29th January 2012

Ever wondered why you don't see a pawn shop in France?  With unemployment at 9.8%, how are the poor coping?
There's a 400 year old French bank called Credit Municipal de Paris, or the Mont-de-piete, the bank of the poor. Back in the 19th century people whose only possession was their mattress would carry it to this bank and pawn it. With that money, they could then buy potatoes, sell them for a profit during the day and then buy back their mattress at night. How's that for enterprise! And it wasn't only the common people. Celebrities of the day also secretly used the bank. Even royalty. The 3rd son of Louis-Philippe once pawned his watch to settle a gambling debt. Ashamed, when asked what had happened to it, he said 'I left it at my aunt's (ma tante)'. To this day, getting help from 'ma tante' is a discrete way of saying you've been to the 'poor people's bank'. It's like a hospital emergency room. Everyone comes to it at some point.
But, miraculously, as a gesture towards the poor, thousands of lucky French people have now had their financial obligations forgiven. Yes, the bank's wiped the slate clean. One woman, Genevieve, an elegant woman in her fifties who had pawned her wedding ring, said: 'When I needed money, the bank was there. I'm very happy. You don't often get something for nothing.'
Hurray. There's some goodness in the world.

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