2005/03/08

Survival of the village



In every French village you will find boulangers, charcutiers, bouchers, pizzerias, small grocers, pharmacies, opticians, florist etc. Real people using their talent to earn a living and giving back into the community. Most put in long hours in order to be ready for the days business. Bread does not come pre-packaged. It's fresh and someone has to get up in the wee hours of the morning to prepare it, and do it again in the afternoon so that the next batch is ready for dinner.

Because villages are the heart of France they are protected from the influx of big corporate businesses. (Carrefour, Casino Géant, Auchamp and other hypermarket chains are not even allowed in the village outskirts - only in larger towns/cities). The smaller chains like InterMarché do make it on the outskirts of small towns and villages, but they are not much more than a local groceries supermarket, i.e. they do not threaten the existence of such diverse industries as footwear, car parts & servicing, green nurseries, etc.

The small businessman no doubt is not wealthy but he/she is comfortable in life. (S)he makes his own living by the skill of his hands & brains and he provides a service to the community. The village is almost always filled with the aged who rely on these small shops for their daily needs. Many do not own cars or only drive them when they have to. Walking is commonplace here and I'm sure partly responsible for the French citizens well documented longevity. One can see them on the streets everyday with their baskets making the rounds of the shops not only for their bread, produce etc. but socializing with the community. The village is a lively place. The street cafés are busy with people having a cup of coffee, an aperitif while they catch up on the news of the day.

But, all is not well with the artisan. Many will tell you they are having a hard time finding apprentices to carry on their trade. The desire for wealth has permeated the society especially in the young. The skill of making bread is losing out to the skill of making huge profits in order to have more. The needs of the community are not important only the needs of the one.

It's not only boulangers who have problems finding young people dedicated to providing a skill to produce goods that everyone needs. It's bouchers (butchers), charcutiers (meat delicatessen, patés, etc), restauranteurs.... The list is endless. The new world order is: make a quick buck. Training to have a trade is a waste of time and could lead you to find yourself redundant because some Carrefour/Walmart chain can subcontract some third world slave wage Co to produce undies/fois gras/furniture at one third the cost. And to be fair, the results aren't bad - you DO get value for money.

The days of artisans spending years in making a Louis XV commode (not the toilet variety, but the elegant chest of drawers) with intricate marquetry and 10 sessions of fine polishing and revarnishing are nearly extinct. The days of the "Gallerie des mirroirs" (mirror's gallery) in Versaille's chateau where not only did glass mirrors reflect light but furniture as well, are certainly gone. In exchange we now all can afford IKEA computer desk stands. Never mind that they bend like a moon crescent after 6 months and collapse after 2 years - you can buy a new one and keep piling the discarded useless goods in your local western world landfill.

Is the work ethic about working in order to make big profit many times at the expense of poorer paid workers or is it working in order to make a comfortable living while contributing to the lives of your neighbors?

The uncertainty about making a decent living having a lifetime trade, be it boulanger, shoemaker, tailor, optician, etc is pushing the young to the big cities to learn the useful skill of sales, marketing and stockmarket investment.

7 Comments:

Strange to be old enough to remember when...Used to go to Europe all the time. It always felt easier than traveling here. Now I can't afford to go!

I let Kennder bully me for one night. Never again.

If they want to make everything into a conspiracy --aren't we the ones supposed into that?

Thanks for the support. 

Posted by pia
3/08/2005 02:54:00 pm  
I think the entire western world (and even the rest) is affected by this growing uncertainty of making a normal living from a trade. Things are changing faster and faster, and also more radically. Rapid technology changes are one reason - for instance, coal mines used to provide steady employment to nearby inhabitants, and families would follow the trade for generations. But they are all shut down now.

Also, originally the village life revolved much around agriculture, which today is of course only a small source of employment. I don't have figures, but I have a feeling that like everywhere else, the 19th and 20th centuries were the scene of a massive exodus from villages to large towns.

However my impression is that in the last few decades this exodus has radically slowed down if not stopped. ppl have found that even in large towns, you are not garanteed a job. Ppl have also found what hell it is to live in the urban city sprawl. And I see more and more small entrepreneurs who set up in small towns and even villages - ppl like IT consultants, graphic artists, architects, etc. When I worked as a courrier 2 years ago, my delivery daily round was 5 largish villages, and I was amazed at the number of such professionals that you wouldn't even know existed.

This trend is welcome and timely too - extremely few villages in France have become ghost towns, and there is good hope they are here to stay. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/08/2005 04:01:00 pm  
I spent an agreeable week in a small town, Vers, in the Gard, in France 2 years ago and it was remarkable that such a small village (pop. 1000) had a little grocery store, a boulanger (with an extremely cute baker) and post office, hell, it even had a town council and a mayor! The problem is that this kind of quaint rural lifestyle is increasingly becoming wholly dependent on subsidies (in Vers's case, agriculture and viticulture). When those subsidies go, it is either shape up or ship out. This is what happened in New Zealand when all rural subsidies were abolished in the late 1980s. Instead of the countryside dying, it actually thrived because people who wanted to live off the land had to do so economically and rationally. I know we don't have quaint villages (we never had them in the first place) but a lot of rural towns are thriving due to new economic activity such as tourism and wine growing. Housing is also much cheaper than in the larger cities - something that is not always the case in the quainter villages in France, such as St Remy de Provence or L'Isle-sur-la-Sorge. On the other hand I think there will always be a place for artisans, if they market their skills and products well. 

Posted by hans
3/09/2005 05:12:00 am  
I'm sorry for the multi-posting, blogger.com threw a spasm here
3/09/2005 05:16:00 am  
"I'm sorry for the multi-posting, blogger.com threw a spasm here  "

LOL, s'ok Hans, Blogger is now fucking up on a daily basis. Normally each commenter can actually delete their own posts. Anyhow, I did it on your behalf (I hope!, LOL).

"St Remy de Provence "

Wow.... do you know it's less than 20km from where we live but we've never seen the place?

Anyway... getting very late for me (like 6am), but you raise some very valid points about rural life and subsidiaries. I'll be back to try give my perception of things - till then, nice evening in New Zealand :-) (some 6pm or so right?) 

Posted by WhyNot
3/09/2005 06:12:00 am  
"I spent an agreeable week in a small town, Vers, in the Gard, in France 2 years ago and it was remarkable that such a small village (pop. 1000) had a little grocery store, a boulanger (with an extremely cute baker) and post office, hell, it even had a town council and a mayor! "

This is true for all French villages. It's wonderful and just what the tourist come to see outside of the Côte d'Azur.

I remember so well when the 'downtown' I knew growing up in the states disappeared. It ends something in the community you can never get back. I don't think most Americans even know their neighbors. But, it was not always like that.

"On the other hand I think there will always be a place for artisans, if they market their skills and products well. "

I don't agree with this. Machines replace the work of hands which do not work fast enough to fill the need of supply and demand.  

Posted by Dianne
3/09/2005 12:17:00 pm  
Wow.... do you know it's less than 20km from where we live but we've never seen the place?.

Well then, we must go soon.
3/09/2005 12:18:00 pm  

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