In America, there is a huge genre of books about France and the French. What American hasn’t at least heard of Mireille Guiliano’s book French women don’t get fat, and perhaps even read it? (643 reviews on Amazon, average of four stars.) Many of them are pretty much just full of stereotypes, but some attempt real analysis. One of the things that I’ve read in such a book is that the French are, in general, less charitable than Americans. The explanation given is that in America, the assumption is that people in need will be taken care of by their community and religious organizations and the government will just take up the slack, while the assumption in France is that people will be taken care of by the government, while communities and religious organizations will just take up the slack.
This is belied somewhat by the fact that the streets of Paris are full of beggars, and there is money in their cups. Yesterday I found some more evidence that the French are perhaps not so much less charitable than Americans as is thought to be the case. The picture in this post was taken from the side of a bin for collecting things for the poor. Of course we have such bins in America, too, but I think that what it says on the side of this bin is compelling. Such bins in America typically have a sign saying something like “please do not put trash in this bin.” The sign on the bin that I saw yesterday instructs you that the following can be placed in the bin:
- “Clean and dry clothes and household linens in a closed sack”
- “Shoes tied together by pair”
- “Leather goods”
What I thought was so striking about this was the idea that people would donate leather goods–presumably jackets and the like. I can’t imagine an American donating a leather jacket to charity–they’re far too expensive to give away. Words that I learnt in the course of the day:
- la maroquinerie: this can mean leather goods, and also a leather goods shop.
- sortir en boîte: to go clubbing. This has nothing to do with charity–I saw it in an advertisement in a newspaper that was sticking out of a trashcan. Yes, linguists collect data constantly, even from newspapers sticking out of trashcans. No, I did not take it out of the trashcan.