France succumbs to yellow vests
It's always impressive how quickly France adopts a fashion. One day no-one is wearing ballerine shoes, then
everyone is (à la Carla Bruni). We are now in the midst of a new sartorial craze -- le gilet jaune, or the high-visibility vest.
You may remember how the state ran a tongue-in-cheek campaign that used Karl Lagerfeld to publicise a new law
requiring fluorescent safety vests to be carried inside all vehicles. "It's yellow, it's ugly and it goes with nothing, but it can save your life," said Karl.
The fashion icon did the trick. Suddenly Day-Glo is everywhere. Paris cyclists, who had always eschewed safety gear
as un-chic still don't wear helmets much, but yellow is their new black. The same applies to scooter riders, protest marchers and people handing out leaflets.
That's obviously commendable. More cyclists can now be seen in the winter gloom. But the really odd manifestation of t
he gilet jaune is a fashion for draping them around front car seats.
It seems to have started because people believed that the new law requires them to be visible, not stashed in the glove-box or seat pocket.
Some mistakenly thought that this would prevent police from stopping them to check their compliance
(They are still stopped because they have to carry a triangle as well). Now, somewhere about one in ten cars are sporting the yellow vest look,
according to quick surveys around the country. They are more prevalent in the provinces than Paris. The gilet jaune around the seat
has become the new version of the nodding dog on the rear shelf or the furry dice hanging from the rear-view mirror.
The fad is annoying many people and it is now seen as a joke. It has become a defining symbol of
"beaufitude" -- naffness in UK English -- like Bluetooth earpieces or wearing mobile phones on the belt
or the tourists who carry bottles of water around Paris.
The gilet-on-display fashion is so irritating that there are now about 200 groups on Facebook devoted to fighting it.
There are 70,000 members in the biggest one, called Contre les cons qui foutent leur gilet jaune fluo sur le siège auto
[Against the plonkers who stick their yellow fluorescent vest on the car seat]. Watch an anti-gilet jaune squad in street action here.
Some newspapers have studied the phenomenon. La Charente Libre, based in the west, found that drivers thought the vest
was fun on the seat because it "brightens things up". Other were doing it "because everyone else is doing it."
Their prize went to the man in a green Citroen Xsara who had equipped both front seats with yellow vests and
had two more on the back seat on top of a Johnnny Hallyday towel.
Hallyday, France's rock'n roll monument, is himself a high-grade symbol of beaufitude. Nicolas Sarkozy is a big Hallyday fan
but we don't know yet if the President has fitted a yellow vest on the seat of the black Mercedes 4x4 (SUV)
which he drives about town. Black SUVs are of course another symbol of heavy-duty beaufitude, but I'm getting off the point.
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