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France : English Ski Instructors are replacing Polish Plumbers!
As the ski season is now in full swing – 8 million lucky holiday-makers are expected to rush towards the French ski resorts – a big snowball fight has now been declared between French and English ski instructors. Provocatively summing up this not-so-recent controversy, French daily Libération announced that the 'English Ski Instructor' has been replacing the 'Polish Plumber' as the most redoubtable threat to French jobs for French people.
As a reminder, the 'Polish Plumber' became a popular caricature in both France and Britiain in 2004, when Poland joined the European Union. Renowned for their protectionist approach to the job market, many French artisans feared that Eastern Europeans would increase the unemployment among locals. In other words, what is happening in French ski resorts is all a déjà-vu.
The controversy began after the European Commission declared it was drawing up plans for a 'Eurocard' for 800 professions, including ski instruction, which would entitle card holders to work in any EU country which signs up to the system. Should they hold this card, it would make it easier for foreign ski instructors to work on the French slopes.
In reaction to that, the Big Daddy of French ski school, the 'ESF', denounced "the unfair competition" and said it "feared the effects of the introduction of the European professional card'. Officially, they do not want the card to lower the entry requirements to become an instructor, which is admittedly a guarantee of security and teaching quality.
But above all it seems that French instructors are ready to fight tooth and nail to protect their quasi-monopoly over French stations. At present, less than 300 Britons hold the top BASI level four – the qualification required to become an instructor in France. Does it mean that English people are as good at skiing than their French counterparts are at cricket? Definitely not! According to English ski instructor Mr Parker, the French are doing everything in their power to stop an influx of British competitors, including making exams incredibly tough for them : 'I took the technical test more than twenty times before passing, while in the UK I had the highest certificate,' he said.
It would therefore seem that the 16,000 official French ski school feel threatened by the English new kids on the block. And it is even more understandable given that only a few French instructors go over the 'Pigeon English' level required to teach. The truth is that, given the combined 56 million days people ski in France per year and – most importantly – the fact that half of them are foreigners, France is the Promised Land for foreign instructors. With around 500,000 British skiers visiting France every season and many of them preferring to take lessons in 'decent' English, there are plenty of opportunities for British instructors to convert snow into money.