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A French Perspective or Une Perspective Francaise

By       Message Patrick Mattimore     Permalink
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    I became an expat when I moved to France from San Francisco last December. I had lived in the Bay Area since 1980 and now maintain ties to California through e-mail exchanges with friends and by reading U.S. newspapers online.

    Lately, I’ve noticed three big issues back home, other than the election- the economy, obviously, increasing gas prices and the California Supreme Court’s decision to permit same-sex marriages. I’ll skip the economy but here’s a French perspective on the other issues.

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           Gas in France costs about $10 a gallon. Do we complain about the price of gas? Not much. Here stations charge in Euros (worth about $1.60) and sell by the liter (about a quarter of a gallon) so it seems like you get a lot for a little. Plus, most of the cars are so small that they have motorcycle gas tanks.

    For those of us lucky enough to live near the Swiss border, we can buy our gas in that country at the bargain price of about $8.00 a gallon.

    Dental floss is a much bigger problem than gas. I  paid $8.68 a week ago for a small pack of floss. (Unlike with the Euro/dollar, liter/gallon thing, the fact that it was 50 meters instead of 50 yards didn’t convince me I was getting a real break on that extra couple of feet).
    
    As to marriages, France allows civil unions though not same-sex marriages. The country does, however, have a marriage tradition that may be uniquely French. You can marry a dead guy (or lass). No kidding. Around twenty people per year take advantage of a law dating from the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, which allows these ghost marriages.

    After a flood in southern France killed her fiance, Irene Jodard pleaded with de Gaulle to allow her marriage to proceed. Shortly thereafter, the Parliament drafted a law to permit Jodard to wed the deceased and since that time thousands have applied for post-mortem matrimony licenses.  

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    But then, what would you expect from a country in which the current President managed to get divorced and remarried in about twenty minutes?
    
    Posthumous weddings do have certain protocols. The betrothed may not inherit from the deceased, though if the person still breathing was impregnated by the ghost groom, the subsequent children are heirs.

    According to a 2004 New York Times story about the solo nuptials, the authorities vigilantly prevent the law’s exploitation. In one case, a woman who impregnated herself with her late boyfriend’s sperm was unable to show that he had intended to marry her and subsequently had her request for marriage denied. No word as to whether an appeals court allowed testimony by mediums in that instance.

    The term nuptials itself is apparently derived from the Old French term nuptialis, part of a centuries-old French musical composition, Nuptialis hodie, which appropriately celebrates the Virgin Mary’s wedding day. So, even back in the Middle Ages, France recognized that sex and marriage went together, as USA Today’s Craig Wilson wrote several years ago, like a hearse and carriage.

    There are a few challenges of course. When it comes time for the “I do” part of the vows the presiding official fills in the blank with “I did.” The survivor generally doesn’t bother slipping a ring upon the corpse. And the service does not include the term “until death do us part” .

      Dispensing with those tricky matters such as present consent has all sorts of practical advantages though. There’s no chance to discover all those real-life peccadilloes about your spouse that annoy the rest of us. You never have to see your alter-ego getting fat and wrinkled. And you can be sure the judge will sign off on your no-fault divorce petition.

    So, while the French may not have the answers to the financial crisis, gas crunch or gay marriages, you can rest in peace knowing that here at least you can find a soul mate with only soul.
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Freelance journalist; fellow, Institute for Analytic Journalism.

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