Some original French institutions
 
Institutions and organizations everybody knows in France    
  • Les Compagnons d'Emmaüs is a charitable organization created in 1954 by a priest, Abbé Pierre, who has been for decades the most popular Frenchman.

    Emmaus is a non religious organization, with more than 300 local communities (175 in France). It's aim is to fight poverty and help people with the principle "I'll help you by making you help other people, poorer than you". The 5,000 compagnons are paid a salary to collect various donated objects (furniture, clothes, books, electronic devices), fix them and sell them to finance in addition to the salary of the
    Abbé Pierre (a few years before his death in 2007)
    compagnons and a large set of charitable activities for them and others : public housing (HLM), international help, zero-interest rate loans to over-indebted families, etc. Emmaüs is a great organization if you need a charity to get rid of your stuff of if youy want to visit a thrift shop.
  • A Minister of Culture in the Government. Few countries have a minister of Culture and none of them with such a high ranking in the Cabinet (André Malraux was #2 after the Prime Minister in de Gaulle’s governments). This member of the cabinet has an important staff of more than 30,000 (in State museums, castles, etc…), a significant budget (between 0.8 and 1.2% of the total budget), and important duties. He oversees State subsidies to maintain architectural heritage (for the 300,000 listed monuments), to encourage artistic creation (particularly for cinema) and many others. Among its most surprising activities (for Americans), the ministry of Culture owns and operate a theater (the Comédie Française), protects the French language (Académie Française), creates events (Fête de la Musique), distributes a highly appreciated medal (Médaille des Arts et Lettres), etc…. When a new cabinet is formed, the press comments the nomination of the Minister of Culture at least as much as the nomination of more important ministers (Finances, Foreign Affairs, etc…). Does that mean that French culture is alive and well ? Not sure (read more) but it means that it is considered important. Read about the "exception culturelle".

 
  • Ma tante : The Crédit Municipal or "Mont de Piété" (literaly : Mount of Faith) is a six-century old institution of the City of Paris (and some other big cities) where you can get a loan up to a few thousand Euros secured by an asset you deposit at the counter and which is appraised on the spot by an expert. Your deposit can be a jewel, a painting or an antique, a home appliance, a fur coat, a car, anything… If you do not pay back your loan, the object is sold. In Paris, hundreds of people use it every week. Its nickname is "ma tante" (my aunt) because, in the 1840s, someone asked a young aristocrat where his watch was, and he answered "I left it at my aunt's" when in fact he had used it to borrow money. More about the French and money

  • The "Comédie Française" is a very specifically French organization and, like many French things, it should not work (by American standards) and, in fact, it does work ! The actors are among the best, the staging is often creattive, etc... It is a State theater, beautifully located near the Palais Royal (and a couple of other locations), founded in 1680, which has been codified by Napoleon. Its role is to maintain and give access to the best of the French theater and as of today its repertory includes more than 3,000 plays which are regularly re-created with a troop of actors, recruited among the best graduated students from theater schools (they are called "pensionaries"), some of them becoming permanent members ("sociétaires"). The "sociétaires" elect a "doyen" and behave a little bit like a group of civil servants (they have a lifetime job if they wish) and a soviet (they share the income of the theater). They can perform outside the "Comédie Française" (in other theaters and in movies) but under strict limitations.

  • This page is under construction

See related pages : French specificities, American specificities, French attitudes, intercultural differences, French society, French taboos, etc.

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
  • "French Toast - Heureuse comme une Américaine en France", Ramsay, Paris 2005

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