Thursday, October 29, 2009

No one wants to be seen as a Parisian

Marc explains the news from France

Read the story HERE

Some background: in France, license plates identify your car, but have nothing to do with payment of tax. You can buy the physical license plate anywhere you want (often you'll get them from your car dealership or from a key-making shop).

An annual tax was imposed many years ago, with the aim of financing programs for the elderly. Of course, none of this money was given to the elderly, and it simply became a revenue source for the départements.

A few years ago, in one of the delightful pranks played by the national government on local governments, the central government simply eliminated the car tax, obliging the départements to raise property taxes and professional taxes to compensate. This same sort of prank is being repeated this year, with the professional tax being eliminated on order of the central government, but without any financial compensation to local governments.

Because proceeds from the car tax never actually went to the elderly, and had been eliminated anyway, when the right-wing wanted to make the French people feel guilty for having neglected the elderly during the recent heat wave that brought a few thousand seniors to an early death, the central government imposed a new payroll tax on employers, corresponding to a day's wages. Employers were authorized to make up for this tax by making their employees work for one day without pay. That has proven to be a fiasco, but the tax remains. No one knows is the money collected is actually going to help the elderly, but history leads us to believe that it's not (not when there are 250,000-euro showers to install for Nicolas Sarkozy).

Anyway… licence plate numbers used to be attributed to one owner for one car by the prefecture (the central government office in each department). When you sold the car, the new owner had to get a new number and have a new plate made up. The code number of your département was part of the licence plate number, and served as handy identification for the origin of the car owner. Those bearing a 75 for Paris were treated to insults ("Parigot, tête de veau, Parisien, tête de chien" was particularly popular). A popular département was 54, because that provincial département had a particularly low car tax, and was used by rental car companies for registering their vehicles (like US credit card firms being based in SD or DE). Once the car tax was eliminated, this practice ended, and the code 54 as the "mark of the tourist" disappeared.

Last year a reform was introduced to associate the license plate number with the car, not the owner. Thus, a car would have the same license plate number throughout its lifetime, and whatever the location of the owner. A single national registry was created, eliminating a role for a département number on plates.

This caused a furore among local politicians. The département as an administrative unit is under constant attack, with the conventional wisdom being that France has too many administrative units, with regions that are too small and too weak (the German Laender are the only reference in this debate). So the officials from the départements were furious that their code numbers would no longer appear on plates. After months of lamentation, the following compromise was reached: owners would have the option of adding a regional emblem and the code number of département (as long as the département was within the region shown). This is totally symbolic, non obligatory, and a major wankdoodle.

Now, to our story. New cars are being registered under the new system, and used cars will soon be subject to it too. And new car dealers are observing that many Parisians are refusing to use the 75 code on their car. They prefer to show the region from which they and their family come. This is part of a great tradition of refusal of Paris from Provincials. They may have to come to the capital for their studies or their career, but they dream of going home. Young postal workers and teachers are exiled to Paris, dreaming of the day when they have enough seniority to request a transfer "back home". Life-long Parisians prefer to register to vote in the village of their country house, despite the fact that they often miss out on an election (there are no absentee ballots in France). And so, Parisians can now pretend that their cars are really from back home.

Even worse is the case of the northeastern suburbs of Paris, the département of the Seine-St-Denis. Their code number 93 has shown the greatest decline in use, with a strong movement to replace it with the code from the West Indian départements from which many suburbanites come. Others prefer a 75 plate, hoping that will lead to fewer traffic stops by the police.

The codes showing the greatest growth are for Corsica and Brittany. For Corsicans, it is a sort of cheap activism. And for Parisians, having the code of the place where you have your vacation home is a good way of appearing more like a local, and less like a target for vandalism or terrorism.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Very interesting, Marc! I'm surprised by this-- I'd have thought that Parisians would want to declare loudly & clearly that they are Parisians. Kind of like the urban-living revival that has happened here in the states. The French have already cycled out of that?