Turns out, smoke-filled cafés aren't the only places where the French like to spend hours in existential debate. France has become a nation of bloggers. An estimated 5% of residents have set up blogs, a far greater percentage than in most other countries, including the U.S., where an estimated 3% keep these Web journals.
Who are these Gallic bloggers, and what are they writing about? Most of them, naturally, do their blogging in French, which makes it hard for outsiders to catch their drift. But here's a guided tour of the French blogosphere, geared to non-French speakers.
An essential first stop is Loiclemeur.com, run by Loïc Le Meur, a French entrepreneur considered a guru by blogging aficionados worldwide. Le Meur founded Ublog.com, a blogging services startup that was acquired in 2004 by Six Apart of the U.S., and he's now Six Apart's European chief. His site, in English as well as in French, provides a treasure trove of information on the spread of blogging and blogging technologies, as well as links to hundreds of other blogs.
For a taste of corporate blogging à la francaise, take a look at Journaldemapeau.com (translation: The Journal of My Skin), run by the Vichy Laboratories unit of Paris cosmetics giant l'Oréal. It's in French -- although the corporation says it may launch similar sites in other languages -- but it features enough pictures to tell the basic story of how Vichy has invited a group of bloggers to test its new antiwrinkle treatment.
At Lafraise.com (The Strawberry), you'll find a blog-based business startup. Founder Patrice Cassard started a blog in 2004 about T-shirt designs. It evolved into a business in which bloggers propose and vote on new designs. Then Cassard produces and sells T-shirts with the winning designs. It's in French, but you don't have to speak the language to admire the designs.
Many of the country's voters turned to blogs to get information and exchange opinions during the recent campaign for a May 29 referendum in which France rejected a proposed European Union. You can find an English-language example of an anti-constitution blog at Bellaciao.org.
Among the handful of French political leaders with their own blogs are former conservative Prime Minister Alain Juppe, at Al1jup.com, and former Socialist Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at Blogdsk.net.
One of France's most widely read blogs, Michel-edouard-leclerc.com, is run by Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the head of French retail group E. Leclerc. While the blog has no formal connection to the business and Leclerc says he started it only as a personal project, the commentary focuses heavily on such subjects as inflation and government price controls (yes, the French still do that!) that Leclerc customers certainly care about. Alas, it's all in French.
By Carol Matlack in Paris