Just Above Sunset
July 31, 2005 - France Paradise

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The American shift toward conceding there may be something vaguely okay about the French sometimes, even if not often, continues. In these pages on July 10, 2005 you could read Immoral, Anti-American, or Just Too French? - a discussion of the American versus the French work ethic. Nineteen days later in the New York Times you could read French Family Values by Paul Krugman, and that made the same points, and cited the same studies, but in far fewer words. Something is up.

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, notes this comment from Krugman: "Americans tend to believe that we do everything better than anyone else. That belief makes it hard for us to learn from others." And he builds his weekly column from Paris on that.

As Usual the French are Confusing


PARIS, Friday, July 29 - FRANCE has taken a number of sharp pokes in the eye in the first half of this year.  The French defied their political betters by saying 'non' to the new European constitution.  Then the Olympic Committee said 'non' to the French bid for the games in 2012.  Jacques Chirac went empty-handed to the G8 meeting in Scotland while his minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy stayed home, promising to make the French more British if he takes Jacques' job away from him in 2007.


If some Americans are looking at France and thinking that things can't be all bad here with all of our short work weeks, long holidays, comfortable way of foodlife, decent health care and educational opportunities for nearly all, they should be made aware that not everybody in France thinks God lives here.


For the past couple of weeks the rumor that Pepsi-Cola has mounted a hostile takeover of French jewel Danone has prompted French leaders from right to left to climb the barricades and defend France from unwanted takeovers by wretched foreigners.


No matter that Danone is taking its chances by being listed on the stock exchange, no matter that it is already majority-owned by the major international investment groups, no matter that it is not a state enterprise and never was. No matter that the state didn't say 'zut!' when Danone closed a biscuit factory in a single-factory town last year and laid off 300 workers.


The situation was quietly defused when Pepsi issued a formal statement saying it has no intention of taking over Danone 'at this time.'  The government has 'saved' Danone through its heroic action.  Time for the holidays.


A keen view of the French economy shows that the French are just as productive as American workers.  The difference in perceived benefits is explained by saying the French are satisfied with less - 35-hour week, smaller salaries, smaller girlfriends, smaller swimming pools, smaller cars, smaller toasters, and why not? - the French are smaller than Americans, and France is smaller than America.


Most French are perfectly happy with this tiny situation but there are some malcontents, like short presidential aspirant Nicolas Sarkozy.  'Speedy' Sarkozy says he is highly impressed with Britain's police, with the huge work ethic in Britain, and he is backed up by countless TV news clips shown here depicting happy French expatriates extolling the virtues of working at least 60 hours a week.


They may as well like it because with the rain and the lousy food and the stony beaches in the UK, what else is there to do?  French TV-news never reports on all the Brits who take their holidays in France - millions annually - man, if you work 60 hours a week you deserve a fine holiday.  You want your money's worth and if you don't get it in France at least you get sunshine!


Small wonder that the French prefer having their holidays in France with each other.  One would think that, after being harassed all year by the government and the tax collector and 'Speedy' Sarkozy, the French would just say 'merde alors' and go to Spain to forget their sorrows.


But no, they prefer to stay where they think they can eat well, drink well, and well, hang out in France well.  It is only Germans who think God lives in France.  The other 70 million annual visitors simply think the French are onto a good thing.


As long as it is summer we should just let sleeping ducks lie, regardless of the hunting season opening so early that young ducks will get blown away before they even learn to fly.  According to French hunters, shooting sitting ducks is sporting, especially if it puts them in the pot.


With an attitude like this you would think that the French would be willing volunteer to work 60 hours a week, buy lots of the latest model stuff on credit, drive hulking gas-guzzlers to the hypermarché, and loll around in front of their 95 cm digital televisions eating ultra-pâté by the spoonful and drinking champagne out of silver buckets, as 'Speedy' Sarkozy is urging.


The odd thing is that it is conservative Jacques Chirac and the Socialists and the Communists, a good deal of the middle class and possibly a majority of the working class and students, who prefer that France keeps its 'social' character, sort of embodied by the republican notions of 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' - not mere words, but the truly popular ambition of the French within France.


Aye, that's the French problem.  There's too much history and too many people believe in it.  The revolution was for a reason, no less valid today than 206 years ago.




Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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