The cons (“assholes”) of Paris – as seen from Marseille

The rivalry between Paris and Marseille is legendary though Marseille can boast human settlements starting from 30,000 years ago  while settlements in Paris can only go back about 7,000 years. Today Paris has a population about 3 times as large as Marseille’s (at about 2.3 million in the city and 12 million in the metropolitan area). The current pre-eminence of Paris does give Marseille a bit of an inferiority complex and there is usually an air of defensiveness evident from the Marseillais. They don’t like being perceived as the crime capital of France and the defence is then to take pride in the toughness of their criminals! Of course the rivalry manifests itself these days through football and an Olympique de Marseille versus Paris Saint-Germain match is something very special.

But even the New York Times magazine asks the question if Marseille is the secret capital of France.

Marseille remains a patchwork sprawl of rich and poor neighborhoods, a melancholy, compelling mess of corruption and sun — the anti-Paris and secret capital of a France that doesn’t pretend the country is race-blind.

GeoCurrents addresses some of the satirical maps of France at Carte de France.

I like these two particularly.

1. France as seen from Marseille:

France - seen from Marseilles image carte-de-france

France – seen from Marseilles image carte-de-france

The reported perception of France from the perspective of Marseille is particularly simplistic: amusingly, the map features two latitudinal lines and one oval to create a total of four regions: “North Pole” for the far North of France, “North” for everything poleward of the region the French call “Sud” (which itself usually corresponds to the regions of Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi Pyrennées and Aquitaine, but is here even more constrained) and, finally, the shining label “cons,” (“assholes”), assigned to the oval encompassing Paris. Of notice, too, is the ironic “Capitale” label on top of Marseille. The map perfectly showcases the deep-seated rivalry between Paris and Marseille…..

2.France as seen from Paris

France seen from Paris image carte-de-france

France seen from Paris image carte-de-france

The map of France as seen by the Parisians seems more complex at first glance, though this does not mean that the Parisians are more discriminating than the Marseillais. The labels for the different regions here could be taken as offhanded proofs from inside the minds of Parisians, justifying France’s centralized political model. Alsace is perceived as the home of the “dépressifs” (depressed), the Bretagne region (Brittany), summed up for most Parisians by crepes and hard cider, are “alcooliques,”(alcoholics), and the Northerners are “pauvres” (poor).  The wildly successful 2008 French movie “Bienvenue Chez Les Chtis” (‘Welcome to the Sticks’) captured these dichotomies and prejudices perfectly. It is centered around a postal manager from the region of Lyon who is sent to the Northern region (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) as a punishment for having faked a disability in the hope of being sent to an office … on the Mediterranean. The movie was seen by a third of the French population in 23 weeks, thus showing the extent to which the regional question remains a running joke in France. ….. The labels “branleurs” (‘wankers’) and “menteurs” (‘liars’) for the southern regions show the extent to which Paris sees itself as pulling the country on its own—whether that is a role it has given to itself or the product of actual laziness from the other regions. The “terrorist” label both for the Basque Country and Corsica humorously point out the existence of occasionally violent separatist groups in both regions, though both places are also extremely popular vacation destinations for the Parisians, who seldom let geopolitics in the way of their summer migration.  Finally, the map reveals the idea that Parisians tend to see many regions of France as their playground. The “plages” (beaches) label along the Western and the Mediterranean coasts and the “ski” label along the Pyrenees and the Alps may seem amusing and reductive, but they are in fact indicative of the huge ebb and flow that occurs in the winter and summer (with all those weeks off work!), when a massive exodus heads out of Paris and into these regions.



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