French Revolutionary Spirit

Article excerpt

Byline: By DUNCAN HIGGITT Western Mail

It used to be said that you only had to share a glass of wine with a Frenchman and he'll begin plotting a revo-lution. One thing is certain - the French get pushed around a lot less by their Government and fellow countrymen because they're prepared to riot over the smallest of grievances. And, within reason, that can be a good thing.

It means the end of bad service in shops, of being tucked up when your car goes into the garage. But it doesn't end there. Imagine how, after months of having polite letters to your local council about how the sweepers keep avoiding your street ignored, you collected up all the rubbish and dumped it on the doorstep of county hall. With the press in tow. That would be the end of that problem.

French protests mainly manifest themselves in two ways these days. In strikes, mostly among airline workers and done on the verge of the most important holi- day of the year. And among their farmers. If you want to know why Jacques Chirac won't give up the enormous slab of European Union funding he directs towards French farmers you only have to look at the way they behave.

They managed to get British beef banned for a lot longer than the rest of the EU thought necessary, to the point where the French government preferred to take a huge fine rather than allow our perfectly safe meat back through Calais. They all but stopped our sheep imports, simply by setting fire to them. They may be despised by many this side of La Manche, but you have got to admire their style.

And many imitate them. When Welsh farmers famously tipped imported meat into Holyhead harbour, they owed their Gallic colleagues a debt of gratitude. Similarly, the fuel protests, and that great modern favourite of the disgruntled agrarian, taking the muck spreader to town and letting the object of your ire have it, is all down to the French.

I remember one story about some farmers in the West of France, around L'Orient. They were unhappy about something, so marched into town to demonstrate. Once there, they felt that some of the ills being visited upon their doors were down to the march of consumerism and international capitalism. So what did they do? …