It's less than two months since the French nation stubbed out their cigarettes in accordance with the new laws on smoking in public. The last bastion of smoking freedom, the bar/tabac is now a smoke free zone. It's truly ironic , bizarre even, that you can buy your ciggies, a coffee or a cognac at any time of day, drink the coffee or the brandy(or as is usually the case with Frenchmen, both together) but if you want a smoke with it you'll have to head for the door. I never thought to see the day... the French obeying the law, and puffing away outside. Come the summer it's going to be difficult for us non-smokers to find a seat outside the café. All the tables will have been taken by the smokers. We will have to find seats inside...at least it will be a smoke-free zone. But will French bars and cafés ever be quite the same without that distinctive smell of stale Gauloise ?
Now it looks as if the French Government is hell-bent on attacking that other great French occupation... drinking. Petrol stations are to be forbidden to sell alcohol in their shops, or on the forecourts. Already there are rumblings of mutiny from wine producers who often have concessions from petrol stations to sell their locally produced wines. I can slightly see their point. Their sales come almost totally from travelling tourists, and they aren't offering wine tastings, they'll point the visitor in the direction of their 'caves de degustation' for a full blown tasting, and hopefully the sale of a few cases rather than a spur-of-the-moment bottle.
But the road accident fatalities speak for themselves. Last year road deaths in France accounted for 4,500 lives. Admittedly that figure is half of what it was in the year 2000, but most of that success can be attributed to a relentless campaign to improve driving standards ( amongst the worst in Europe) and the introduction of speed cameras. I can remember the mirth that surrounded the Chirac government's minister for transport when he urged the French to drive more like the British. We did think of having a rear window sticker in the car which read...'Drive like me....I'm a Brit,' but then we had an accident so we thought better of it.
Apparently it's the youth of France that are having the accidents. Elderly French drivers can merrily down a bottle of wine at lunch time and their driving isn't any worse than it was before lunch. (Did I mention France is bottom of the league when it comes to good driving ?) A recent report says that every day 2% of all drivers on French roads are over the recommended limit for alcohol ... yipes ! In actual fact I think in rural areas such as ours it's well over 2%. Kiss a Frenchman after lunch and alongside the overpowering smell of garlic there will nearly always be the underlying aroma of a glass or two of wine.
On the subject of grim percentages Prime Minister Fallon (he of the Welsh wife) has said that 46% of all road fatalities involving drivers under 24 are alcohol related. So a tightening of the alcohol laws are perhaps long overdue. The image of the Gauloise-smoking, lunch-time brandy imbiber should perhaps rightly be a thing of the past.
The dreaded words 'Health and Safety' seem to be making inroads into French life. Things may never be the same again !