Monday, January 22, 2007

Opinions

During the election season, as happens in the USA, the French media publish stories, rumors, pictures, and surveys galore. An attentive reading of such sources can demonstrate to the aware American expat in France just how much the French society differs from the one he or she is used to.

One survey caught Amerloque's eye the other day, Wednesday, January 17, 2007. It was published in Le Parisien, a daily newspaper given far more to facts than to opinions. The complete article was titled "Can one engage in politics outside of political parties ?" (Peut-on faire de la politique en dehors des partis ?) and took up fully one page of the 36-page paper that day. Various questions had been asked of the participants and the results tabulated; the survey had been carried out the week previous to publication by a perfectly reputable polling firm.


Among the questions asked was "Do you generally have a good opinion of ... ?" Here are the results:

"Do you generally have a good opinion of ... ?"

(Institution / percentage of "good")

associations / 87%
the Army / 79%
private companies / 77%
public services / 74%
churches / 61%
Parliament (the Senate and National Assembly) / 54%
the justice system / 54%
trade unions / 53%
the media / 48%
the senior civil service / 47%
government / 47%
financial markets / 40%
political parties / 36%

(Amerloque looked in vain for a recent survey which has taken place in the USA and which has included an equivalent question, at least in its general phrasing. The best he was able to find was USA Today effort measuring honesty and ethics among 23 occupations, Each year Gallup measures honesty and ethics for 14 newsworthy occupations, and nurses topped the list the last time around.)

An American – or other expat – who studies the list of French institutions above will probably feel at home overall, while mentally replacing the words "churches" by "organized religion", "Parliament" by "Congress" (or an equivalent), and, perhaps, if one is particularly pessimistic or skeptical, "the senior civil service" by "entrenched career bureaucrats". "Political parties" are to be found at the bottom of the French list, much as they might be in the USA, Amerloque supposes, given recent history. Hence, apparently, the title of the Parisien article.

However, what must one make of the term "associations" ? Whatever are the French going on about ? Just what is an "association" – and why is it at the top of the list ?

A reporter assigned to France, sitting in her or his office, trolling through the local press and the media for ideas, stories, and viewpoints to wow the folks back home with, will undoubtedly underestimate -- or not even be aware of -- the importance of la vie associative in French society at large. So will the usual chirpy and breathless - and somewhat shallow for the moment, at least, in Amerloque's view - expat residing in Paris, in a chic quartier like the Marais or Saint-Germain-des-Près, wandering from flashy Opera production to artsy cocktail party to packed museum exhibition to self-centered windowshopping to fashionable restaurant or bistro, frequenting other American- or English-speaking expats. Some short- or long-term expatriates working in French companies might be unaware of the ramifications of les associations in France, although their "company committee" (comité d'entreprise) which might just have organized a week's skiing sojourn in Megève or a quick three-day air hop to Istanbul for all the firm's employees, probably addressed itself to a legally-constituted association for the best travel deal. Marrying - or living with - a French national, having or adopting children, dealing with "the system" on a daily basis, genuinely participating in French life 24/7/365, can only help along an expat's understanding of French society and reveal the enormous importance the French attach to this "associative life".

On July 1, 1901 there was published in France a decree governing the establishment of associations. In brief, two or more people could come together in a permanent group in order to share their knowledge and abilities – to carry out a wide range of activities, with the notable exception of "sharing profits". It should thus be understood then that when the French say assocation they mean "nonprofit association". The general locution in France is Association 1901 ("association dix-neuf cent un" or "association mille neuf cent un"). Such associations are basically governed by the principles covering general contract law.

Once a nascent association has followed very simple procedures and filed its statutes in the correct form at the local Prefecture, i.e., gone public, the Association 1901 acquires a legal personality, including responsibility before the law – much as any legal company, partnership, or other entity. The "freedom of association" is an accepted legal principle in France, a right which will not be disappearing anytime soon. If one is a member of an association, one acts in the association's name and not in one's own name. Financing is determined by the association's own statutes: membership fees are generally modest and, of course, services outside the Association can be provided to the public free, at cost or on a cost-plus basis; employees can be hired and fired; and real estate can be owned. Subsidies can be accepted, too.

Naturally, as in most human endeavors, no matter what the country, there have been major and minor abuses, and French associations have most certainly had their share: some of them were carrying out genuinely commercial, for-profit activities and competing fiercely with private sector firms – but not paying tax, including value added tax (VAT) and relevant social charges. The government has tightened up its control of Associations 1901 considerably over the past decade or so: associations' most egregious violations have been sanctioned, and the perpetrators punished.

How many associations are there today in France ? Answers vary. Some sources cite as few as 700,000, while others, including government sources, cite over 1,000,000. No one really seems to know precisely. Government sources stated that 70,000 new associations see the light of day every year – in Amerloque's experience this certainly reflects the reality of French life around him. One encounters associations almost every day in France.


"Just what kind of associations are there ?" the reader may ask. Certainly "Doctors without Borders" (Médecins Sans Frontières) is the most famous throughout the world, having been awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. Other well-known associations currently active in France are Les Restaurants du Coeur (aka les Restos du Cœur, dedicated to providing meals to the needy) and SOS Racisme (an organization "fighting racism"). These three associations, as well as the latest one to make the front pages here, Les Enfants de Don Quichotte (planting tents for the homeless in the middle of French cities), might also be called NGOs, in Anglo-Saxon parlance, but not necessarily.

The word associations in French covers far more than NGOs or Quangos.

Living in France and want to start up a local soccer or rugby team ? An association is the answer. Need a parents' organization to influence local schools, a French version of the PTA ? An association is the way to go, in parallel with the official representative bodies already in place. Unhappy with a new zoning ordinance, or local trash collection, or a proposed traffic circle, or the mayor's tree cutting policy, or the lack of safe bike paths, or the reliance on imported fur from China within the fashion industry ? Found an association and make one's protests known, as loudly and as often as one desires, while working toward a stated, achievable goal. Want to collect money for general charitable causes - or for sheltering the homeless, or for feeding the indigent, or for helping fellow citizens struck by misfortune, or for providing assistance to destitute African farmers, or for bringing a child with a congenital malformation to France to be operated on ? An association is just the ticket. Worried about where abandoned animals end up, or what happens to retired racehorses ? Une association est tout indiquée.

Thinking about erecting a stone or metal monument linked to a specific historical event, or putting on an art exhibit, or publishing a book, or running sightseeing tours of one's neighborhood, or promoting, say, Amerindian cultures or billiards or diamond mining along the Skeleton Coast or Jain cooking ? As long as an association's activity does not compete unfairly with the for-profit sector, and as long as the association pays the relevant levies and taxes (this is absolutely crucial), an association might fit the bill. Literacy training, minority rights, education in specific occupations or hobbies such as music, assistance to the aged and infirm, help and support for battered spouses, putting on an annual summertime retrospective of old cars open to the public -- all of these activities have associations working on a day-to-day basis, for the betterment of their members and of the society around them. The law on associations was promulgated over a century ago; they are part and parcel of France today.

The French government states that:

-- 10 to 12 million French work "without pay" within associations (NB: the French population totals approximately 62 million people);

-- 20 million individuals over the age of 14 are members of an association;

and, last but not least,

-- 1.6 million salaried workers are employed by initiations, with the social sector employment amounting to the equivalent of 380,000 full-time jobs and the education sector representing 167,000.

Amerloque belongs to many Associations 1901 and has participated in the foundation of quite a number of them during his decades in France. As a founder, or as a member of the Board of Directors, Amerloque has found that la vie associative is an inimitable way of learning about France and the French people. It is also a way to pay back France in some small measure for what it has offered him, of modestly contributing to what he feels is a wonderful place to live.

The number of French people having a good opinion of associations is more than twice as high as the number who feel the same about political parties, and Amerloque is not particularly surprised at all. The French are not passively "waiting for the government to do something", as is so often portrayed in ill-intentioned or misinformed media both in France and abroad. In their millions, they participate in Associations 1901.

Through their associations, the French people are able to influence events around them, and work for liberté, égalité et fraternité, every day.



L'Amerloque



Text © Copyright 2007 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

12 Comments:

Blogger blueVicar said...

Hmmm...this gets me to thinkin'...(can you tell I'm currently back in my hometown in Virginia??)...

I knew about Associations but not in such detail. I must learn more. Thanks for the information, Amerloque!

Meilleurs voeux!!

3:32 AM  
Blogger EYGH said...

It's the first time I post a comment here but I'm a regular reader. I really enjoy reading your take on french life, culture and people.

I don't know if you realise that you are very informative even for native french peolple.

It never really occured to me that associations were so important in our lives in France.

Eventhough I belong to and am active in several of them as most other members of my family (my parents and parents in law have started several associations and are still actively involved in associations despite their advanced age) the associations in France are so much part of the "paysage" like monuments or every day life that I never gave them a thought.

Thank you for that insightful post.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Amerloque!

Great post, as usual. I wondered a bit before about the differences between an American "nonprofit" and an "association." But so many American clubs, civic groups, etc., don't ever bother incorporating as a nonprofit, it is all much more casual here, it seems.

Best regards,

Cellequilit

PS. I read your response to Anonymous over at Rue Rude (Hi, Sedulia!). I just wanted to say that I enjoy the third person. I always thought you adopted it (a la Miss Manners) to disguise your style and therefore your identity.

But over time it occurred to me that it allows people to avoid choosing between tu and vous when addressing you directly in French, as long as they are willing to participate in the third person thing...For some of us Anglophones, this happy freedom makes our forays into French much less fraught...

Over time, reading some comments by French persons, I have become aware that it may not sound so amusing in French as it does in English (Shades of Hilaire Belloc and, as I said above, Miss Manners!!!---some of my favorite writers) It seems that the fun, self-mocking nature of the third-person in English may be absent in French??? Do French readers not get the mock-seriousness aspect of this??? Any thoughts?

1:50 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello bluevicar !

Thanks for stopping in !

Yes, associatoins can be useful, especially in artistic endeavors !

Travel safely !

Best,
L'Amerloque

12:15 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello EYGH !

/*/It's the first time I post a comment here but I'm a regular reader. I really enjoy reading your take on french life, culture and people./*/

Amerloque extends his thanks for de-lurking. (grin) It's sometimes quite difficult for Amerloque to know how many internauts are reading, if any ...

/*/I don't know if you realise that you are very informative even for native french peolple./*/

Amerloque simply tries to be informative, to write posts he himself would like to read. (smile)

/*/... the associations in France are so much part of the "paysage" like monuments or every day life that I never gave them a thought. /*/

That's the main reason that Amerloque chose to talk about them. They most certainly pass under foreign reporters' radar ! (smile)

/*/Thank you for that insightful post./*/

Amerloque is pleased indeed that EYGH found it so ! Many thanks ! (and do feel free to participate here ! ) (grin)

Best,
L'Amerloque

1:01 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Cellequilit !

/*/ .../... But so many American clubs, civic groups, etc., don't ever bother incorporating as a nonprofit, it is all much more casual here, it seems. .../... /*/

French society is far, far more formal (yes, all of us know this, Amerloque is preaching to the choir: sorry, it's still a bit early in the day as Amerlqoue dictates this - grin-), so it's not really a surprise that "non-profit associations" are more formalized than in the USA. There is also the very big question of legal liability. If one is militating for an unpopular cause, one should be very careful indeed.

An association acts as a sort of umbrella, too. Also, when going to court to stop a construction project, for example, an association suing its own name is demonstrating that it is not necessarily interested in money: such an association usually requests one euro in damages, thus making its position quite clear to all and sundry.

Several hours after Amerloque's post on associations came out, he learned that "Abbé Pierre", one of the most respected people in France, had died at the age of 94.

Abbé Pierre was the founder just after World War II of the "Association Emmaus", dedicated to assisting the indigent, most especially those needing accommodations. In 1954 his he made a famous national call for help: the winter that year was particularly brutal and people without lodgings were, literally, dying in the streets. The French responded magnificently: apparently even oh-so-bourgeois matrons sent in their jewels to be sold to raise money. What was thought at the time to be simply a temporary effort to deal with the severe postwar housing shortage turned into a long-term militant activity; and les Emmaus are alive and well today. They run quite a few training programs for manual work, too, attempting to help recovering substance abusers and unemployed individuals, for example. The association has even gone international ... http://tinyurl.com/dt76z

Most, if not all, of the Emmaus financing, at least here in France, comes from récuperation, that is, "salvage": donations of furniture and unwanted objects which the members of the association clean up and/or revamp and subsequently sell to the public at unbeatably low prices. Amerloque remembers going over to one of the Emmaus venues to purchase used furnishings for his very first Paris apartment, in 1970. Perhaps Amerloque will write a post about les Emmaus, some day ...

Year after year Abbé Pierre was among the top one or two "most respected individuals in France", in poll after poll, survey after survey. It looks like there's going to be a national funeral at the end of this week.

/*/PS. I read your response to Anonymous over at Rue Rude (Hi, Sedulia!). I just wanted to say that I enjoy the third person. I always thought you adopted it (a la Miss Manners) to disguise your style and therefore your identity./*/

There were other, more literary reasons for Amerloque's adopting the third person. (smile)

Too, he became fed up with reading "I" and "me" numerous times in the same post, especially on some of the blogs about Paris: the gushing "I did this yesterday and it was just so much fun – here's the address !". "I don't like this !" "I don't like that !" It all became wearing after awhile, at least to Amerloque's eyes.


In any event, Amerloque does certainly not want to begin some kind of huge discussion about his use of the third person over there on Sedulia's blog (a discussion here on his own is fine, of course -grin-), and so he will simply leave a short answer to the latest post chez Sedulia. Hopefully things can move on from there. (Hi Sedulia !)

/*/ .../... But over time it occurred to me that it allows people to avoid choosing between tu and vous when addressing you directly in French, as long as they are willing to participate in the third person thing...For some of us Anglophones, this happy freedom makes our forays into French much less fraught... .../...

(wide grin)

/*/Over time, reading some comments by French persons, I have become aware that it may not sound so amusing in French as it does in English (Shades of Hilaire Belloc and, as I said above, Miss Manners!!!---some of my favorite writers) It seems that the fun, self-mocking nature of the third-person in English may be absent in French??? Do French readers not get the mock-seriousness aspect of this??? Any thoughts? /*/

Yes, non-native speakers of English do seem to miss the mock-serious / humorous aspects. (smile). Perhaps Amerloque isn't being mocking or humorous enough ! He had better work on that ! (re-smile)

Perhaps their only encounter with this type of style was in Agatha Christie's writings: the Hercule Poirot series comes immediately to Amerloque's mind; perhaps they were forced to read a "Poirot" or two in one or more of their English classes ! Writers using locations such as "This reporter ..." or "The observer ..." are probably not read by non-native speakers. Certainly Mrs A, for example, focused more on the choice of the specific word "Amerloque" rather than on the choice of writing time after time in the third person.

Anyway, Amerloque will continue using the third person. It's nice to know that some people do appreciate Amerloque's effort at style !

Amerloque extends his thanks for participating. Hope all is well chez vous !

Best,
L'Amerloque

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

/*/...an association suing its own name.../*/

Typo?: Think you may have left out an "under" here... ?

/*/It's nice to know that some people do appreciate Amerloque's effort at style !/*/

Oh, Amerloque! You silly rabbit! (grin)

Stop fishing for compliments...you know I only visit to see and hear you turn your pretty phrases.

Seriously, the post on the walk through Paris and the souvenir ticket was one of the most arresting things I have read in a long time. I always enjoy visiting; you make it well worth your readers' time.

Thank you for your hard work (so invisible, so payant).

Yours for style and substance,

Cellequilit

12:52 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Salut Cellequilit !

/*/...an association suing its own name.../*/

Typo?: Think you may have left out an "under" here... ?


Most certainly ! (grin) Rereading after the dictation software, one has a tendency to skim rather than detail, alas ... (grin)

/*/It's nice to know that some people do appreciate Amerloque's effort at style !/*/

Oh, Amerloque! You silly rabbit! (grin)

Stop fishing for compliments...you know I only visit to see and hear you turn your pretty phrases.


Seriously, Amerloque has no idea how many people read his blog. There's no counter - perhaps Amerloque should think about putting one in ... (grin)

Thank you for your hard work (so invisible, so payant).

(blush) De rien, Chère Cellequilit ! C'est un plaisir !

Best,
L'Amerloque

2:25 AM  
Anonymous Jo Ann said...

Hi Amerloque!

I read your blog but as I don't have the kind of knowledge that you do about French life, there isn't a whole lot I can usually add other than "good post" or "interesting" and other such banalities. ;)

It's interesting (I told you! lol) to me how much these associations are a part of life in France. I can't fully grasp the idea. They seem to be a sort of non-profit + club type of thing. I guess we have these in the U.S., but not as prevalent and not so much a part of life as it is in France.

8:43 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Jo Ann !

/*/It's interesting (I told you! lol) to me how much these associations are a part of life in France. I can't fully grasp the idea. They seem to be a sort of non-profit + club type of thing. I guess we have these in the U.S., but not as prevalent and not so much a part of life as it is in France./*/

At the beginning of his sojurn here, Amerloque didn't see the ramifications of associations at all. It took some years to see just how ingrained they are in French society ...

Last time Amerloque was in the USA, he was upset about something and said to himself "Ah, il faut une association ..." before remembering where he was ! (grin)

Glad you stopped by ! Jo Ann is welcome anytime !

Best,
L'Amerloque

3:14 AM  
Blogger Betty C. said...

Great research piece. Do you do this full-time?

I really became aware of the role of associations in French life when I finally settled down in one area. One day, a French colleague, exhausted after getting to sleep in the wee hours after one of his club meetings, said to me La vie associative, c'est bien, mais qu'est-ce que ça prend du temps!

I decided not to live la vie associative but did get involved in a few nonetheless. I was always the only one getting annoyed when meetings that were supposed to start at 8:30pm got going at 9:00pm and then dragged on past 11:00pm with nobody acting like anything was wrong...

8:41 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Betty C.

/*/Great research piece. Do you do this full-time?/*/

God forbid. (smile) Thanks for stopping in and reading !

/*/II was always the only one getting annoyed when meetings that were supposed to start at 8:30pm got going at 9:00pm and then dragged on past 11:00pm with nobody acting like anything was wrong.../*/

Yes, Amerloque used to become annoyed, too ... then realized, as undoubtedly Betty has (grin), that the French don't see "time" the same way as Americans do ...

It seems like almost 100% of the meetings Amerloque has attended have droned on, too. (sigh)

C'est un truc à apprendre, as the French say. (grin)

Best,
L'Amerloque

3:56 AM  

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