Typically French attitudes (#2)    
 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, former (socialist) Prime Minister lost all hopes to become President the day he observed "the State cannot do everything". 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).

  • More to come....


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 La
Commune (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.

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. 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 will most likely develop in 2009 (see strikes and strikers and read about the low spirit of the French these days)

  • What will happen now (Spring 2009) ? Most likely increasing social difficulties, a weakened government, possibly (later) a change to a Left-wing majority. Who knows ?

  • The French political life is crazy : Sarkozy has alienated his opponents by reforming too much and his voters by not reforming enough (remember : the French hate change, unless dramatic). One of his 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.


Leisure : gambling in France

  • In 2006, the French bet 36,9 bn Euros i.e. 50 bn $ (on horses, in lotteries, in casinos : see figures). French gambling laws are another example of the French specificity with regard to the role of the State. As in most Western countries, gambling is considered dangerous because it can become addictive, and it is tightly regulated. The rule is : it is forbidden unless authorized and controlled by the State. Horse races are regulated by a public body called PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain), betting games and lotteries are organized by a state-owned company, la Française des Jeux, and casinos are authorized by the Ministry of Interior on a case-by-case basis. Until 2010, on-line bets were forbidden. Therefore, no outsider could enter the market and of course the European authorities, in the name of free competition threatened to take France to the European Court of Justice to force it to open the gambling market to competition and no doubt France would have lost its case. The decision to legalize on-line gambling was largely criticized. However, the position of France is :
    • It is normal that the State regulates and controls an activity which can be socially so dangerous : it is its responsibility and it will do it better than the market
    • the State's share of the bets (around 25%) remains in France and is partly assigned to programs which are globally well-accepted (such as the program on improving horse breeding or the program on subsidizing sports for everybody)
    • It is more "moral" to see all this money go to the French State than to go to a foreign maffia and then to a tax haven
    • The position of the European Commission is far too dogmatic : free competition has nothing to do with gambling.
    • More about the French and the State.

     bn Euros
     Bets (2006)  State's share
     Horse races


     Games and lotteries







  • Regarding the amount of bets on horse races, France ranks fourth after Japan (23,5 bn Euros), U.K. (15,6 bn) and the U.S.A. (14,2 bn)
  • The most popular games are :
    • On horses : "Tiercé" (3 first horses) or "quinté" (5 first horses)
    • Lotteries : "loto" (6 numbers out of 49), "Keno", "Euromillions"
    • Many games in which you scratch a hidden (maybe) winning number or image
    • In casinos : mostly "roulette" (36 numbers) or "boule" (9 numbers)
  • Even when gambling, the French act according to their national values (see more details) : facts are boring but ideas are fun and what is really important is the relation between people rather than the cold analysis of strengths and weaknesses (see a letter about the way the French play poker)
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.