Last night I went to our local town hall to attend "Les Voeux du Maire". The latter is a phrase that's hard to translate easily into English. The few sources I found styled it as "The traditional New Years ceremony of the the mayor's office", which is accurate, but not very elegant.
The direct translation is "The mayor's wishes"...and after an hour or so of listening to his wishes, I had a few wishes of my own- the main one being to get the hell out of there (and possibly move to Switzerland).
I don't want to be mean. I KNOW it's a thankless job to be the mayor of a tiny* village in rural France. The tax base is sadly minuscule and each inhabitant seems to have their own very personal complaints and issues that they want solved hier, bébé**.
That said, being mean and snarky is SO much more entertaining that being nice. Don't you agree?
So, there I was, sitting on a vaguely beige and definitely grimy plastic chair, in the company of about 150 other unfortunate souls. The invitation had promised a glass of wine along with the speech, and I think that was a key factor in the turnout. Without the lure of free booze, that mayor would have been looking out at an audience comprised of only the assistant mayor, a few town council members and the school cafeteria lady (who also serves as the bus driver and janitor).
While the idea of serving wine was good, looking back, I see clearly that a tactical error was made with regards to the timing. The whole thing would have gone off much better if the alcohol had been served before and during the speech, rather than after it .
And I think the mayor could have benefitted from a few pre-show shots, as well. As it was, we all had to sit there, stone cold sober in our sticky chairs*** and take in the mayor's one hour long attempt at pubic speaking.
The man has been mayor in St.André forever****. But apparently, making a speech every year since forever doesn't make you any better at it. Funny.
And even more amazingly, the whole hour-long discourse was contained on a single bright green post-it, which he looked at every 15 seconds.
The contents of this marvel of de-motivational speaking? I won't bore you with the specific details...they mainly involve central heating, insulation and sewer systems. The real problem was in his approach to presenting his not-yet-drunk constituents with the various bitter pills needing to be swallowed.
It's hard to explain it in abstract...let me give you some examples. Below is an exerpt from his speech*****, translated into English for your reading pleasure.
"About 750,000 euros will be needed for the renovations. And that means there won't be any money for other things. Some people will be happy. Others won't be happy. But that's what was decided,. So, we're doing it that way. Maybe it's completely arbitrary. I don't know...but there you go, then. Whatever."
After one hour of this, your brain begins to melt, madness descends...and the carafes of wine that get passed around are very welcome indeed. It didn't hurt that there was also sausage, cheese and little puff-pastries filled with pear compote.
As we munched on the above mentioned snacks, the man himself came by. JP remarked that the mayor had a small Legion d'honneur****** symbol emboidered on his tie.
I replied "Oh. He got it for incompetant pubic speaking? They give awards for that now?"
The good news is that if you, dear reader, have a secret desire to become mayor of a small village in the French Alps, I could probably persuade most of the population to vote for you....
*587 people, at last count. Now that's tiny!
**French for "yesterday, baby"
*** It's actually completely unfair of me to harp on the less-than-pristine state of the chairs, as that was at least partially my fault. For New Years Eve, I rented the town's party hall with a few friends and had a bit of a soirée. There were sixty of us and I suspect that a bit of wine/champagne/disgusting tequila-flavored beer might have ended on to a few of the chairs. Maybe.
****Since 1993, anyway.
*****OK- I made it up based on my rather inaccurate memory of what was actually said. But the spirit is there. This was really what the guy sounded like. For reals!
******Some kind of award invented by Napoleon in 1802. They have big medals and fancy sashes, FTW!