French word of the week: Surmulot (13/07/2022)

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So I will say, the French word of the week was dictionary-worthy for me as well, and indeed for many local Parisians. Trending all over French twitter this week is the head-scratching hashtag #surmulot. A quick search in google to find out that it is apparently “a species of brown rat”.

It all started a few days ago, at the Conseil de Paris where the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo and other local elected officials, were discussing the state of the city.

Now, I should mention that all is not well in Paris, depending on who you speak to. This would be the same mayor who recently got a mere 2% of the vote in her recent presidential run.

If you have been to Paris before, you will notice that there have been perhaps a few changes since your last visit. On the positive side, a lot of the streets have been closed for car traffic, and new bike lanes introduced. The gas-guzzling SUVs are encouraged to stay out of Paris.

On the other hand, a lot of trees have been chopped down by Mayor Anne Hidalgo (an ecologist) on the principle that they are ill, and must be replanted (elsewhere). A month ago, she also tried to order the chopping down of dozens of 100-year-old trees that are around the Eiffel Tower in order to build a new tourist centre, but fortunately had to back down when the outcry got too loud.

In addition, a lot of old art-deco benches have also been replaced, with new rather modern ones, to keep the homeless from lounging on them:

All of which has led to some locals cheering, and other locals rather cranky. The hashtag #saccageParis, meaning “destruction Paris” has been trending on Twitter for over a year now.

Regardless of hashtags, what statistics show is that families are leaving Paris in droves. The city with a population of 2 million has lost about 5% of its school children over the past couple of years, a trend that has long predated the pandemic. The burgeoning burb’s around Paris on the other hand, have a population of 10 million and counting.

If you have ever tried to push a double stroller on a narrow pavement in Paris, or attempted to take the metro with a couple of kids under 3, you will know what I mean.

But the latest passe d’armes (area of conflict) involves rats:

The city has a big rat problem. There’s a reason Disney made a film about a rat in Paris called “Ratatouille”. (The French word for “rat” is “rat“, with the “t” silent.)

Whether this rat problem is worse than in prior years is anybody’s guess. INSEE, the official French statistics agency, counts people not rats. And I could include many more rat videos in this newsletter, but I won’t.

For the Mayor’s ecologist allies however, we should not speak of “rats” but rather more politely refer to the “surmulots.” And look for “non-lethal methods” to get rid of them.

You can imagine the new French memes that this has triggered.

So, if you are renting a flat or hotel in Paris, should you stay on the ground floor? Probably not. Should you practise how to say sur-mu-lo-ta-touyy, along with 2 million other local Parisians? Bah oui.

In other news:

  • The state of Tennessee has chosen a French company, Puy de Fou, to put on a show about the American l’histoire du peuple Cherokee, meaning “history of the Cherokee people”. What could possibly go wrong?
  • This week is 14 Juillet Bastille day in France, so get ready for another 4-day weekend pont. The guests of honor at the annual parade on the Champs Elysées this year are the Eastern Europe countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

And new in the blog:


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13 French breakfast meals and ideas

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