Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 50-Franc Brouhaha

Years ago, I had a wonderful assignment from the Cognac Producers of France.



I was to produce a promotional film on their part of the country, the Charente region, which had been making and distributing cognac for a couple of centuries.
A few decades ago the financial situation in France was quite different from what it is today; things were very cheap. Also, no one had ever heard of a Euro.



A prominent part of that region is the city of Royan, a beach resort, so I decided to use that place as my base of operations. Since it was summer, this allowed me to bring my wife and two kids; I went off to work in the morning and they got to spend the day at the beach.



Ah, those halcyon days and nights…

To get back to business, wherever I went on film assignments, I tried to hire local talent. There was always need for a young person or two, high-school age, to help carry stuff around, etc. I was never quite sure what I should pay such folks.

I was told in Royan that ten dollars a day would be adequate for such unskilled labor, so I hired a kid for that amount. The second day on the job he told me his father wanted to talk to me.

I had felt all along that ten bucks a day was not really enough; now I was going to get a lecture from this boy’s father about rich Americans refusing to pay a decent wage to French labor.

I went to the boy’s home; his father was seated in the living-room, waiting for me with a grim look on his face. Seated next to him were several other gentlemen who later turned out to be his neighbors and friends who were there to offer their moral support in what they evidently regarded as a difficult situation.

I hadn’t realized that my ten clams a day was going to turn into such a federal case. I began by explaining that if the amount of money was the problem…

Of course the amount of money was the problem! answered the dad. Ten dollars then was 50 francs. It was unheard-of for an unskilled teenager to be paid 50 francs a day, so everyone in that neighborhood thought there must be something immoral, something degenerate, going on, and they had held a special neighborhood meeting to discuss it.

It took me a moment or two to understand: at ten bucks a day I was overpaying the kid. I then told them that I was neither immoral nor degenerate, or at least not degenerate, and I had been told that 50 francs would be the right amount to pay for such work. I would be happy to reduce that to, say, 25 francs (there was a howl from the kid, who was standing in the background), if they preferred.

They seemed to be pleased that I had a wife and two children, who were with me on this project. I managed to convince them that there was no hanky-panky going on, though I can’t remember now what French term I used for “hanky-panky.”

So the 50-franc salary turned out to be okay. We all became good friends after that, and even joined in a toast – with cognac – to Franco-American relations.

17 comments:

lakeviewer said...

The subtext is always more interesting than the text. Cultural context is hard to understand.

Berowne said...

Very true, lv.

savannah said...

can y'all imagine trying to do that now, sugar? xoxox

Berowne said...

Not for ten bucks. :-)

Sandy said...

Great story! I can so picture the scene.

French Fancy said...

Did you have a long line of prospective helpers following you everywhere you went in the end? Hands out to the kindly American?

Everyday Goddess said...

Wooing the locals is not an easy thing, but a fine Cognace goes a long way toward peace negotiations.

Berowne said...

E. Goddess...
I agree. But I generally stay away from the hard stuff these days. :-)

Berowne said...

Sandy: "Great story! I can so picture the scene."

Yes, for a moment there I thought the villagers would be coming after me, as with Frankenstein, with pitchforks and hot tar. :-)

Berowne said...

French Fancy: "Did you have a long line of prospective helpers following you everywhere you went in the end? Hands out to the kindly American?"

No, but the dad did warn his son not to tell anyone about the 50 francs per day -- it might stir up trouble.

Little Ms Blogger said...

I find it interesting the dad thought you were doing something immoral because the pay was so high.

I wonder if that same situation would happen here.

Berowne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Berowne said...

Little Ms Blogger: "I wonder if that same situation would happen here."

Could happen, I suppose.

Dedene said...

That's a cute story. I am surprised that the men-folk didn't want to get in on the riches.

Berowne said...

Thanks for your interest, Dedene.

spacedlaw said...

You are right: It's a great story!

Berowne said...

spacedlaw -- Thanks for your comment.

 
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