How Not To Be Organised

It has to be said, the French aren’t very good at organising things. On what am I basing this generalisation? Last week!

Éléa brought us some lovely Bordeaux goodies

Éléa brought us some lovely Bordeaux goodies

We had a stagiaire (work experience student) with us last week. Éléa came up from Bordeaux with her mum to spend five days finding out what it’s like running an élévage de lamas. Éléa, like all pupils in troisième, the last year at college, has to spend a week en stage. And it’s always round about the middle of February. Of all times to have it, this has to be the worst. For one thing, the weather is awful, which makes any outdoor stages miserable. For another, more crucially, many seasonal businesses are still shut – the camp sites, smaller hotels and B&Bs, and fine-weather activities. This means there are fewer places for the deluge of youngsters to find something to do. And that’s not easy. Éléa had contacted animal sanctuaries, a variety of farms and élévages, including thirty llama farms, like ours. Only I and one other farm replied. That had to be soul destroying for poor Éléa. To be honest, I did gently try to dissuade her since this being the quietest and most dismal time of year, there really is very little to do around the farm. And what there is generally isn’t much fun when the north wind is whistling and the rain or snow is falling. But Éléa was clearly very keen so I agreed to host her. Luckily she brought the sunshine with her and it was a fine week, although very cold in the mornings.

This time next year Rors will be looking for something to do for a week. I think we’d better start now in case he gets the kind of response rate Éléa did.

Surely the best time to have the stage would be late September. The stage has to be organised well in advance – all the official forms had to be filled three months before Éléa came – so the kids could sort out their stage at the end of the previous summer term. In September the weather is good so the kids wanting to do outdoors work aren’t frozen or soaked to death while they do it. Elévages have more going on, most likely some young animals still, and generally there’s all the extra starting-to-get-ready for winter jobs.  Tourist attractions will still be open and there’s more choice for the students. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise that, surely? However, it seems that schools have been doing the stage in February for umpty years and it’s just too much to expect a change, even for the most rational of reasons.

The second badly organised event last week was the journée portes ouvertes (open day) at Limoges Uni that Benj went to. He’s back to his studies in September so thought he’d pop down to get reading lists and speak to profs and make sure he’s all prepared. He’d hoped the health insurance bodies would be there with info, but no. He thought Crous, the organisation that deals with grants and accommodation would be open, seeing as it has a permanent office on campus, but no. And surely the admin office would be open to answer any general questions? Nope. He came out rather disillusioned. Caiti was the same after her visit to the jpo at the uni in Paris she was interested in a few years ago. She was anxious to find out about accommodation in the City of Light, but the Crous office there was shut too and we were helpfully told to come back during the week!

Come on, les mecs, put your thinking caps on. It really doesn’t take much thought to realise all these support services should be present and actually open on what are, after all, called ‘open days’! And again, like the stages they’re at the wrong time of year. Kids only have till the end of March to get their applications in for a place at uni, the jpos don’t start till January, so that doesn’t leave much time. The event is always on a Saturday and there are more universities in France than there are Saturdays during the open door season so there are plenty of jpo clashes. Instead of being able to visit all the universities or other educational institutes a youngster is interested in, they have to pick and choose. Plus the bad weather can get in the way. Caiti had wanted to go to Grenoble but we had to cancel our proposed trip since it was around minus 18 Celsius that particular weekend, snowy and frosty, so not the best weather to travelling to the alps in! These events need to be held during October, ideally during the half-term holidays, and into November i.e. pre-winter and before the application procedure opens.

So, two big occasions for youngsters that could be so very much better organised with a tiny bit of effort and sense.

France’s Bestselling Books in 2014

valerie merciHere’s a list of the ten bestselling books in France for 2014.

  1. Merci pour ce moment (Thank You for This Moment) by Valérie Trierweiler. This memoir by Président Holland’s former companion sold 603,300 copies.
  2. Cinquante nuances de Grey (50 Shades of Grey) by E.L. James (575,600 copies sold)
  3. Central Park by Guillaume Musso (556,600 copies sold)
  4. La femme parfaite est une connasse ! (The Ideal Woman is a Bitch) by Anne-Sophie Girard and Marie Aldine
  5. Demain (Tomorrow) by Guillaume Musso
  6. Cinquante nuances plus sombres (50 Shades Darker) by EL James
  7. Nos étoiles contraires (The Fault in our Stars) by John Green
  8. Muchachas 1 by Katherine Pancol
  9. Cinquante nuances plus claires (50 Shades Freed) by EL James
  10. La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert (The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair), paperback version, by Joël Dicker.

I haven’t been able to find out how many copies of numbers 4 to 10 were sold (I’d need to subscribe to Livreshebdo for a year for a hefty sum to do that) but number 12 bestseller of 2014, Le suicide français (French Suicide) by Eric Zemmour sold 338,200 copies. So anything between roughly 340,000 and 550,000 apiece for those ten books.

I can use a couple of these books to illustrate how different covers for French and English editions can be in some cases. Out of our top 10, Green, James, Pancol and Musso have the same cover design, and the Girard/Aldine title hasn’t made it into English yet. But for Trierweiler and Dicker, the covers are quite distinct. The French Trierweiler is above. So here’s the English language edition cover.

valerie thank you

Definitely a lot more interesting-looking.

And here is the French Harry Quebert:

harryq french

Not the worst, but rather a lot of white. And here’s the English:

harryq eng

Heaps more modern. French book covers, at least for adult fiction, do tend to send you to sleep. Time to liven up I think.

Back to our bestsellers. Out of the top 50 bestsellers, 39 were fiction including a good number of ‘livres d’évasion’ (escapist) and even, heavens help us, some humour titles! This apparently corresponds with the modern French desire to ‘se changer les idées’, change their attitudes, according to the list’s compiler GfK. Readers vote for, and I quote, “les feel good books” – some nice franglais for you there!

Total sales of the Top 50 books came to 13.3 million books and 174 million euros (thus giving an average sales price of €13.08), accounting respectively for 4,5 % and 5,2 % of the total book market for the year.

Generally, book sales in France via bookshops (in store and online) in 2014 fell by 1.4% overall from 2013, and by 3.7% for the largest independent bookshops, according to Sebastien Rouault, head of the book department at GfK, a market research firm in Paris. However, a few bookshops saw increased sales, such as Le Comptoir des Mots bookshop in Paris, whose sales were up by 5%. The owner thinks that defectors from Amazon were one reason for the increase.

And to finish on a writerly note, today sees literary magazine, Magazine Littéraire (what else!) take a new more colourful and livelier format. . That sounds rather like what the French book scene is doing.