Saturday, January 19, 2008

Culture Clash

It is often said that the ferocity of the left-right clash has diminished in France over the past two decades. What remains intense, however, is the hostility between héritiers and boursiers, those born to rule, at least in their own minds, and those who have had to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. Political conflict can become bitter when un héritier confronts un boursier, as is the case in Lyon, where Dominique Perben is trying to oust incumbent mayor Gérard Collomb. According to Le Monde, neither man will deign to mention his opponent's name.

Sometimes, though, the culture clash divides members of the government. In an extraordinary piece broadcast last night on France2's 8 PM news, we saw Christine Boutin and Fadela Amara ostensibly together on a visit to one of the suburbs to be targeted by the so-called Amara plan for urban revitalization--a plan that Boutin has already described as misconceived. It seems that Amara had arranged for a buffet dinner, with guests to eat standing up in order to encourage contact between the locals and the visiting delegation from the ministry. But Boutin and her équipe evidently regarded standing and eating out of paper plates as uncivilized and therefore waged their own form of the "politics of civilization": they ordered a table, chairs, and a catered dinner for themselves and sat in a corner eating off china while the locals milled around with Amara. The cameras caught Amara shrugging in Boutin's direction and saying, "Incredible, I've never seen anything like it." Indeed. Needless to say, Boutin and Amara belong to two different worlds: the BCBG Catho and the ever so branchée ministre issue de l'immigration. "Bonjour les garçons, je suis Fadela," Amara greeted one group of young men hanging out on a streetcorner. It would be hard to imagine Boutin uttering the words, "Salut les gars, je m'appelle Christine," even to a group of choir boys, which these young men certainly were not.

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