We're Going to Have a Commercial
If you only have five minutes to read, go do something else right now. Because what I have to say here is important and it's going to take you a long time to read it. Even longer if you're illiterate. So pull up a chair and stick your feet up. It's time to learn.
When we watch TV in the US there are things that appear approximately every two seconds during any program, and much more often if it's during the final few minutes of an important sporting event. Companies pay a lot of money for these things that we Tivo through with abandon. We call them commercials in the US, which is a pretty long word for something we see all the time. In France it's different. The word for commercial, or advertisement, is Publicité. But everyone just calls them "des Pub" (pronounced "day poob") for short. Like in the US, some words (like "Refrigerator", or "Television") are never actually said. They're so common that we shorten them. Instead it's "Look in the fridge" or "Would you please just let me watch TV?"
Let me give you an example of how we shorten words all the time in the US, because it's the same in France: One Saturday evening in January 2005 Stasha and I had been working on a project at our house in Phoenix. This wasn't just any old project, however. We were covering our dining room walls with toile de jouy. The short version of how to undertake this divorce and possibly suicide-inducing process can be found HERE. Covering walls with fabric is not a good idea. Don't do it. Anyway, we were fighting about how to do it every step of the way, and since it had been going on for a month, our marriage was not holding up well.
It was on this particular Saturday night, when we were getting close to being finished with the month-long process, that the San Diego Chargers happened to be playing the New York Jets in the playoffs. I had been looking at toile de jouy all day and was sick of it, and sick of Stasha telling me I was putting it up wrong. I was ready for some football. For all you guys out there, this was a great game. You might even remember it. I'm no Jets fan and, although I love the Chargers' new uniforms (which are really just a throwback to their original AFL digs), I don't feel any special affinity for them either. But it was quality football and I was enjoying it immensely.
Stasha, however, who is jealous of me because she doesn't like sports and therefore most of the joy of life has been sucked out of her, did little but stare at toile du juoy while I enjoyed four quarters of heart-pounding action punctuated by 14:55 of overtime madness. It of course didn't help that the Chargers were behind until the very last seconds of the 4th quarter, so that when - with two minutes or less left in regulation - Stasha asked, "When is that game ever going to end?" I responded, "There are only two minutes left." And therefore with that statement continued to perpetuate the massive fraud on wives that men perpetuate every weekend about when a game will be over. What's funny is that women never seem to fully get how the game clock and the regular clock differ. They just don't get it. It's like man's little secret. SHHHHH. Don't tell them. They'll never figure it out!
An hour later I was still glued to the edge of my seat as the game was deep into overtime and the Jets were driving. Stasha, on the other hand, was fuming. She wanted toile de jouy help and was intent on getting it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her march into the room, give me the Stasha Death Stare, and promptly just shut off the TV. She just SHUT IT OFF. In the middle of a play. To make matters worse, she turned off the main power button which meant I would now have to GET UP and go turn it back on. This was going way, way, way too far and there was no turning back. You just don't shut off a guy's playoff game without asking. Some lines one must never cross. We had been arguing for a month about toile de jouy and the volcanic rage that had been bubbling for 30 days suddenly burst forth in a titanic eruption. It was like Krakatoa.
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" I screamed as I lunged across the room towards the power button. "ARE YOU &$^#*%@ KIDDING ME?!?!"
I turned the TV back on and one instant later the roof fell in: Stasha reached over and turned off the TV again.
"I'M WATCHING TV RIGHT NOW!!!" I screamed. "I AM NOT DEALING WITH TOILE RIGHT NOW!!! I AM WATCHING TV!!!"
"DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?!" I was going crazy. "I AM WATCHING A PLAYOFF GAME ON TV. DO NOT EVER, EVER TURN OFF THE TV WHEN I'M WATCHING THE PLAYOFFS." (note that I said TV, not television. Americans don't say the word television, unless you're buying one. It's always TV. The word television was never uttered during this argument and the ensuing preparation for divorce proceedings. That is the main point of this story)
This did not go over well at all. She leaned in to turn the TV off a third time and I blocked her path. So naturally she chose to do what any rational woman would do in such a situation, which is to say that she grabbed a long cardboard tube laying nearby on the carpet and hit me with it. The toile fabric had come wrapped around this tube and the kids had been playing with it. She hit me hard. It bent.
I was shocked by this sudden display of force. Violence, other than me murdering the incessant crickets that come around in late spring in Phoenix, is very uncommon in our home. I reacted badly. Not with any violence, because I leave that to Stasha, but badly nonetheless.
"You're a &*%@$", I said.
"I'm leaving", she said.
"Get the #@$^ out, I said.
It was over. She went upstairs to pack and I turned back on the TV. The Jets won the game about five minutes later. I'd been very content to watch my game in silence, but once it was over I began to realize that perhaps my wife and kids moving somewhere else was not a great idea.
I sulked upstairs and apologized, because it's always my fault. Stasha graciously acknowledged that the whole thing was in fact my fault and then, with some coaxing, I helped her put away the clothes and the suitcases. We made up a couple of days later and moved on. Things are good now. Really. Whenever we see the toile de jouy in the dining room we are reminded of this experience. Mostly I remember what a great playoff game I watched, but Stasha always reminds me that we came to a marital precipice and looked down it. I love the NFL.
By the way, she never finished the trim around the toile and three years later it's still not finished. It looks really bad. Two weeks ago when I was in Phoenix I ate dinner in the dining room with our exchange family and our (now mutual) friends the Bodens and the Wilhelms. Ladd Wilhelm was kind enough to point out that it's not finished. I let Stasha know right away. She appreciated the input, Ladd.
So anyway, Americans never say 'television' and in France, French people never say publicité. Ads and commercials are always called "Pub", for short, and are pronounced "poob." What fun!
But this is actually about something else. Something so insane that it will stun you into reading in silence. Ready?
In France you must pay to watch TV. Not to buy a TV, or to watch cable (you pay for all of that too), but just to be able to watch regular old TV. Even if you only get French CSPAN in black and white on a 12" screen, you must still pay. It's called the "redevance de l’audiovisuel" or better put, "TV Tax". It costs 116 euros per year, or about $175. What's more insane is that it's the US that's apparently insane. Insanely cheap, that is. Almost every major country in Europe has a TV tax. In fact, if you want to live in that vacation haven called the Walloon region of Belgium (where it rains like 300 days a year), it costs 150 Euros for an annual TV license, plus 27 Euros a year for every single car radio. Would you pay $40 just to listen to Belgian radio in your third car? I think not. So count your blessings. Incidentally, if you want to read about this fantastic way of ripping people off, go here. By the time you're finished you'll know how much the annual TV tax is in Albania. It's pretty detailed.
In France, having a TV is a bit more common than having a trampoline, or a boa constrictor, or a Ferrari. There are 60 million people in France and about 59,999,994 are subject to this tax. We are not, because our exchange family pays the tax for us (just as I pay my property taxes so they can live in my house in Arizona). If you consider that the average number of people per household in France is 3.2 (a guess), and each house in the country must pay 116 Euros, translated into dollars that is just over 3 billion dollars a year in the government coffers, just because people like to watch TV. Perhaps they should tax you if you eat. Oh wait, never mind. The tax on food is 19.6%.
The TV tax is used to fund several TV and radio stations in France, the equivalent of CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC. The net result of this is that there aren't that many commercials on those channels. They pay for their programming through taxes. The people pay for it. I personally prefer the American way, but whatever floats your boat.
But, over time it, despite the tax dollars, commercials have appeared anyway. They get 3 bill a year in tax money but still there are commercials. Not that many (the number of commercials has actually fallen in the last ten years), but they still have them. So, perhaps out of guilt, these public networks feel the need to introduce the commercials. A screen appears right before the poobs begin, and it appears again every minute or two until all the commercials are over. Sort of announcing that the poobs are coming on now, so if you want to go to the bathroom feel free to make it happen you won't be missing anything. It's ridiculous. The letters " P U B " appear on the screen for five seconds (I timed it), usually amongst a bunch of other letters, and then a commercial comes on. They have a million different little vignettes, all of which show the letters P U B and that's it. It's ridiculous. But that's Poobs for you.
At the top of this post is a shot of my TV, taken today when the word "PUB" appeared magically on the screen, announcing that commercials were about to begin. It's like magic. And below this paragraph, screen shots of two commercials that appeared right after the "Poob for the Poobs". One is for Castorama, which is the Home Depot here and in which they never give you any service. The other is for a veterinary school in which you can learn, in only minutes a day of study, how to be a veterinarian's assistant in France. During this poob, if I had snapped the photo 3 seconds before you would have seen a screen in which a lady was giving a shot to a raccoon. Yes, a raccoon. Or if I'd taken it three seconds later you would have seen a screen in which it said there are two tracks at the school: one track to be an assistant for taking care of animals, and another track for taking care of fish. A veterinarian for FISH? I don't know what more to say.
Castorama: "Has everything for me" (except service)
"IFSA, the specialist for the creation of animal care", especially raccoons.