Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How funky is your French chicken?

How funky is your chicken?

Very funky, according to the mass hysteria sweeping through Gaul these days. France may not have come home with myriad gold medals at this year’s Olympic Games, but that country has the esteemed international honor of being the first European country to suffer an outbreak of the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza among its poultry.
According to President Jacques Chirac, “a completely unjustified sort of total panic” is sweeping the country. That’s so … American of them, isn’t it? Honestly, “panic” is not usually a noun associated with French culture. The average Frenchman thrown before a large bus traveling at 60 km/hr carrying fierce guerrilla soldiers with machetti guns blowing nuclear gas into the air would certainly wait to finish his cigarette, sip his espresso and engage in a political debate before moving out of the way. Yet France’s feathers have been ruffled and even the most ostensibly calm of the Gallic clan are worried.
My co-worker has been planning an already-paid-for trip to La Réunion for a long time now, and has decided to go despite the threat of the bird flu in that region. This has inspired incessant whispering around the office “Did you hear Marjorie is headed to –gasp! – La Réunion?” They think it’s crazier than peanut butter. President Jacques Chirac, however, doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed and has been dining on all forms of the national bird nearly every day to prove to the French people that there is no danger in eating poultry. According to our jolly Jacques, there is “absolutely no danger in eating poultry and eggs.” However, direct contact with infected chickens can cause human contagion. Giving further proof of the dangers of that old wives tale warning: “don’t play with your food.”
The French government has taken precautionary measures and has ordered its birds confined to pens in addition to quarantining the areas where infected poultry have been found to ensure no “fowl play.” I’ve also personally received a great deal of mail from the Paris Mairie telling me that, after I recycle my bottles according to national separating standards – I knew I shouldn’t have thrown my syringes in the can with the white lid! – I am encouraged to enjoy a well-cooked Coq-au-vin and a glass of Bordeaux as I place a Beret over my head and chant the Marseillaise. No, wait, stop! Who am I kidding? That’s crazy talk! Poultry is to be eaten accompanied by white wine.
While the deaths associated with this outbreak of the virus are, bien sur!, no laughing matter, the avian jokes that the scare has inspired are almost too easy. Q: Why did the French chicken cross the road? R: It didn’t. It’s dead.
Knock Knock. Who’s there? French chicken. French chicken who? Exactly.
And just the other day, I witnessed young French schoolchildren playing an innocent game of: “Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck… Oh merde!” Good thing Mary had a little lamb is all I have to say.
And, sorry Disney, the sky isn’t falling anymore, Chicken Little; you are.
So cock-a-doodle don’t be playing with any nearby chicks for the time being until we’re sure that the avian influenza threat has passed. Until then, abide by old French proverb, “When life gives you dead ducks, make foie gras.”

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