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Friday, September 7, 2012

12 Misconceptions About Versailles

There is a wonderful post up on the blog MonVersailles, one of my personal favorites and the place I go regularly to get information about what's going on around town.  It's called 12 idées reçues sur Versailles et les Versaillais and it is an eye-opener.

Most people's view of this city is filtered through Le château de Versailles.  Ok, the castle is impressive.  I personally think it's a bit gaudy but I'll admit that my heart leaps just a little when I come to the end of my street and I see it in all its splendor.

But where did people get the idea that the entire population of Versailles lives there?  Sure, the castle is big but I just don't think you could fit 88,500 people in it. Thankfully, there are plenty of houses and apartments here that range from the very modest to the quite grand and expensive.

From the MonVersailles post, here a few things you probably didn't know about the city.  I won't translate the entire post (take a few minutes and give your French a workout),  just a few of the misconceptions with some commentary by me (someone who indeed "est venue d'ailleurs.")

Versailles is an Old City:  "Old" is relative.  For an American like me from the city of Seattle, Versailles's age is impressive.  This city has been around for 350 years.  The city of Seattle is nothing compared to that since Seattle was founded in the middle of the 19th century which makes it a little over 150 years old.  But if you look at other cities in France like Tours which has been around since the 12th century (and it should be noted that the Romans were there even earlier) then, yes, Versailles is relatively young.

Versailles is Far From Paris!  Nonsense.  20 minutes by train.  I do it all the time.  On a good day you can get to Paris even faster by car.

Versailles is a Very Catholic City:  Not any more than the rest of France and, as MonVersailles notes, other religions have a presence here:  a synagogue, a mosque, and several Protestant churches.

With the Castle the City Must be Rich:  Wrong.  The city only gets money from one parking lot adjacent to the castle and certain taxes on local merchants.  The castle doesn't belong to the city and so is not a direct source of revenue.

There Are Only Rich People in Versailles:  Nope, 7% of the population is officially poor and most of the rest are middle-class.  Just walk into any local store or go the Sunday market and you won't see many people wearing Gucci shoes or driving around in fancy cars.  I doubt even the rich would do that - this is not a place where people flaunt their socio-economic status with ostentatious displays of wealth.

There is No Public (Subsidized) Housing in Versailles:  Hah!  16% and you can see some photos here.  Take a tour around the city and, yes, you will see HLM's. 

The Front National Score Must Be Very High in Versailles:  The Front National is the far-right party here in France.  Versailles is pretty conservative and some of the FN ideas are popular here.  It is the only city in France I've lived in where I saw a "Right to Life" (anti-abortion) poster on a main street a few years ago.  

That said, something that is worth mentioning here is that my family in California who are very conservative traditional Roman Catholics, consider Versailles to be something of a mecca for the Latin Mass (the Tridentine Rite).  I don't want to make a direct association here between the Far Right and Roman Catholics who follow this tradition but MonVersailles does mention the "intégristes" in his post under FN.   As a proud owner of a 1962 Latin/English Roman Catholic Daily Missal who is most definitely not a member of this far-right party AND who is an immigrant herself, I'd be very cautious about putting "intégristes catholiques" and the Front National in the same paragraph.  If you did a Venn diagram you would probably see some overlap but perhaps not as much as you might think.  In any case, I've decided to suspend judgement on this until I actually meet some of these people in these congregations.

Because, after all, just as people have some very serious misconceptions about Versailles, it is worth considering that others have their own "idées reçues" about those who prefer to start their Mass with the words:  In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.


French Girl in Seattle said...

Enlightening and entertaining at the same time. I was not familiar with Versailles demographics... :-) Bon weekend, Victoria. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Tim said...

Would Versailles be considered "richer" or "poorer" than St Germain en Laye?

Tim said...

Second Question:

Is this as expensive of a hotel as it looks?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, as always.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, Good question. About the same I think. St. Germain has a rep for welcoming a lot of Americans. There is an international high school there with am American Section These kids almost always place very high on the English test for the French Bac. I think (not entirely sure) that Versailles has more Germans and (surprise) a fair number of Japanese. Thanks for the link about the hotel. I'd heard that the building was being turned into a hotel - I think it belonged to the army before - and I'm pleased to see it's open for business. Expensive? Well, you could probably do better if you shopped around but you have to admit that it's pretty classy and the prices aren't bad - they have deals for around 130 Euros a night.

Cecile, Thank you and I hope you are having a great weekend. The sun is shining and it looks like it will be a glorious day.