Victoria Jelinek


December 10, 2018 II – The Yellow Vest Movement

“I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French.” Charles de Gaulle

Macron as a traitor on the vestI once said to a French doctor during a visit to her office that I’m so grateful for the French healthcare system. Like England, where I had lived for thirteen years, there is universal healthcare. Unlike England, one must be a resident of France, pay your taxes, and while the state covers 70% of your healthcare (100% for your children), you must have private insurance to cover the rest. A visit to a general practitioner will cost you about 23 euros and to a specialist, about 60 euros (of which 70% will be returned to you). Similar to the USA, and unlike England, in France you can choose your general practitioner and they will refer you to specialists of your choice. Moreover, the French have effectively integrated methods based on medicine, or ‘hard’ science, with non- traditional methods, such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, and nutritionists.

Back to the visit with the doctor and my compliment to the French healthcare system. She, in turn, was grateful for my appreciation. She told me that on an average visit, about a half-hour in duration per patient, she earns 10euros, with the rest being reimbursed or going to fund the collective ‘mechanisms.’ She didn’t have a problem with this, telling me she wanted to be a doctor to help people and she is. However, she said it’s frustrating because the French patients are never satisfied with the system. For example, when the Carte Vitale* machine doesn’t work and she must consequently give the patient a brown form+, they complain about having to cover the expense of an envelope and stamp in order to send the form and get reimbursed for their visit.

My point? While the French argue that they are collectively oriented, in general, they are not. They do not seem to care that their participation is necessary to maintain the heavily subsidized welfare state – public schools, universities, extracurricular activities++, school lunches+++, CAF** and housing subsidies, healthcare, retirement, etc. To sustain these services means paying a modest fee for them, as well as paying taxes, in order to support the whole system and the vulnerable within society. Many here begrudge paying anything even as they feel it’s their right to receive these benefits, which they complain are too little, and many people actively work to undermine the system. While a large part of me appreciates the French cynicism, and I agree that the super rich seem to avoid all fees, the average French knee-jerk cynicism also frustrates me. Having originated from a country where the cost of an emergency medical service without good health coverage could mean that you and your family lose your home due to the expense of it, or you have to take two mortgages out to fund your child’s university education, I’m grateful for the services in France. So, I consequently pay my taxes and all fees without question, even as I’m lucky that I do not use most of the services on offer. This does not mean that I don’t see that it is ‘apples and oranges’ to compare France – a noble, socialist state – with USA – a staunchly Capitalist one – and the subsequent services available in each.

However, France, like the rest of the world, is polluted due to fossil fuel consumption, deforestation, consumerism and waste. Where I live, many children have chronic coughs that the doctor’s dismiss with a sad shrug, saying “C’est comme ca…” On higher particle days, the kids aren’t allowed outside to play. Originating from France is the Paris Agreement, a global agreement to collectively reduce carbon emissions. In response to this, Macron’s administration put a nominal tax (literally a few cents) on diesel and petrol in an effort to curb its use. Many in France are very poor, earning an average income as teachers and police officers, of 1200euros per month. In rural areas of France, driving is necessary and these extra pennies mean a lot. However, in France, there is a 10,000-euro rebate when you convert your existing diesel car to an electric or hybrid car. Most don’t know this, and when they do, they argue that the cost of electric and hybrid cars is still too expensive. That’s true when you’re earning 1200 euros a month and have a family, even with CAF and governmental subsidies, but it’s a substantial offer. Arguably, all new technology is the bastion of the middle class and the rich, but as with all new technology, it will become more affordable, and we must begin the process somewhere of conserving our environment and our collective existence. Perhaps Macron’s administration should have begun with taxing the manufactures of the vehicles, yes, but there is an argument that by doing this, these manufacturers would withdraw a lot of manufacturing from France, which would also create a problem with a loss of jobs and income. Perhaps France should have built efficient public transit that uses clean energy that the people could use in order to discourage the use of their cars? But where would the money come from? Perhaps the taxes should have been placed on the fossil fuel companies, and the EU should enforce this collectively?

But I encourage people to ask themselves several questions: Is it not suspicious that many involved in the Yellow Vest movement are from middle class families? Is it not suspicious that at the same time that the Yellow Vest’s are claiming to be for the everyman, they are destroying the property of those working and having businesses? Is it not suspicious that what began as a protest about the increase on the cost of diesel and petrol, is now about wages, taxes, housing, retirement benefits, cost of living, etc.? Is it not suspicious that the average person involved with this movement is calling for the ‘head’ of Macron, a “banker,” rather than also seeing him as the Classicist, a man who spent more time studying the Humanities – literature, history, economics, philosophy? Also, a man they voted for. Is it not suspicious that the Yellow Vests have thus far refused to speak to the prime minister unless the meeting is filmed? Is it not suspicious that by reducing the speed limit on the highways, thereby limiting nasty emissions that prompt climate change, which the government has done, is not adhered to by the people themselves? Isn’t the nasty transport of goods by trucks perpetuated by our ordering goods online in order to avoid paying more for these same products?

I understand that many in France voted for Macron as opposition to the Front National, and that many view him as unforgivably arrogant (an irony, given that the French are stereotyped as arrogant). I also understand that people are frustrated and poor. That there is abhorrent global economic inequality. I agree with the suspicion that corporations and a superrich class of people are dictating global politics and laws, perpetually squeezing public services and the working class for their own increased profits and the perpetuation of their lavish lifestyles. I respect to some extent that my compatriots are noting this and protesting. However, the Yellow Vests are a fragmented and violent movement that is being manipulated into a frenzy by the same powers the participants are protesting. Macron is not the enemy. Nor are foreigners or refugees. Big business and tax evaders are the enemies. Macron is pro European, actively building bridges between member states, which is important because a united Europe is much stronger than a divided one, despite the rhetoric that cynically opposes the union and capitalizes on people’s fears and anger by creating scapegoats. While he may have been a banker briefly, he’s a truly cultured man and that means he understands context and the long game. He’s a man who has benefitted France as its president by increasing the profile of France through his efforts and his charisma, making it once again a power to be reckoned with (which happily coincided with the World Cup 2018 win). He has openly criticized Trump, rising xenophobia, and nationalism disguised as patriotism. He is actively arguing the need for climate action, even as arguably it is not nearly enough. These are great things socially and practically. He has served as the opposition to rising ignorance. His presidency has increased tourism to France and consequently bolstered the economy, and it has brought France back to the forefront of negotiating tables throughout the world. And now he is being undermined in these efforts, which will not benefit France or the European Union collectively. Is it not suspicious that this undermining occurs after the USA has officially dismissed climate change and Brexit has destablized the EU?

Yes, there is much more to be done about economic inequality, strife, and the environment. There is credence to the argument that letting even ‘little things’ go is a ‘slippery slope’ to creating an individualistic, capitalistic society like the USA. Yes, Macron is from the privileged class, and there is rising and unforgiveable economic inequality, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to stop condoning those culprits activities? Focus one’s efforts? Demand that companies such as Amazon and Google, for example, pay their fair share of taxes to operate in Europe. Demand that the taxes on the super rich in France (and the rest of the EU) are enforced. Demand that campaign financing is absolutely transparent so that there is not a conflict of interests. Tax the hell out of fossil fuel companies throughout Europe. Pay your own taxes so that your kids can continue to have benefits when they need them. Stop buying products online and support local businesses rather than these same ‘dark forces.’ Stop buying services or products from international companies that are contributing to economic inequality by creating monopolies and not paying their fair share in the societies they operate in. Stop driving so much. Stop eating so much beef, and buy it locally when you do eat it in order to undermine the big business agriculture has become. Use the subsidies and loans available to convert your homes to clean energy and your cars to clean energy.

I hope that Macron is able to face down the agitation and keep a steady hand on the tiller of the country. We shall see what he says tonight when he makes an address after the fourth weekend of riots in Paris. As it is, the Rassemblement National (Marine Le Pen’s party, the National Rally, as they have rebranded themselves since their defeat to Macron) is on par with Macron’s En Marche to represent France in the European elections in May. May the gods help us all and may reason and concerted effort prevail.

*A Carte Vitale is given to residents who pay their taxes or need special assistance. It is swiped through a machine at a doctor’s office so that reimbursement to the patient is immediate.

+A brown form is a sheet that is dated and signed by the doctor that the patient must fill in with their name and health number, and then send to the state’s Assurance Maladie (Health Insurance) for reimbursement.

**CAF supports childcare on a sliding scale, from 20c an hour up to 4euros an hour for baby and children’s day care and after school support. They also provide subsidies for families to take holidays around France each year. They also enable a mother to take three years off when their child is born, by giving her a monthly allowance. They also give a family a one-time fee upon the birth of a child that ranges in size, to a monthly stipend for each child to a certain age. The assistance the CAF provides is seemingly endless.

++Extracurricular activities in my village include taking the kids regularly to do a week of alpine skiing with instructors, as well as Nordic skiing, swimming lessons, museum visits, all subsidized by the commune.

+++School lunches for the elementary school children are three course events – salad, meal, cheese or desert – that are usually locally sourced and bio. And, thanks to Nicholas Hulot’s response to a petition, they are now serving a vegetarian meal once a week in order to ‘put the subject on the table’ about the correlation between meat eating and climate change.

 

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The Baby Diaries – 11

Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died. Erma Bombeck

071030 DVD SAGES FEMMES.inddThe sage-femmes (mid-wives) at the hospital were great. Through them, I learned to nurse and to bathe my child, as well as to take his temperature. They were also the ones who would come and relieve me, or check on us during the night, making me feel that my baby boy and I were tended to.

But the sage-femme assigned to me by the obstetrician for pre-and-post-birth care was useless. Before my boy was born my husband and I went into her office, and sitting before her little desk, waited for several moments to see what she would do because we had no idea what we were to do. She didn’t say a word. Finally, we asked some tentative questions about the care in the hospital that we should expect, which had already been answered by my good doctor, but we wanted to be polite. She would answer them as an adolescent might, with as few words as possible and giving no opportunity for elaboration. It was a struggle and that 15-minute appointment seemed to last an hour.

Post birth, however, one is meant to go to the sage-femme for ten visits in order to properly recuperate. It’s actually prescribed by the paediatrician at the hospital before you leave, and the l’Assurance Medicale, the health bureau, reimburses you for the visits 100%. This is a very good and holistic approach to the birthing process that I highly commend about the French system in theory, but I’ve gone to this sage femme a few times now, and I still find it useless. On one such visit she put a long towel, sheet type-of-thing around my lower back and near my pelvis, and pulled it tightly around the area. I asked what this was for and she told me it would help ‘reshape’ my womb. On another visit, she pulled out an appliance that looked like a combination between an electric razor and a vibrator and proceeded to put it into my vagina. I asked her what this was for and she told me that it sent out electrical currents that would help ‘reshape’ my vagina and womb. On another visit she had me practice getting down and up off of the floor and doing sit ups. I’d ask her questions that I thought she might know that were relevant to me, such as about the blood blisters on the breasts, and the left breast’s drying up, and the lack of sleep, and doctor’s visits, and she was not able to provide any answers. She doesn’t have children. I could be her mother. Oh! I did find the visit in which she took out the stitches from my caesarean very useful.

Perhaps finding a good sage femme is akin to finding a good psychologist? This is very American of me, the land of people who seek to discuss their problems (and why not? I think the world would be a better place if one could unload all their worries and problems on a person they paid to listen to them and to keep quiet about it all, and who then eliminated the need to unload on your friends and family). Anyway. Perhaps it’s like a psychologist in the sense that if you get a bad one, an incompetent one, then it will turn you off of ever going again to one. I would have stopped going to this sage femme, but at the end of every visit I had with her I felt bullied into making the next appointment, so I would make one in order to get out of the room. After several visits, I decided I didn’t want to go anymore and tried to tell her that it just wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ and it ‘doesn’t seem to be working for me,’ and I don’t want her to ‘waste’ her time on me anymore. She gave me an angry lecture on how irresponsible I am being to my body by giving up the visits before they’re over! I listened to her quietly, and then suggested we call it ten visits, as prescribed, submit it to the relevant authorities for her to be reimbursed, and I’ll give her the co-pay in cash. To her credit, she immediately agreed.

As much as I’ve appreciated other medical care in France, I’ve found my sage femme visits the least helpful. I will presume that she is an anomaly.



The Baby Diaries – 10

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not. Mark Twain

FR pharmacieToday I went to the doctor with my boy for a check-up and we had an interesting conversation. She is a ‘stand-in’ for our regular doctor. Originally from Marseille, she loves the mountains and her husband works for the mountain rescue. Normally, she does research on frostbite for a national study and she’s also six months pregnant (and looks great. Unlike the bulk I was, and remain – I’m still wearing my maternity clothes!).

After she’d checked my boy’s weight, vitals, and head circumference, etc., we got to chatting about life in Southern France (I hold onto the idea that I will live there one day, put perhaps it won’t be until I’m in my 50’s, like Colette). From there, we began talking about the state of French industry. Recently, France has lost two manufacturing company contracts, which were employing/would employ thousands of workers because of inefficiency and the demand for guaranteed lifetime contracts, respectively. After that, we segued into the dire state of the French healthcare system. I’m a great admirer of their system – a winning combination of socialist and capitalist care – and I’ve been the grateful recipient of many medical services in France. Nonetheless, I am aware the system is bankrupt. That it has been so for thirty years. It seems to me that to raise the cost of doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and long term care, SLIGHTLY, would help the system immeasurably. It may even save it. Aren’t the French meant to be collectively oriented? Why isn’t this happening?

What she told me was surprising. Particularly from a French person. She said that the French complain about the 23e or 28e they must pay for each doctor’s visit, which is the amount one pays before being partially reimbursed. In reality, only about 10e per visit goes to the doctor. Unlike their American counterparts, for example, doctors here are not getting rich through their vocation. She told me that when the doctor is unable to process a Carte Vitale (one’s personal health card which is registered with the health authorities, is run through a machine at the chemist, the hospital, by doctors at every visit, and then is automatically reimbursed for a given treatment) and must give them a brown form to fill out and send to the l’Assurance Maladie (health office) for reimbursement, instead, the French patients complain about having to pay for the price of a stamp in sending the form in for reimbursement.

She is very pessimistic that anything will change in France, despite the dire state of affairs within the medical arena and the economic problems for the country as a whole. She believes that in general, the French believe that they are “entitled.” They do not care whence their rebates, subsidies, incentives, reimbursements, and retirement plans come from, only that they receive them and pay as little toward them as is possible. She believes that short of a huge philosophical shift in thinking, which is not likely to happen as the general population in France refuses to accept that there is a problem that requires everyone to adapt, the French medical and economic systems are doomed. I want to believe this is not so.



The Baby Diaries 3

“I learn by going where I have to go.” Theodore Roethke

Plant in the sunshineI ran into a woman at the hospital whom I’d met in a café last summer. It turns out her husband is a friend of my husband’s. She suffered pre-eclampsia with her baby, who is, consequently, down the hall in urgent care. I went to look at her new daughter through the window – she’s tiny, and my new friend says that she’s not been able to hold her yet, as she is so vulnerable and must stay inside the oxygen tent. Apparently, however, the little girl is developing and will eventually be fine. I told her that’s great, as we’ll be able to have play dates with our new babies. Makes me realise that having a little jaundice is not a big problem.

After vacillating the last few days, the doctors told me that we’d be able to go home from the hospital. I actually involuntarily clapped my hands and cried with joy at this news. I am, however, to seat Sebastian naked in the window every day for a ½ hour as you might a plant, and the rest of the jaundice will consequently go away in a few weeks. I packed my bags and nervously my husband and I walked down to the check out area with our new, precious, little cargo. It’s amazing how easy it is to walk out of the hospital with a baby. We literally took the child out of the paediatric ward unchallenged, went down the lift, noticed the check out desk of our own volition, put the wee man on the floor there, got his birth certificate and paid (only 220e for ten days in the hospital, the c section, the paediatric care, the phototherapy, all the sage femmes and nurses…it’s cheaper per night than a hotel in New Delhi) then walked out to the parking lot with no one noticing. Mark and I also feel like frauds because we aren’t quite sure about what to do with the baby once we get home.

We put S in our trusty old VW van, and carefully drove home. Upon our arrival, we put the sleeping tot on the floor for our beloved cat to get used to. He walked around the seat, and then began tentatively sniffing and batting it. It’s a good job my husband had regularly brought things S had worn from the hospital so that the cat could get used to his smell, because Oscar took to him pretty quickly after the first few moments. Breathing deeply of my home, I went upstairs to take a nap in my bed while my husband looked after our new charge. I marvelled at the fact that it felt as though a part of me was physically missing…as if I now have a phantom limb. The distance from our bedroom to the living room is the farthest I’d been from S for nine months. It was anxious, lonely, and poignant. Even so, I fell asleep pretty immediately.

What is anxiety provoking now is that no one at the hospital, or our good doctor, had told us what we do now. I’ve been given ordinances (prescriptions) for several sessions with a sage femme and a physiotherapist, respectively. This is very civilised in terms of postnatal care and adopting alternative therapies into recovery, but I trust conventional medicine. I know the sage femme is the one who will remove my stitches in the days to come, but no one has mentioned what to do for any health issue S may have – even a check-up on the jaundice he’s had to make sure it goes away. Do we go to our regular doctor? Is a different doctor assigned to S by mail or something? Do we go back to the hospital? When are we meant to go for a check up on the wee tot? Maybe the sage femme, or even the physio, will know the answer to these questions…