Typically French attitudes (#2)    
 
 
 Some French myths ...    What's wrong with France?

All countries have their myths which are beliefs almost everyone in the country shares and which may surprise anyone outside the country. Some of them are more or less true, others less so. French myths include :

  • " the State can fix anything " i.e. " the king can help me " : for this reason, a former (socialist) Prime Minister lost all hopes to become President the day he observed "the State cannot do everything". He was never forgiven for that. An illustration : in high school, when you learn economy, you learn a large majority of macro-economy (public policies, money, public investments, tariffs, ) and very little micro-economy (the entrepreneur, the customer, demand and supply, prices). More about the French and the State and more examples.

  • "a political project is more important than factual constraints" : for the French (mostly on the Left) a strong political will can make anything possible. For instance, if you want both to reduce a deficit AND reduce taxes AND increase expenses, this is not a "contradiction", it is a "policy".

  • "the whole world loves the French and France" or "our society is considered a model ". An anecdote about it : a few years ago, my wife Harriet Welty was invited to a very popular TV show. The theme was "why do other people consider the French so unpleasant ?". I was seated in the audience next to a very charming young student in a business school who told me "I love this show but I do not understand the subject : everybody loves us worldwide". When I told her it not true always and everywhere (I was trying to be nice....), she was sincerely surprised.

  • "France is the homeland of the Rights of Man" or "the world needs France to stand for them" : should anything happen in the world, there is a general consensus in the country that France MUST do or say something and the government is criticized if it does not react.

  • Some historical characters and some Laws are unanimously admired by the French. Read about some French totems.

  • In each country, people share the same vision of their own history. Read about the "Roman Francais" (the French Saga).

 


Nobody seems to understand what's going on in this country these days. The economy is not doing well, unemployment is high, the political life seems depressingly inadequate and moreover, it looks like the French do not believe in their future.
The national press runs the same stories over and over and the international press makes fun of the ridiculous decisions or declarations our politicians make.
It would be easy to conclude once and for all : this country is going down the drain, this people has no future, let's forget France.
But let's try to go a little further!

Indeed, France is facing the same problems other European countries face and solutions do exist. It is a fact that France has certain weaknesses but also serious elements of strength. But the 2008 crisis has just worsened a situation which has existed since the 1970s.
What makes the situation in France somehow different from other countries could be some of the following reasons :

  • It is very difficult for a country to adjust to the loss of no longer being a world leader as it was in the 18th century (imagine if the US lost their current preeminence!)

  • Culturally speaking, the French are not pragmatic (that is the least you can say...) : they prefer theories to facts, ideas to actions, intellectual harmony to efficiency, etc ; they love both revolutions and are very conservative and, in fact, they hate change!

  • The French political class is totally inadequate : politics is a job, a large majority of national politicians are civil servants (in 2013, in a cabinet of 38 ministers, only 4 had EVER been employed by a private company!), ...

  • The psychology of the French seems to be quite different from other European countries. They do not like anything consensual, practical, efficient, smooth, etc. as if they were afraid to be bored. They seem to be naturally moody!

  • More to come...

  • In France, Marxist myths never die !
This grafftti in Paris (June 2016) encapsulates two French myths and a symbol. It translates : "General Strike : let's make the Commune live again". The first myth is the myth of the general

strike (all the workers go on strike until they destroy Capitalism), the second myth is the admiration for the 1871 revolution of LaCommune (read about it), the first "Communist" revolution, which lasted three months in Paris. The symbol is that this graffiti was painted on the wall of the Pere Lachaise cemetery where the last insurgents of the Commune were shot in May 1871.

  • More to come....

The French and the crisis....

The  French and the economic crisis : be ready for a crazy country !

  •  Like the rest of the world, the French have been severely hit by the 2008 economic crisis (side comment : generated by the subprime craziness in the USA ...). Massive lay-offs have raised the unemployment rate from around 7% to 9% in a few months (end 2008-begining 2009). The stock market crashed and the Government had to help the banks so that they could resume lending.

  • However : no one lost his/her health coverage or pension plan and the level of the pensions did not change because of the French social protection system (see Social security made simple and the French retirement system).

  • But : most French do not realize that they enjoy a much better system of protection than in most countries and they are extremely worried about their future. This is why there have been several huge strikes and demonstrations (with more than a million people in the streets) and this phenomenon persisted in the following years (see strikes and strikers and read about the low spirit of the French these days)

  • The French political life is crazy : Right-Wing president Sarkozy (2007-2012) had alienated his opponents by trying to reform too much and his voters by not reforming enough (remember : the French hate change, unless dramatic) and Left-Wing president Hollande (2012-2017) alienated both the Right and the Left for the same reason. One of their most popular opponents is Besancenot who says himself that he does not want to be elected : all he wants is "put an end to Capitalism" .....

  • However, youg French people tend to emigrate more and more!

  • More to come.....

DID YOU KNOW THAT....? In France, salary cuts are illegal. A (foreign) company, Osram, had negociated and signed with the unions an agreement about a 10% (or so) salary cut. Although a majority of employees had accepted it, some who had voted against it took the case to court. In June 2009, they won their case.

 

How to understand France and the French in ONE day only !


It's simple : go to Versailles. You will understand the French idea of power, how the French see themselves, how they want to see their country and what they expect from their government, what are the values the French have been cherishing for centuries. Everything is in the castle and in the garden : nothing that has not been specifically chosen for a specific reason and which means something. It took more than forty years to build the whole castle under the king's supervision, with the best artists of the time, notably Le Vau and Mansart, the architects, Le Notre, the gardener and Le Brun, the painter. King Louis 14 himself decided on every detail : from the number of windows on a facade to the form of a door-knob, from the design of one of the groves to the species of a tree : everything has a meaning and expresses what the king wanted to proclaim about himself, about the country and about the people of France.

Some advice : do not visit Versailles without a previous minimum knowledge and read about it before (for example, about the garden). If you do not have this previous knowledge, you'll be impressed by its size (2,300 rooms in the castle, 1,300 acres of park today -it was eight times bigger under the king) and by its sumptuousness, but you'll miss the meaning. Just a tiny example : in the garden, the side where the sun rises is called Occident and the opposite Orient. A mistake by an absent-minded gardener ? Not at all ! The king (who had named himself the Sun King) has all the power and can order everything and master Nature and the Elements : he can rename the Universe. Read about the French and the State.

 

Versailles : one of the hundreds of statues in the park. (credit)

To related pages : curious behaviors (#1) and more attitudes (#3), questions about the French, French issues, French history, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
  • "French Toast - Heureuse comme une Américaine en France", Ramsay, Paris 2005

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Together or separately, Harriet and Philippe speak about Intercultural Difference: click here for information.