The French are an incredibly inventive and pragmatic people, and are the homeland of TGVs, Concordes, 450 types of cheese and the famous Gallic shrug of indifference. The language is rich, beautiful and chock full of lots of words that sound better pronounced with a French accent like "je ne sais quoi" (which means, roughly translated) "real Dijon mustard" as in "those fries don't have any of that je ne sais quoi on them". It is hard to believe how much France has contributed to the automotive world. But the list is long and includes all kinds of innovations such as disc brakes, hydraulics, safety glass, unibody chassis, and so on. And yet now, France has fallen behind most of the other big automotive powers like the US, Japan, Germany, Korea and is in danger of being overtaken by rising automotive powerhouses such as Liberia, Andorra and Lichtenstein.
I advocate something radical for France to reclaim its rightful place at the top of the automotive world. But how? The answer is simple and can be expressed in just one word: more cigarette lighters in every car. French manufacturers, move away from the dark ages and simplistic thinking of one cigarette lighter per car. Rise out of your complacency. Add cigarette pack holders in your cars: one in each arm rest, one on the center of the steering wheel, one just below the rear view mirror and two or three auxiliary ones in the center console. While on the subject, two cigarette lighters doesn't really do justice to everyone in the car. What if all four or five people want to light up at once? Someone is going to have to be somewhat traumatized as they wait impatiently, fingers drumming in a speedy frenzy until the lighter comes their way and performs its magic and gives the lucky holder of the lighter a quick nicotine fix. And if that's not taken care of quickly enough, a fight will ensue sending the vehicle into an alcoholic's weave back and forth like in a gendarme's fondest dream until it reams pretty much every other car in the immediate vicinity. Clearly this is too high a price to pay for a civilized country. The answer is simple: cigarette pack holders and cigarette lighters for each person in the vehicle.
The cigarette pack holders and cigarette lighters should be accompanied by nicotine patch dispensers for those few Frenchmen and French women who are becoming reformed smokers (read: pariahs). The nicotine patch dispensers would be spring loaded holding a one week supply at a time. At the stop light, with 10 seconds of spare time, the bored Frenchman would push a tiny button on the console which would dispense with a dramatic "sprong" an already unwrapped nicotine patch ready for quick application.
Another variation on this would be the nicotine seat. Similar to the airbag, the nicotine seat would be required in all 1998 and future automobiles. Users would notice a slight pin prick in their posterior region as they sat in their seats. Those sitting quickly would notice the pin prick a little stronger than the others, but this would only encourage people to take their time while sitting down. The nicotine seat would calibrate the person's body weight and inject appropriate amounts of nicotine every five minutes or so. The idea is similar to that of hands-free cell phones. It will be easier to maintain control of the vehicle in that nasty bumper-to-bumper French traffic if the driver or passenger doesn't have to actually reach up to the nicotine dispenser and spend time finding a free spot on his or her arm. Filling stations will have liquid nicotine dispensers to refill the seats as prescribed by law. Inspectors will randomly stop the French on highways giving violators on the spot injections of 1500 ccs and up as necessary to make sure that everyone is in compliance with minimum nicotine level regulations.
Not everyone will want to use the nicotine seats, but since they will be required by some arcane section of the Napoleon Law (Lexus Nexus Napoleonicus), most will end up having their posteriors punctured unless they (get this...) buy Peugeot's driver shorts lined with Kevlar and other advanced composite materials and padded with a dense foamy material made by the finest manufacturers of matresses.
More affluent drivers will buy Dior's "Le Pantalon" - a specially designed black dress pant with a built in stint for le pin prick.
And along the same lines, the French need to have training lighters and training cigarettes for the young accolytes. Since most French start smoking by five or six, this will be geared towards the even youner infant safety seat market. RJR Nabisco could probably team up with Fischer-Price to compete strongly against whoever makes Gaulloises and Peugeot though in the end, I think that the Gaulloise blonde will squash the Marlboro man. The French like cowboys, but they would rather buy French cigarettes. Apparently they are the French variety are more potent which appeals to their sense of machisimo. Rumor has it that Gitanes and Chatteau Lafitte are collaborating on a red wine soaked cigarette. Lights up every time. Useless trivia fact #5362: John Lennon smoked Gauloisses. But even if the Marlboro man could compete, the French would get really upset with us if we took that market. And as anyone knows, that would lead to another world war starting with the French-backed Chadians invading Outer Mongolia in an effort to sucker the United States and RJR to back the Venezuelans. I realize this doesn't make much sense, but that is what realpolitik (the art of rationalizing wars after they have started) is all about. Concurrence, or competition as we would say, is hardly welcome from outside of Europe.
Even within Europe, competition is not always welcome either. I love French chocolates though I don't consider myself enough of a gourmet to pass judgement on them. I am, after all, a consumate gourmand, almost always preferring the hazy sugar buzz induced by glutonous quantity over the sensory pleasure of great quality. I will allow the Germans, the Swiss, the Belgians and the French to their own internecine warfare to determine who, if anyone, is the best. But one of the big stinks right now between the Europeans is chocolate content. As I munch on one bar after another or spend time in the grocery store walking up and down the aisle dedicated to chocolate, I notice that the French always have at least 40% cocoa or assorted cocoa materials in their chocolate. Now the indigenous producers are afraid that they will get swamped by their neighbors whose standards allow content to be as low as 5%.
These kinds of disagreements usually end up at an impasse which is how the Europeans define compromise and this is one of the reasons that unification has taken so long and has been so difficult. It's all because of chocolate and the pontification that goes along with who really has the best. Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac have gone so far as to offer to tag team arm wrestle against any two other leaders to prove their point. No one is quite sure what their point is, but former British PM Maggie Thatcher and NBA Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain have been the only ones to take up the gauntlet for next Friday's big matchup at Caesar's Palace. So far, military integration has been more harmonious, with the French and Germans going so far as forming at least one joint division. The Europeans also collaborate freely on building military aircraft, on the whole Airbus project and other impressive goals such as the Ariane rocket program and the brand new red Thalys TGV. But food always seems to be a more contentious issue.
But back to cars and to cigarette pack holders. Peugeot Chairman Jacques Calvet, who is already outspoken enough to match Lee Iacoccapuffs DeLorean VI, can mimic his pride in the way Chrysler's great innovation for the '80s was the now ubiquitous cupholder. Calvet will go on TV proudly proclaiming with a Gallic "I couldn't care less if you pay attention or not, and can you pass me a baguette?" shrug and boast that his company is the first to offer two cigarette pack holders, an ashtray and a lighter for every passenger. As the other Europeans, particularly the Irish and the Italians and the Spanish coachbuilders scramble to catch up, Peugeot will then up the ante, announcing at next year's Paris Salon International that each seat will also be provided with a wine glass holder and an Evian bottle holder as well and an optional glove box croissant oven. The Irish will respond with a emerald green anti-weaving device to capture the hearts of the European dipsomaniacs. The French will respond with free "Le Baby au Board" stickers. Germans will counter with "Ich Brake fur Cute Oktoberfest Frauleins" stickers. The British will trump everyone by reverse engineering then adding all of the aforementioned features, but wire the whole thing with Lucas Electronics, so that each car will need 10 cigarette lighters to be able to keep five in service at any given time. The Spaniards will add a fold-down tapas bar in their Seats. And the Japanese will simply offer five really small, but extremely reliable lighters. And finally the Italians will just build big, red, expensive Ferrari badged lighters which light two nano-seconds quicker, but that cost thirteen times as much, require $50 each to service and only light seven times before they have to go into the shop.
A bientot! Narayan Sengupta, 1996
Somewhere in France