Friday, July 22, 2005


You may remember Gitanes as the unfiltered, French cigarettes that are strong enough to choke a camel. However, "les gitanes" is also French for "gypsies." There are many gypsies today in France (and elsewhere in Europe), but the use of the word "gitanes" to describe them is no longer PC. Instead, they are officially known as "les gens de voyage," which means "traveling people."

Les gitanes have a very bad reputation as beggars, thieves, burglars and pickpockets, and changing what they are called is not going to affect that. They live in small trucks and trailers and travel from place to place in groups. When they arrive in a camping area, everyone else heads for the hills. On this trip we saw a pair of gypsy children loitering in a parking area of a medium-sized city, casting sideways glances into parked cars in search of valuables.

To deal with the problems of this "oppressed minority" the French government passed a law requiring cities to provide special areas for gypsy caravans to camp in, complete with electrical and plumbing facilities. The cities are not allowed to charge les gitanes anything for these services, so the local taxpayers have to pick up the tab for their "guests." They're not residents, so the gypsies don't pay any of the local taxes to create and maintain these areas. Since much of their income is in cash transactions, the gypsies don't pay much income tax or Value Added Tax (TVA) to the national government either.

It's a pretty sweet deal. Perhaps les gitanes from the rest of Europe will soon be "voting with their feet" by moving en masse to France. Most Europeans are notoriously reluctant to relocate to where opportunities are better. At least the gypsies don't have that problem.

Update: Some more information about Gypsies, aka Roma or Rroma can be found at The World Wide Web Virtual Library: Roma - Introduction and RELIGION AND CULTURE OF THE ROMA.

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