French fear and loathing of the "Polish Plumber"
The New York Times has a story about the unbearable silliness of being French.
Seems one of the bogeymen used to defeat the EU Constitution was the image of the "Polish Plumber" (add scary echo-chamber effects and Bela Lugosi music here) coming to steal their jobs. The French were afraid that hordes of Poles, Latvians and Estonians would flood their country and -- are you ready for this? -- WORK HARD FOR LONGER HOURS FOR LESS PAY!!!!!! (insert REALLY scary music here -- preferably something dark by Bach, played on a big, big pipe organ, something worthy of the Phantom of the Opera -- the silent movie version with Lon Chaney, not the Disneyland Broadway pop version).
The crazy part is there is a severe shortage of plumbers in France.
And now, in the spirit of free enterprise and good cheer, the Poles have turned this bogeyman to their advantage, and have made the handsome young lad into a poster child for tourism to the beautiful country of Poland.
You can't beat Lech Walesa's comment:
"I suggest that he ask the French why the heck for so many years they encouraged Poles to build capitalism when as it turns out they are Communists themselves."
Blond, buffed and blow-dried, a come-hither half-smile on his face, the man in the travel ad grips the tools of his trade as he beckons visitors to Poland.
"I'm staying in Poland," the man says, a set of strategically placed pipes in one hand, a metal-cutter in the other. "Lots of you should come."
He is the "Polish plumber," a mythical figure who nevertheless became a major player in France's rejection of the European Union constitution last month. Poised to move to France and steal French jobs by working longer hours for less pay, this "plumber" has come to personify French fears about the future.
Now the Polish Tourism Bureau is using the character on its Web site to allay French fears and attract visitors at the same time.
"With all the bad publicity about the 'Polish plumber,' we thought why not have a sense of humor and make him work for us?" Krzysztof Turowski, the creator of the ad, said in a telephone interview from Warsaw. "We picked someone handsome and clean with a sexy look in his eyes - to get the French to come to our beautiful country."
"It's ridiculous, truly bizarre to say Polish plumbers are dangerous for France," said Wieslaw Zieba, 55, who has worked in France as a plumber and electrician for 25 years.
"Some of the things that have been said by political figures border on the xenophobic. This is a country that desperately needs more plumbers. But it's not a noble profession that everyone wants to follow. You have to clean up after flooding and unblock toilets."
Indeed, according to the French plumbing union, there is a shortage of 6,000 plumbers and only about 150 Polish plumbers in France.
When Mr. Zieba first came to Paris, he said, he had no friends, knew no French and slept in the Metro. He now has dual Polish-French citizenship and runs a thriving business that also does masonry and carpentry as well as plumbing and electrical work.
. . . The term "Polish plumber" was coined in March by Philippe de Villiers, the head of the right-wing Movement for France party, in response to a European Union proposal known as the Bolkestein directive, which would make it easier for workers to live in other member countries and receive the same salaries and benefits as if they had never left home.
The thinking behind the directive was that if goods could move freely across the borders of European Union countries, why not services?
The directive "will permit a Polish plumber to come to work in France with a salary and social protection of his country of origin," Mr. de Villiers said. He also expressed worries about the "Latvian mason" and the "Estonian gardener."
At a news conference in April, Frits Bolkestein, a former Dutch member of the European Commission, used the term himself, saying he was looking forward to the arrival of "Polish plumbers to do work, because it is difficult to find an electrician or a plumber where I live in the north of France." He said he hoped that "Czech nannies" and "Slovenian accountants" would find work in France as well.
And where but in good old France could you get the zany "band of rogue electricians". I bet they all needed a shave, wore black berets, had sullen expressions and carried well-thumbed pocket editions of Sartre sticking out of their back pockets.(insert a nasaly tremulo Edith Piaf voice)
The next week, a band of rogue electricians from the state-owned utility EDF cut off the power supply to his country home in the village of Ramousies (population 248).