And the Winner Is…

May 8, 2012
The final round of voting in the May 6th French presidential election inspired a number of humorous ads around the city, including this clever little “jeu de mots” from Gleeden, “The #1 site for extra-marital affairs, thought up by women”. The ad says “Because it’s important not to make a mistake on May 6th, our website will be shut down temporarily”. However, the ad plays on the similarity between the verb “se tromper”, which means “to make a mistake”, and “tromper”, which means “to cheat on”.  In French, adding the word “se” in front of a verb can also mean that the action is “reflexive”, or being done to “each other”, so read differently, the message can also mean: “Because it’s important not to cheat on each other on May 6th, our site will be closed temporarily.” (It’s a lot funnier if it doesn’t require an explanation first!)

The French adore their jeux de mots and they figure quite frequently in ad campaigns, much to the delight of someone like me, who loves with the art of manipulating words and playing with language.

jeu de mots – play on words
ça y est ! – that’s it !
guignols – shenanigans
Liberté, égalité, fraternité – Liberty, equality, fraternity (or brotherhood)
avoir honte – to be ashamed
J’ai honte – I’m ashamed
Bisounours – Care Bears
Il vit au monde des Bisounours – Literally, “He lives in the land of Care Bears”, an expression that is used surprisingly often in France to indicate that somebody lives in an idealistic fantasyland
voter blanc – to indicate on your ballot that you don’t support any of the proposed candidates


Well, ça y est !  For better or for worse, France’s fate for the next five years has officially been decided. In case you haven’t been following along, last Sunday marked the second and final round of voting in the 2012 French presidential election, a bitter showdown between right-wing incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, and left-wing socialist contender François Hollande. It was a nail-biter down to the finish, despite various polls that declared Hollande the favourite to win, because nobody really knew how the extreme right was going to vote, or if Sarkozy’s unpopular policies would be enough to spur otherwise right-voting citizens to choose Hollande. Not one of my friends (who were almost equally divided between the two candidates) felt confident enough to make a call on who would take home the title of president. For a while there, it felt like it was anybody’s game.

It was really interesting for me to follow all the election goings-on as an impartial observer, watching the news, the debates, the guignols, and quizzing my friends on their thoughts regarding the different candidates and their respective platforms. On one side, I had friends who were die-hard socialists, convinced that Hollande was France’s only hope for a brighter future, and that the country desperately needed a candidate who would put an end to the transparent pandering of Sarkozy’s right to the rich and the richer, restoring France’s original values of liberté, egalité and fraternité, and bringing back a fair quality of life for all French citizens. On the other side, I had friends who argued just as passionately that Hollande was a gormless fool who lived in the monde des Bisounours, and that while his socialist policies might sound all well and good in a perfect world, they were financially unfeasible and were going to bankrupt the country at a time when France simply couldn’t afford to be altruistic. I had one friend who was so torn that she voted blanc because, although she didn’t support Hollande’s policies, she couldn’t get herself to vote for Sarkozy either.

And so, at 7:55 p.m. on Sunday May 6th, in barricaded streets set up with giant projection screens, in tiny Paris apartments, and in brasseries and bars around the city, there we all were, riveted to the television, holding our breath and watching the running clock count down to 8:00 p.m., when the media would be legally allowed to announce the winner. It was all very dramatic (and also, what with the running countdown, bizarrely reminiscent of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve). And in the end, well…

Despite how I hear the media is reporting the victory overseas, it wasn’t exactly a clean sweep. The final tally came to 48% Sarkozy, 52% Hollande (with 6% of voters deliberately voting blanc or spoiling their ballots to show they weren’t in favour of either candidate). In short, the country is split almost right down the middle – a somewhat worrying portent for its future. Frankly, right or left, I’m impressed by the sheer voter turnout here compared to North America– 81.03% of registered French voters made it out to cast their ballots, compared to a paltry 61.1% in the last Canadian federal election and 57.37% in the last U.S. presidential election. J’ai honte.

 alt=Celebrating Hollande’s win at Place de la Bastille. Photo courtesy Raphaël Lamillon.

France hasn’t seen a socialist president in power since François Mitterand in 1995 and the city’s leftists weren’t about to let something as minor as a small margin of victory take away from their long-awaited triumph. After Hollande’s win was announced, thousands of jubilant supporters flooded into Place de la Bastille to celebrate and hear their new president speak. From my window of my little apartment on Ile Saint-Louis over ten blocks away, I could hear the exultant cheering of the crowd until the wee hours of the morning.

 alt=When news of François Hollande’s victory was announced, my friend Raphaël joined the thousands of revelers flooding into Place de la Bastille, climbing up a towering monument in the centre of the square to snap this photo of the crowd on his phone. Photo courtesy Raphaël Lambillon.

It would have been hard not to get caught up in all the excitement – walking through the streets on my way home that night, I passed various scattered pockets of socialist supporters chanting or calling out to each other in a show of camaraderie, and there was an atmosphere of hope and change in the air that was almost palpable.

It was a truly amazing time to be in the city, witnessing history in the making first hand.

2 Responses to “And the Winner Is…”

  1. Edna Says:

    “He lives in the land of Care Bears” — LOVE that. I’m going to start using that, haha.


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