Friday, November 09, 2007

Dialogs with a Muslim

We have a lot of temporary labour at the factory. This is because french labour laws make it very expensive for companies to take on staff, and once you have employed someone full time it is near impossible to fire them.
So most companies operate a system of limited contracts - 1 month to 3 months usually. They then keep renewing the contract for as long as is necessary. This can carry on (ss it did in my case) for up to two years. After two years of short term contracts the company has to convert the contract to a permanent one, or stop renewing. And find another sap to string along for two years.
In the case of the tile factory, the short term contracts make a lot of sense. There are many people who coan't cope with the shifts. Others can't cope with the physical demands of the job, and still others can't deal with the mind-numbing monotony of the work. So a sensible hiring practice is to take people on contract until they've proved themselves. We also take workers on contract to cover for illness, vacations, ebb and flow in seasonal demand for the tiles. There are fewer roofers willing to up in mid winter!
So I've had a fair number of temps working with me on the press, some good, some hopeless, and some Muslim.

Abdel was a youngster, killing time between the end of school and the start of university. On his first week I had to give him a pep talk. It was the first night shift. He was in a foul mood, not keeping up with the tiles that were arriving on the conveyor, which was causing repeated stoppages. I had already been working with him four days and had spoken with him a few times.
I told him that he was obviously bright, and young and fit. Physically capable of the job. What was getting in his way was that he was too bright for this type of work, and he had to master his emotions. I told him he had to find a way to manage and control his boredom and frustration, take his mind elswhere, occupy his thoughts with plans and abstracts to get through the hard parts of the shifts, at 3am when you're tired and you're wondering what the hell you're doing in this cursed factory.

He took it well, and sorted himself out, and we had many discussions after that.

Abdel was eighteen years old, born and raised in a village jsut down the road. His mother is Moroccan, and his father is second generation french, but also of Moroccan parents. His parents are both lawyers, and well off because Abdel's car was a new hatchback, given to him by his parenst for university. The fact that he achieved a good baccalauriate spoke for his intelligence as well as being evidence of a supportive home life.
I got to see french racism first hand because to the french workers, Abdel was, and would always be Moroccan. The fact the he was born in France, went to school here, counted for nothing. His name and looks will always set him apart. This racism is not (always) malicious, but it is deeply entrenched.
One of the first discussions we had was about Coke. I was drinking a diet Coke and Abdel asked if I had heard that some people say that Coke put pig's blood in their drinks.
"Why on earth would they do that?"
He shrugged. "Well, it might be part of the secret recipe, you know, to make people like it without knowing why they like it"
"That's crazy! If that got found out Coke would be finished. It would be a disaster"
"Well, no-one knows what's in the recipe."

I thought about it while catching tiles. Why pig's blood? Where had he got this story from? It sounded like the kind of internet romour that would be mailed from person to person, like the pork chops and worms in coke thing. And pig's blood would be especially offensive to moslems. Combine that with the modern distrust of big coprporations and the fashion for disliking the USA and you've got a meme on your hands.
Pig's blood in Coke. Patently bullshit, but how to convince Abdel?
I gave him a few things to think about. First, it would be very easy to disprove. Anyone can take a sample of coke to a lab and ask for it to be analysed. forensics can find DNA and evidence of blood in the smallest of samples. It would be a piece of cake to find traces of blood in coke.
Coke is produced in the millions of litres per day. If pig's blood is part of the recipe, even in small quantities, that blood has to be supplied. How on earth are they going to keep a lid on the truck loads of blood coming into the plants?
Why would such a rumour be so appealing? Just because we would LIKE a story to be true doesn't make it so. Was he following his instincts or his reason when he heard and repeated the story. Like all good rumours, the story is based on part truth. Snopes - the home of urban legend on the web has a whole section dedicated to "Cokelore". Coke used to contain cocaine. Back in 1885 the product contained extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Hence the name. By 1929 there was no cocaine in the product at all.
He didn't mention it again. He probably thought "Shit, I give the guy a little story about Coke and he goes on and on about conspiracy theory and logic. He's wrapped way too tight"
We had other discussions about religion. Abdel was a practicing muslim - Ramadan, no alcohol, the full schtick. He was looking forward to university in Poitiers because at least there was a mosque there. Here in backwoods france there are no mosques. Because of the seperation of church and state, there is no state funding for the building or maintenance of religious structures. Be they churches or mosques. Abdel pointed out that this was unfair because the churches had all been built before separation of church and state came about. Fair point.
He asked me how I could be an atheist when I was surrounded by evidence of God's creation. Deep philosophical and religious discussions are difficult in a second language, but I did my best with the usual stuff - Russell's Teapot, one less god etc. I don't know if it did any good.

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At 4:49 pm, Blogger Blognor Regis said...

Maybe Mecca Cola kicked off the rumour?

At 7:33 pm, Blogger Swearing Mother said...

Now you've got me worried. Non-veggie Coke. Almost as bad as non-Veggie Mars Bars (they soon stopped that malarky once it was known).

What is the world coming to?


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