Viv Groskop: In the night market - how French refuse to surrender to the recession


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The Independent Online

They do things differently in France. Even recessions. The whole of France is supposed to be face à la crise, bracing themselves for economic disaster. This week premier François "Monsieur Normal" Hollande celebrated the first 100 days of his presidency at his regulation "modest" state retreat in Provence. He travelled there by train instead of by plane because "many French people won't be going on holiday at all".

Meanwhile, in Bordeaux, home to the Groskop in-laws, many French brand stores were boarded up and Galeries Lafayette was deserted. As you drive through the surrounding countryside, many tiny shops look as if they're struggling to survive.

Contrary to popular myth, however, the cheese-eaters are not surrendering. Go to the right place at the right time and you will find signs of defiance. Many shops still proudly observe a "lunch hour" between 1pm and 4pm. A lot of people seem to have taken August off completely, as if it's their national duty. Hollande is not expected back in Paris until next week, a three-week holiday.

Most fascinatingly – and most French – of all, this summer the tradition of le marché nocturne – the night market – has returned to rural areas with a vengeance. This week, there was one in the village of Blasimon, not far from St-Emilion. This is a place typically affected by the exodus towards the city and by the more recent recession. Usually, it's deserted. But the place was heaving with around a thousand people, descending on the square like locusts with a passion for moules marinières.

The square was set out with communal tables and benches. By 8pm, it was so packed that locals pulled sofas and chairs out of their homes. Cognac, wine and beer flowed at a euro a glass, with a token strawberry juice stall for the children. This was surely the place to bring Apprentice hopefuls. Except here were signs of genuine enterprise, like the woman who had customised her bicycle to refrigerate six flavours of ice cream.

How can this happen? The weather, of course. In the south of France, you can sit out until the early hours without needing a roof over your head. It's commercial genius. If we are to have any hope of emulating this exuberant model in the UK, we are going to need ongoing climate disaster. Or a lot of umbrellas.

Too posh for us? That's a bit rich

Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch has been complaining that he may have to quit the UK because of the severity of "posh-baiting" in this country. He moans that he is portrayed as a "moaning, rich public school bastard" who complains about getting "posh" roles. "It's all so predictable. So domestic, so dumb. It makes me think I want to go to America," he whines, "I wasn't born into land or titles, or new money, or an oil rig."

Moaning about being portrayed as a moaner seems a bit rich, not that I'm moaning or anything. And you have to wonder how much this is a real moan and how much this is to do with his latest television role. He is about to appear in the BBC's Parade's End, playing an anguished aristocrat. (Is there any other kind of aristocrat in TV period drama?) Possibly the LAMDA-trained actor is just method acting?

As for the posh-baiting, it has to be not so much that he is the child of actors, won a scholarship to Harrow and went to a Tibetan monastery during his gap year. It is quite simply – and I say this affectionately both as a "Cumberbitch" (a fan) and as one with a similar affliction – that Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch has a name of exceptionally ridiculous proportions. One so silly no novelist would dare to propose it. The Americans so don't deserve that name! Benedictus Cummerbund, please stay. And we'll stop being so childish.