Friday, April 22, 2011

When You Mess With A Frenchman's Joie de Vivre, You've Gone Too Far

The French paramilitary riot police are famous for their hard-line tactics. They're a tough bunch, and they get called out almost constantly to put down everything from student demonstrations to industrial strikes to Muslim immigrant uprisings and holiday carbeques.

It sounds like thirsty work. And indeed, the riot cops traditionally enjoy a glass of wine or beer with their meals, including meals consumed while on duty. It's a traditional French cultural practice to allow wine or beer with meals even in job settings where we Anglo-Saxons would prohibit it on grounds of safety. This can be jarring; I once shared a meal of pasta and wine with French pilots in the business class lounge of the airport in Doula, Cameroon, right before they flew me to Bangui.

But now the nanny state has interfered with this free expression of Frenchness. And the riot cops are threatening to strike in protest. What's the French word for irony?

The CRS (Republican Security Companies), which made its name quelling student demonstrators during nationwide disturbances in 1968, has always enjoyed a glass of beer or wine with its meals.

However, following photos of riot police drinking bottles of beer during Paris street protest, police chiefs have decided to put an end to the tradition.

They were wearing body armour and carrying weapons as they sipped from beer and wine bottles. Some were also smoking. [TSB Note: smoking, too? Quelle horreur!]

Didier Mangione, national secretary of the police union, said bosses were "trying to turn us into priests, but without the altar wine".

"Nobody should object to a small drink on jobs," he said. "CRS officers do not have any more or less alcohol problems than anybody else in society. They should be allowed to drink in moderation."

While British police are strictly barred from drinking on duty, the French have traditionally been allowed 25cl of wine or a small beer with their main meal of the day.

It was normally served on an official tray and sometimes eaten in full view of the public, often outside riot-control vans.

"Our right to drink alcohol with our food is protected by the law and our members are very unhappy at being treated like children," Mr Mangione added.

The CRS, which was formed after the Second World War to "protect" the Republic from internal threats, has always been renowned for employing particularly tough officers.

They are often seen bracing themselves for action on the streets of major cities like Paris, Marseilles and Lyon.

Whenever a riot is threatened in a housing project or outside a university, it is invariably the CRS who are called to mobilise. Their tactics involve responding swiftly, and often violently.

Mr Mangione said he would be making a formal appeal against the new rules to the police authority.

A spokesman for the CRS central directorate said they had no plans to reconsider their decision.

I say, good for them. What would a Frenchman be without his wine? Little better than a foreigner.

And besides, who will the authorities send to enforce their order against the CRS? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Which is Latin for "who will beat up the riot cops?"


Anonymous said...

Bravo! The only thing worse might be if they substituted free marijuana brownies for the wine. But I guess that would have to be a movie. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB:This "Odyssey Dawn" thing is getting "Creepier" by the day. gwb

Sounds like the same old script with the same old players... keep your gas tank full!!

Anonymous said...

Actually, British police, and other European police commonly drink on duty. Only us Americans deny the nectar of the gods to the thin blue line.

TSB said...

I expect most police officers could use a glass now and then.