I may be in the minority on this one, but I'd like to stick my neck out and say that I think the most significant change in France this year will be Obama's inauguration later this month. Before you rise up in indignation, think about it: whatever Sarko and Ol' Cheekbones get up to, the bottom line is that it will pale into insignificance beside Obo's first year in power. Even if he fails to live up to expectations and how can he do otherwise - the Great Black Hope's every move will be hailed as Modern History In the Making. How can anyone compete with that? Heads of State worldwide (including Sarko) will be queuing up to become Obo's New Best Mate. After all, think of the photo ops, the champagne dinners, the Michelle-Ogling... and what about the chance to pick the brains of arguably one of the smartest geezers on the planet? But apart from Obo-watching, 2009 is set to bring various changes to France and to Brit expats in particular. First up, gone is that advantageous exchange rate. Worse, I think we all know that before long even sterling/euro parity will seem like a luscious dream from a halcyon past. Those living on vanishing pensions from the UK and finding their rations too meagre to live on, should investigate the "allocation de solidarite aux personnes agees" - details on www.saspa.fr. The "Aide à l'Acquisition d'une Complémentaire Santé" is also worth checking out on www.ameli.fr. (UK pensioners falling below the poverty line due to the free-falling pound are eligible to benefit from both of these.) Another change, already noticeable on the box, is the progressive disappearance of advertising on France 2 and France 3. Sarko says this will push the standards of French publicly-funded television up to the level of the BBC. The words "cocoa" and "should" spring inexorably to mind. The far more likely result is more billions in the pocket of Sarko's best mucker, Martin Bouygues, who just happens to own TF1. This channel is clearly set to enjoy a monopoly on mainstream free-to-air prime time television and as a result the company's share price has shot through the roof. Meanwhile strike action has (inevitably) broken out at France 2 and France 3. For incandescent light-bulb martyrs, the news that 100w bulbs are being withdrawn from sale in France this summer ought to produce rising prices and finally a panic-buying spree. This I suspect will be followed by incidents of "bulb rage" as the martyrs discover that their very last 100w New Bulb is already broken. Everybody knows about the number-plates by now. The old system of changing the registration number of a car every time the owner moves département is being abandoned in favour of a one-off registration number to be kept by the vehicle for life. Unsurprisingly, the move has met with fierce resistance, number-plate martyrs declaring "Never in my area!" They are furious because the new system will deprive them of the ineffable superior glow they get from spotting a plate from a "foreign département". The glow which is only matched by the joy of carving up "foreigners" and leaving them shaken as they raunch into the distance, their local plates gleaming triumphantly on their huge back bumpers. This lobby has already succeeded in delaying the introduction of the new plates and bets are open for a total abandonment, but the odds against are quite long. Under 18s are now banned from buying alcohol - the age limit used to be 16. It remains to be seen whether or not the kids will bother to protest about this one. My feeling is that most of them will simply ask older mates to shop on their behalf, leaving under-18s free to enjoy a series of demonstrations, lock-outs, face-painting, bin-burning and marches against the new education reforms. Once the weather improves, of course. As a result of last year's outcry over dog-attacks on children in France, they law is being considerably tightened up. Owners and keepers of breeds already recognised as dangerous will have to pass a test in order to get a permit to own/keep these dogs, and dogs of any breed which bite either people or other people's pets will have to be reported to the local Mairie. In theory, all very laudable but whether the police - who have so far signally failed to enforce existing legislation relating to either dangerous dogs or abused dogs - will rigorously enforce it or not is anyone's guess.
My own and final prediction is that the police will be too busy supervising various strikes against disappearing light bulbs, tv advertising, teaching hours and number-plates to bother about a bunch of delinquent canines.
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