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  France to ban "symbols of stereotyping", introduce customer service
In a radical plan to force a sweeping change to his nation's image, French President Jacques Chirac has announced that as of January 1st next year a number of symbols of what he called a "false stereotype of France and its people" will be outlawed.

The announcement came on the heels of his declared support for a law that would ban the wearing by Muslim girls in French schools of headscarves, as well as the wearing of Jewish skull-caps, large Christian crosses, Druid robes, and shirts displaying images of Princess Diana, John Lennon or Elvis.

Announcing his support of the proposed ban on such religious symbols, M. Chirac said in an address to the nation, "Secularism is one of the great successes of the Republic. It is a crucial element of social peace and national cohesion. We cannot let it weaken."

He went on to say: "But France needs more than that. For too long we have been portrayed by foreigners as a bunch of beret-wearing, baguette-eating chain-smoking, poodle owners. OK, so that's what we are, but we must change that image."

"So I am announcing today that, as of the beginning of 2004, berets, striped shirts, evil-smelling cigarettes, even worse smelling cheese, baguettes and poodles will be banned from France, and anyone caught in possession of any of these items will be severely punished," he continued.

"Furthermore," he added, "all French people engaged in serving the public, in whatever capacity, will be required to undertake training in customer service."

Douglas Fond de Bélier, a spokesman for M. Chirac, told reporters at a press conference at the Elysée Palace that the President had simply had enough of the French people being mocked by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, and felt that it was time for a massive makeover of France's image.

He said that representatives of Mr. Chirac are to approach the principals of a number of popular British "makeover" television programmes, including "Ground Force", "What Not To Wear" and the as-yet-unseen "So Your Fridge Is A Disaster Area" for advice on how to proceed in what he acknowledged would be a mammoth undertaking and huge challenge.

"Those people are experts in makeovers," he said, "and Monsieur le Président really fancies Charlie Dimmock. But the biggest challenge is going to be introducing the concept of customer service, which, as we all know, is not part of our culture, at least in the hospitality industries. We would like to approach McDonald's or Disney to help us out in this area but the President has vetoed any contracts to American-owned companies until the US relents and allows France to bid on Iraq reconstruction contracts."

Asked for a comment on M. Chirac's announcement, US President George W. Bush said: "He's still not getting any contracts for rebuilding Iraq. Not him and not his Germanium friend."

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