Written by Hilary Barnes
L'art de vivre is a French cultural construction of which they are inordinately proud. A superb cuisine is one of the most important ingredients, and what is all the wonderful food worth unless accompanied by a good wine, carefully chosen to match each dish. And woe betide any host who serves a red wine with the fish!
France's socialist government, however, has put forward a plan which manages to insult all France's wine lovers, and that is a very large proportion of the population. According to the wine industry, the plan, an inter-ministerial text which in translation is called "Against Drugs and Addictive Conduct", includes five points, each one of which raises objections from the industry.
- All mention of wine on the Internet to be prohibited
- All positive mention of wine in the media to be prohibited
- Additional taxes on wine in the interests of good health
- A radicalisation of the health issue
- Every bottle of wine to be labelled, like tobacco products, with a text such as "this product is a danger to your health"
However, no sooner had the wine industry's Internet protest site (http://www.cequivavraimentsaoulerlesfrancais.fr/) got into its swing -than Item 1 disappeared from the government plan, without any further explanation.
But the prohibition of any positive mention of wine by the media remains a threat, and the wine industry worries that, ultimately, it could mean that writing about wine for publication, and there is a lot of it, is an endangered pass-time, unless the text of legislation now going through the parliamentary process is clarified.
In fact, the courts, applying existing law, already impose severe restrictions on what a newspaper can say about wine. Paris Match, the news magazine, was fined for an article expressing enthusiasm for a particular brand of champagne on the grounds that it constituted publicity (as in advertising), although the firm concerned was exonerated from having any part in the article's appearance.
Le Parisien, a Paris-based national newspaper, was fined for an article about France's champagne exports for using the headline "Champagne Triumphs".
The wine industry employs about half a million people in France and wine is a major French export product, which makes for a bizarre situation if a newspaper cannot celebrate these facts.
It seems to be implicit in the government's plan that the French people should learn to hang their heads in shame at any mention of its famous wine industry.
France is already inclined to cultivate a feeling of national melancholia, arguing that they are much unhappier than any of their European peers, although this is not supported by the various happiness indexes. These show the French to be, in terms of happiness, in line with France and Germany, and these do not find the situation particularly depressing.
Perhaps France should start welcoming tourists with graffiti declaring:
"No joie de vivre here, please! We're French."