There was a charming story on the French news about one of the oldest professions in the world. No, not that one. In several towns in France, including Niort and Toulon, on the west coast of France, there are groups of crieurs publics (kree-ur poob-leek) or town criers. Every Saturday morning, a group of crieurs will read the messages that they have been given at the top of their lungs and with a kind of a musical lilt. Birthday greetings, baby announcements, declarations of love, political positions, items for sale or rent, complaints about the lack of parking, town events – all are announced in front of les halles, the market, where people have gathered to do their grocery shopping.
Starting at about 10 in the morning, the crieurs start to collect messages from the public. Then they ring a bell to attract the crowd’s attention and the reading begins. The criers have created a charter of conduct – while they are clearly in favor of free speech, they won’t pass on messages they deem to be calls to violence, defamatory, or pornographic. They train with a coach to help them use their voices for maximum power without straining them. Several have backgrounds in acting. Although the hear ye, hear ye of a town crier is an old, old sound, the troupe is compared to some fairly modern forms of communication, such as a “radio of the streets” or a “living Facebook.” Here‘s a clip of the sole crieur public of Canada.