France’s war on tolerance

How can that be, I hear you ask. After all, didn’t France narrowly beat Britain to the legalisation of same-sex marriage? How much more tolerant can a country be, this side of legalising interspecies marriage, necrophilia and political conservatism?

Moreover, France still has François Hollande as her president, and if that isn’t proof positive of unbounded, nay suicidal, tolerance, then what is?

Add to this the country’s good-natured acceptance of German domination, otherwise known as European federalism, and what further evidence of tolerance can one possibly want?

All these are perfectly legitimate questions, and you’re right – France, along with just about every other Western country, could rival Sodom and Gomorrah for upholding the world’s highest virtue, as identified by mankind in the last few years.

So it’s not tolerance as such that France’s National Assembly is about to criminalise but ‘houses of tolerance’ (maisons de tolérance), so called since the time of Napoleon. These are otherwise known as maisons closes, bordels or, in English, brothels.

And it’s not just brothels. It will become illegal to offer money for sex altogether, though apparently not to receive such payment. That deprives this time-honoured transaction of its bilateral nature, making one wonder how a payee can exist without a payer. But then I don’t claim any expertise in making sense of French (or any other) law.

The law first introduced years ago and last refined by Sarkozy in 2003 only banned solicitation (racolage), including passive solicitation (racolage passif). This was defined rather broadly, encompassing for instance such egregious offences as wearing revealing clothes in public.

One has to compliment the French, however, for enforcing this law with characteristic Gallic laxity. This is evident to anyone who has ever sat in a Paris café on a balmy summer evening, watched female newscasters on French TV or seen Mme Sarkozy on a night out with her fellow pop stars.

I’m not suggesting that any French woman, or certainly Mme Sarkozy, sporting a neckline plunging to her navel is out to turn tricks. All I’m saying is that such laws leave too much room for subjective interpretation to be taken seriously.

London, for example, is full of Russian girls, most of them on student visas, who all seem to have legs at least a foot longer than I remember from my time in Moscow. These young beauties live high on the hog by choosing exclusively the kind of boyfriends who can buy them £100,000 pieces of jewellery, £15,000 handbags and £1,000 bottles of bubbly.

The potential suitors are vetted for their fiscal suitability and discarded if they don’t qualify – or after they’ve been squeezed dry or at least drier.

Usually no folding stuff changes hands, so legality is scrupulously observed. As to the morality of it, I’m not sure how this sort of thing is superior to a French girl charging €300 for an hour of her time (I’m guessing at the actual amount, as I hope you and my wife realise).

Actually, a ‘French girl’ is a double figure of speech. About 90 percent of France’s 40,000 prostitutes are of foreign origin, mostly African and Eastern European.

And 15 percent of them are, well, not girls. Thus the proportion of male prostitutes is roughly 10 times the proportion of homosexuals in the male population, suggesting that homosexuals either have a more loving nature than straights or else are less discriminate in how they express it.

Now that we’ve entered the realm of numbers, Germany has 400,000 prostitutes, 10 times the number of France. When the Germans become more sexually permissive than the French, you know it’s the end of the world.

Actually, if I were to ban prostitution anywhere, it would in Germany, Holland and other Protestant countries where it’s practised in a particularly sleazy way. France, on the other hand, has always added a touch of naughty elegance to that ancient institution, as anyone can agree who has admired canvases by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Picasso, or especially Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour.

Miss Deneuve, incidentally, leads other French celebrities in vociferous protests against the upcoming law. Personally, I’m not an enthusiastic supporter of prostitution, but I’d be tempted to shift my principled stance if all putes looked like Catherine Deneuve in that film.

There’s an English angle to French brothels, for they have been anointed by royal emanations. Edward VII was a regular and enthusiastic patron of Parisian maisons de tolérance, especially le Chabanais. It was there that the versatile monarch developed his ingenious multi-tier ‘love seat’, making an immortal contribution to French culture in general and furniture design in particular.

All in all, it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about any law that’s so ill-defined, unenforceable and counterproductive. Nor can one expect that French authorities will be able to put an end to an activity that has been thriving at least since the time of ancient Babylon.

My advice to French prostitutes would be to make mockery of this law by following the example of  those Russian ‘students’ in London. Eschew cash, accept a €500 case of champagne instead, flog it at a discount and Bob’s your uncle. Or rather your john.





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