Lately I’ve been obsessed with the general incorrectness of the common American belief that the French look down on everything about us. A couple days ago, I talked about the popularity of English words in France. The topic of French attitudes about America came up again this morning. Listening to the news on the way to work, there was a long segment on the banlieus défavorisés of France–the poor suburbs where much of the French underclass lives. 2015 is the 10th anniversary of the 2005 riots, which were very much a feature of the banlieus (unlike, say, the student riots of 1968, which were very much an urban phenomenon). There was a guest who had been invited to talk about his theories of the geographic aspects of the banlieus. His take on it is that part of what makes life in the banlieus what it is is that they have very little in the way of public transportation–as Wikipedia puts it in its article on the infamous Clichy-sous-Bois banlieu, where the 2005 riots started, “Clichy-sous-Bois is not served by any motorway or major road and no railway and therefore remains one of the most isolated of the inner suburbs of Paris.” So, you have this paradox that Clichy-sous-Bois is maybe 10 miles from Paris, but has less in common with life in Paris–culturally, politically, economically–than Manhattan does. Here, the guest saw the situation in America much more positively–his take was that in America, the low-income areas are mostly urban, not suburban; they have the same public transportation as the rest of the city does, and therefore the residents of an American ghetto have the same access to universities, museums, etc., as more well-off residents of the city do. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that–we have seriously low-income and culturally disconnected little towns scattered throughout Appalachia and elsewhere, and if you live in a poor urban area of an American city, you probably have other obstacles to your access to universities, museums, etc., besides transportation. But, the guest was right in that the geographic facts that keep the residents of the banlieus isolated from the rest of French life don’t generally have the same ill effects in an American urban ghetto.
Public transportation (transport un commun) is an important aspect of life in France–let’s look at a little bit of vocabulary from the French Wikipedia page on the subject (translations from WordReference.com):
Le transport en commun, ou transport collectif, consiste à transporter plusieurs personnes ensemble sur un même trajet. Il est généralement accessible en contrepartie d‘un titre de transport comme un billet, ticket ou une carte.
- le trajet: journey; plane flight; car or bus ride
- en contrepartie de: in return for, in exchange for
- le titre de transport: ticket
What’s the difference between billet and ticket? No clue. Perhaps someone can tell me in the Comments section?