I recognised a couple of women from a birthday party we'd attended a week earlier. On that occasion, the president of JC's hunt club had his party at home and I met some friendly people. There was an interesting experience with an 86 year old DJ who played saxophone, and a guest who had drummed for Joe Cocker. At one point the drummer was playing spoons on empty wine bottles and the DJ was really getting into the swing of his music. Quite a character, he would disappear from time to time and come back in fancy dress. At one point he was a witch with a broom, another a Spaniard, another a sheik. And they say we older folks don't know how to have fun.

I was expected to do some bellydance moves and ended up giving an impromptu lesson to some of the ladies while we were up and dancing on the deck. It was more interesting for me than sitting on my own excluded by the speed of conversation and my deteriorating hearing.

Now, however, we were in a different environment, inside an illegal cabin on a hunter's property where he had created a lake for ducks to breed. There were two long sets of trestle tables for diners and the guys were well organised. Women had done much of the cooking.

Suddenly it was announced that the women should go inside and sit at the table designated for them. You what? Why can't we all sit together? Because it's not done like that. But why not? This is France, land of equality (choke).
A guy came over and mumbled to the other guys to let me sit with my boyfriend if I wanted but tradition won out. I was on the women's table.
Food was passed around, to the men's table first! The women were not impressed and there was some vocal grumbling. One of the guys called out that the women would be on diswashing duty. A swelling wave of discontent began to build.

"This is NOT acceptable," I said. "This is the 21st century. Marianne is the symbol of the French Republic. In case you haven't noticed she's a woman."
 I felt surprisingly confident in stirring up already rising spirits.

The women began to bang the tables. The surge grew and grew and a rebellion began. No to the dishes the women chanted and clanged. I joined in enthusiastically and taught a few women how to give the fingers in the right manner. They learnt quickly and applied their knowledge.

The men were, at first, bemused, then confused, then amused.
The noise in the cabin was now deafening and it seemed the men may have lost control of the women.

One woman started a conga line and the rest of us rose as one and headed outdoors. French women were punching the air in rebellion and chanting something about 'no way dishes' that I couldn't understand. They all seemed to know this shared song and formed a circle. I think they may have tweaked the lyrics to an old traditional chant. One woman was in the middle urging the others on as we circled and chanted, holding hands. Then the one in the middle knelt down. Another supplied a scarf to kneel on and another woman knelt down. The two embraced as in a choreography. It was fascinating. So this is real French countryside women's solidarity?

The chanting and rebellious comments continued for a long time and one of the men was so taken with it he filmed it. The video is too long and large to embed in this blog, alas.

We women ended up doing the enormous pile of dishes though for a while one of the hunters did help wash but the women declared him incompetent and consequently unemployed. There were constant references to this unacceptable situation but the women good-naturedly and efficiently got the job done. Quite some time later we finished up. It was worth noting that none of the other guys offered to help.

It remains surprising to me that during social events in my age group in the countryside there is social segregation. You can't change it but I had had my revenge at the birthday party by insisting the birthday boy dance with me. A reluctant hunt president couldn't refuse a woman's request for that and I do believe he enjoyed himself.

April had got off to a good social start and for much of it the weather had been kind. I'd just experienced something new in France where other French women had accepted me. It was a new feeling, and I liked it. But the men think our little uprising was just an April Fools' Day entertainment.


Stephen Harrison said...
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