From time to time friends in the UK contact me to ask if articles in the Spectator or the Telegraph accurately reflect life in France just now. Take it from me that they don't, but do still contact me about them. Here's why they are not accurate.
Imagine I assessed the situation in the UK from, say, the articles you can find in the Guardian. Would that accurately reflect life in the UK just now? What about life in Camden? What about in life in Scotland? What about life in Cornwall?
I choose the Guardian because for the moment it is freely accessible. I can't read articles from the Times or the Telegraph without paying a fee. There's a paywall. But I realise that I have to read with care. Free of charge does not mean free of bias.
Newspapers and magazines are not neutral. They have a political viewpoint to convey that is found in every article they publish. Even when they present statistics and undeniable facts, the facts and statistics will be selected to prove a point. We need to be aware of that. Everything is loaded. Read with care.
Here in France we hear of terrible situations in the UK. There are shortages in your supermarkets. Basic foodstuffs are unobtainable. Fruit rots on the trees for want of people to pick it. Haulage companies cannot get drivers. I ask my friends if this is true where they live. They tell me that they see no more evidence than usual - every so often a supermarket runs out of something or other in normal life.
In the UK you hear of violent protests against Macron and of his deep unpopularity. Hey, I've now lived through four presidencies in France, I think - Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron and I can tell you, not one of them was popular. You don't elect a president so you can love them. It's not like the Queen.
Countries have a deep-rooted mental image of each other. In the UK we tend to believe that France is a tinder-box of repressed revolutionary emotions that are ready to spill over onto the streets in violent outbursts. In France we tend to believe that the UK is a quaint bucolic theme park run by the aristocrats of the ancient regime, and peopled by villeins and surfs who know their place and obey without question.
I don't think either image is true. But there are big cultural differences between our countries.
For example, in the UK if you are unhappy about something you write to your MP. You know who your MP is and you expect them to do something about it. In France if you are unhappy about something you might complain to the town hall if it's a local issue, otherwise you'll get a group together, make banners and march round the streets banging drums and setting off smoke flares while people watch peacefully from their cafe tables. Before marching you will inform the town hall so they can send the riot police to show they are taking your protest seriously. I have no idea whatsoever who the MP for this area is, but I know the mayor for Bordeaux and the person who is in charge of the area where we live. It's just different.
Regarding the vaccine. In France now 70% of people over 12 have now received 2 doses of vaccine. Meanwhile there are pro-covid marches each week to protest against the pressure the government has put on people to get vaccinated. (I have started using the term pro-covid - anti-vaccine sounds so negative.) I think there are similar marches in the UK.
The pressure comes in the form of the pass sanitaire - compared to dictatorships like North Korea or, most notoriously of all, to the yellow star from the 1930s and 1940s. The pass sanitaire is a QR code that shows that you have received two doses of vaccine, or that you have recently tested negative for the virus. You now need to show your pass sanitaire to take long-distance public transport, to eat in a restaurant or to shop in the biggest shopping centres. The law to introduce this requirement was validated by the Constitutional Council which made certain modifications to ensure that people could always get the basic necessities whether vaccinated or not.
As a friend explained to me, she fully intended getting vaccinated at some point, especially since she needs to travel to another European country harder hit by the pandemic, but she was still thinking about it. However, the introduction of the pass sanitaire had made her more reluctant to be vaccinated. We are very sensible people, but we do not like being told what to do, she said.
The news media are not neutral. Always engage your critical faculties.