ome French friends and I were recently discussing the idea of the commonwealth of a country. France thinks differently about the common good, with a less rigid focus on the extraordinary individual at the expense of the worthy person, namely all of us. As you may have heard, their medical care is superb and not costly. You may not have heard about something called tickets restaurants, or tickets restos for short, which are coupons that the employee takes to the restaurant and uses to pay for a meal. (Pronounced tea kay res toh. Smile when you say “tea” and pout your lips when you get to the “tos” at the end. Good! Very French!!)
Yes, the employer and the employee each contribute. So my employer, for example, pays 4 euros and I pay 2 for one coupon. They are sold to the employee in booklets of around ten coupons. Why would my place of employment contribute to my lunch? This generosity occurs because the place of business generally doesn’t offer something to eat. Yes, you might say, and what is new about that? Well, it is done in France and it says something about the largesse of the country.
I was thinking about these tickets restos recently in the wake of all the requests for donations to many worthwhile charities. You have until early in January to use all your coupons before they expire. And if you wish, you can give your coupons to a French charity. Often people donate to les Restos to Coeur, a kind of French soup kitchen.
A song celebrating les Restos du Coeur opens describing the fact that our names might not be on the list of hungry people today, but tomorrow our names might fatten that very list. Here’s the refrain for a song back in the day celebrating les Restos du Coeur.
Aujourd’hui, on n’a plus le droit
Today we no longer have the right
Ni d’avoir faim, ni d’avoir froid
To be hungry or cold
Dépassé le chacun pour soi
Go beyond the idea of each person for oneself alone
Quand je pense à toi, je pense à moi
When I think of you, I think of me.
Je te promets pas le grand soir
I don’t promise you a big night
Mais juste à manger et à boire
But just something to eat and drink,
Un peu de pain et de chaleur
A little bread and some warmth
Dans les restos, les restos du cœur
In the restaurants, the restos of the heart. (Translated by yours truly.)
This refrain gets going a little into this video. Now you speaka ze French!
WHAT ARE THEY AGAIN?
Well, okay, but what are these restos du Coeur?
To answer this, we first have to know who Coluche is, the founder of these restaurants of love. Basically, Coluche, (his stage name) was a French comedian who had an idea. As he himself put it, “I have a little idea, a bit like this… If there are people who would be interested in sponsoring a free soup kitchen, we’d start first in Paris and then spread to France’s big cities.”
Here is a tribute to Coluche, created by Fabien Deborde, which tells more about the man and the charity he created. (You can read it below or view it in your browser, here.)
Everything that follows, up to “four organizations,” is courtesy of M Deborde, and I even left in his repetitions.
I’ll quit politics when politicians quit comedy
– they steal my job, I steal theirs.
Michel Gérard Joseph Colucci (born October 28, 1944 in Paris, France; died June 19, 1986 in Opio, Alpes-Maritimes, France), better known as Coluche, was a French comedian and actor, famous for his irreverent sense of humour.
Colucci adopted “Coluche” as a stage name at 26, when he began his entertainment career. He became known for his irreverent attitude towards politics and the establishment, and he incorporated this into much of his material. He was one of the first major comedians to regularly use profanities as a source of humor on French television.
On October 30, 1980, Coluche organised a press-conference in the theatre where he was performing a one-man show. It was there that he announced his candidacy for the French presidential elections in 1981. At first he was not taken seriously until the day the Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, published a poll on 14 December 1980, crediting Coluche with 16% of voting intentions.
In September 1985, he created the “Restos du cœur” charity (40,000 volunteers in almost 2,500 Restos, which welcome 600,000 beneficiaries a day). This charity was launched by Coluche when he made a speech on the radio station Europe 1. This speech is very famous and begins with the words ‘I have a little idea..’. The charity collects food, money and clothes for the needy and the homeless. Each year, a fund-raising concert series is presented by various singers and celebrities, collectively known as les Enfoirés (“the assholes”).
Less than a year later, in June 1986, Coluche died when his motorcycle crashed into a truck on a road in the commune of Opio in southeastern France. He was 41. This event provoked national grief and inspired the album Putain de camion (“fuckin’ truck”) by close friend Renaud.
Les Restos du Cœur
The Restaurants du Cœur (literally Restaurants of the Heart but meaning Restaurants of Love), commonly and familiarly known as the Restos du Cœur, is a French charity, the main activity of which is to distribute food packages and hot meals to the needy. It was founded by the comedian Coluche in 1985.
The comedian and actor Coluche launched the idea of the Restos du Cœur on 26 September 1985. “I have a little idea, a bit like this… If there are people who would be interested in sponsoring a free soup kitchen, we’d start first in Paris and then spread to France’s big cities.” The first of the Restos opened on 21 December and soon multiplied all over the country. The goal of the founders was to give away 2,000 to 3,000 meals per day; 8.5 million were distributed in the first winter alone. The initiative was supported by a song written by the songwriter and singer Jean-Jacques Goldman called ‘Les Restos du Cœur’, which included some of the lyrics being sung or read out by other celebrities. A televised show allowed the organization to collect several million francs.
Coluche pleaded for the Restos’ cause at the European Parliament in February 1986 after learning that surplus products cost more to store than to distribute for free to the poor; his plea was heard and the surplus was opened in 1987 to four organizations.
Early in the play we witness food scarcity with the last carrot handed out. So it seems natural to imagine them receiving food at a soup kitchen. But what I like about Didi and Gogo, the main characters in the play Waiting for Godot is that their identity is not fixed. They could both be recipients at the food kitchen or indeed servers there. Why servers? Because it’s through them that we have a different way of looking at things. It’s okay to wait around because, well, you have such faith in what you’re waiting for. And I think we each play that dual role, in need and in largesse, if you will. And, like them, we split off the one from the other. But in the refrain, “When I think of you, I think of me,” we have an orientation toward merging those two aspects of ourselves and giving. So, I guess we’d all better go find (fund) our local food kitchen.
A little slice of the economic pie to chew on!