Bourgeoise Nantes


I grew up In Nantes, the 6th largest city in France, with a pop­u­la­tion of almost 300,000. My par­ents lived down­town, and I knew the city quite well. I still do: it never really changed. Some shops closed, some moved, new trends appeared and some dis­trict devel­oped more than oth­ers. But France is an old coun­try, and some things never change.

The first split in the French pop­u­la­tion isn’t so much the one between the city and the coun­try­side. It is between those who live in the cen­ter of cities, and those who live in the ban­lieue ( the out­skirts of the city). City cen­ters are old but his­tor­i­cal, walk­a­ble and expen­sive. The out­skirts gen­er­ally con­notes areas of low-income apart­ments and social hous­ing. They are fre­quently described as “sen­si­tive urban areas” because of their high level of poverty, vio­lence and var­i­ous traf­fick­ing. The mid­dle and upper classes live down­town, immi­grants and poor peo­ple live in the outskirts.

Paris is a bit dif­fer­ent: they are some rich sub­urbs (like Ver­sailles), and even some “ban­lieues rouges” (red out­skirts — areas where, tra­di­tion­ally, the French Com­mu­nist Party was pow­er­ful). But these are excep­tions.

Class strug­gle is still omnipresent in France. Because pol­i­tics is a national pas­time, peo­ple like to describe them­selves as “à droite” (right-wing), “à gauche” (left-wing), “soixante-huitard” (a per­son who either par­tic­i­pated in the May 1968 Move­ment or has Utopian ideas) etc. Other com­mon social nick­names include “bo-bo” (short for “bourgeois-bohemian”, basi­cally the 1990s descen­dants of the yup­pies), “gauche caviar” (French “lim­ou­sine lib­eral” or “Cham­pagne social­ist” — fake social­ist), “bling bling” (describe nou­veau riche atti­tudes; such as Sarkozy wear­ing expen­sive and styl­ish suits and enjoy­ing being in gos­sip mag­a­zines), “beauf” (French “red­neck” — a per­son thought to be vul­gar, some­what alco­holic, unin­tel­li­gent, big­oted, chau­vin­is­tic, sup­porter of Nation­al­ism etc.)…

And because in France, his­tory and the past are more impor­tant than the future, and because noth­ing really changes, there is still a “us” and a “them”.

Nantes was the slave trade cap­i­tal of France, which led it to become the largest port in France and a wealthy city. A few large and pow­er­ful fam­i­lies set­tled in the city and still live there today: on the Cours Cam­bronne (where appart­ments are val­ued at over 800,000 €), around the Place Graslin nearby with the posh restau­rant “La Cigale”, the Place Royale (which is also the meet­ing point for demon­stra­tions). The Quai de la Fosse still bears mas­caron orna­ments on build­ings’ facades, sym­bols of the slave trade.

France is at the oppo­site of the “Amer­i­can Dream” ide­ol­ogy, where all cit­i­zens can pur­sue their goals in life through hard work and free choice. Born rich, born poor, lit­tle oppor­tu­nity for change, that’s the way it is. Priv­i­leges are kept jeal­ously… For exam­ple, in France, there is a law that requires cities to offer 20% of pub­lic hous­ing to their cit­i­zens. If they don’t, they must pay a fine, and rich cities don’t mind pay­ing it: bye bye “équal­ité”… Same goes for schools: by law, cit­i­zens are required to send their kids to a nearby school (assum­ing that way that all kind of social classes will mix). But some schools (are some dis­tricts) are noto­ri­ously bet­ter than oth­ers, and thou­sands of par­ents do every­thing they can to escape this reg­u­la­tion (pop­u­lar tricks include rent­ing a phony res­i­dence next to a bet­ter school).

Sweet old France…

Théâtre Graslin - Graslin Theater

Théâtre Graslin — Graslin Theater

Cours Cambronne

Cours Cam­bronne

Place Royale

Place Royale

Quai de La Fosse

Quai de La Fosse


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. @Agnes — France is a com­plex coun­try… even I have been away for so long that it takes time to reconnect.

    @Bill Miller — Thank you! God I wish… I love writ­ing. And pos­i­tive feed­back like yours keep me going!

    @barbara — See you… on Saturday! 😉

    @Shantanu — Glad I can give you a snap­shot of French lives! Enjoy your Parisian holidays :-)

    @Max Coutinho — Thank you for your recipe — I received it and will try it when I go back to Canada! Right now it’s a bit busy between friends and fam­ily. Social classes… yeah, this is def­i­nitely part of the old world, Canada is very different.

    @shionge — Bor­deaux is nice, close to Nantes actu­ally. Famous for its wine…!

    @Bluefish — Pas boeuf, beauf, like short for beau-frère. Je né sais pas si les Québé­cois com­pren­nent l’expression par con­tre… I wrote a post on health care a while ago:

    @Sidney — I guess. That said, the coun­try has got­ten extremely expen­sive in the last decade, and I like Canada best to live.

    @Soleil — I agree with you! Some­times, French drive me crazy: they just don’t want to try any­thing new, no mat­ter which gov­ern­ment is reforming.

    @Lis of the North — Lille is lovely too: I vis­ited a friend there a few years ago and the down­town is really nice. Bit cold though!

  2. I lived in Scot­land for a cou­ple of years, and have been vis­it­ing Europe pretty often — some years up to 3x — since then, and have an idea of the im/balances of life between the Old World and the New World. The most abrupt shock of class sys­tem prej­u­dice was in my British life. There is snob­bery in Canada, for sure, but nowhere near the extent that I could feel it in Britain. It is not just the visual impres­sions, but the way a per­son speaks which denotes where, exactly, they’re from and sud­denly all the “impor­tant” infor­ma­tion is out there in the open. It doesn’t mat­ter any­more how you think or behave, peo­ple already begin to turn away because it is assumed you’re not on their socioe­co­nomic level. After grow­ing up in Canada, it is a cul­ture shock of a dif­fer­ent kind.

  3. Pingback: A Very French Taboo | Correr Es Mi Destino

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