The Editorial page of the Webmaster (#4)

WARNING : On this website, I am trying to give balanced points of view. BUT : as a Frenchman, I have my own strong personal opinions. I don't know if they are representative but they are mine. If you hate my comments read about "Americans and criticism". See also my resume.

Philippe ROCHEFORT

Read Rochefort's "Diary of an old student"

What a weird people (taxwise) ....! Americans are proud of their country and tend to consider the rest of the world as dangerous and not as good as the US. They have developed the notion of "un-American", which means not only different but potentially dangerous. For this reason, expatriates are not well-considered in the US : why did they choose to live in a country which is not as good as the US ? They must be some sort of traitors to American values and certainly not good US citizens. This is why it was only after years of lobbying that US expatriates could vote and that their children could keep US citizenship. This is also why the US is the only country in the world (with Russia) where expatriates are expected to pay their income tax twice : in the country where they live and work and in their mother-country. Far from considering its expatriates as an asset for US image, prestige and business, American law-makers, expressing with no doubt the views of insular deep-America, do not treat their expatriates well. This is crazy ! In addition to that, the American government treats the rest of the world the way Americans would hate to be treated. A recent example : there's been a movement by citizens abroad to repeal FATCA (Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act), which allows the IRS to monitor all individual and company accounts in foreign banks. This is as if the French tax officials demanded that US banks open their doors and reveal the names and bank balances of French account holders. They wouldn't want to do it of course and neither do the banks abroad. The result : many banks abroad will no longer allow US citizens to have accounts. The act is not only scandalous, but self defeating… (November 2011)

No more prayers : legislation, please ! The French observe, with a mix of amusement and exasperation, what happens every time a lunatic kills ten or twenty people with a machine gun in the USA. The scenario is always the same. The president goes on TV and says something like : "Our hearts are broken and we pray for their souls". Then the TV shows people in a church singing and and the interviewee says something like : "We pray for their souls and our hearts are broken" (or reverse). This is is ridiculous. Please spare us the show and just admit that is the price to pay for the Second Amendment . If I were the minister of the church of Newtown, where 20 children and 6 adults were shot on December 14, 2012 by a 20-year old who took his mother's guns, I think I would say to the audience :"Those of you who own a hand gun or a machine gun, please stand up and leave the church. I am going to try to comfort those who will remain seated." Period. I guess a majority of Americans will hate this column but as long as so many of them consider that owning a weapon is a sign of democracy, no one should be shocked by its collateral effect : 2,97 people killed per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 (see figures), i.e. fifty times more than in France where there is a law against owning dangerous weapons. (December 2012)

American children are too strict with their parents! At last, one of the domains where Americans could maybe learn something from the French! (the amazing success in the US of books about French kids illustrates it). A father of three boys, I think that the parent-children relationship is probably one of the major USA-France differences. Although French parents are indeed much less «disciplinary» than their own parents thirty years ago, they are certainly not as dominated by their children as US parents seems to be. A few illustrations : in France, it is still a tradition that children and parents sit down together and talk once or twice a day around a common meal, parents still stop their children when they monopolize attention and disturb adults, when children say they don't want to eat something new for them the standard answer is still « taste it first, then, you’ll have the right to like it or not », here when parents reprimand a child for something wrong he/she did, if he/she cries, they don’t say «Did I hurt your feelings, honey. I’m sorry» (I heard that many times with American parents …), they say something like «You may cry as much as you want : I am right and you are wrong», etc. This is why I can go to a restaurant with French children and enjoy it whereas I would never imagine to do it with American children. What’s remarkable with American children ? Their amazing self-confidence. What’s unbearable ? Their invasiveness.  For most French children, an adult is somehow an authority figure, for American children an adult is another child, just bigger  (here an interruption : my American wife tells me not to generalize : I better stop now). (July 2014). Read about children in Paris.

 

 

 

The quintessential Frenchman. If you want to understand the French and their values and explain their often bizarre behavior (by American standards), you can go and spend forty years in France (that's what my wife did). But if you hesitate and consider that marrying a Frenchman can be too complicated a method, you can also just look at their president and listen to what he says and everything will become clear. One year only after he was elected president, France fell out with Germany (our best friend a year ago), with Britain (nothing new since 1066), with Spain, Portugal and Italy (interestingly, he wanted to build, and of course, to lead an alliance of Southern European countries against Germany) not to mention the other 22 European countries (too small to be considered), etc. First lesson : the French do not mind being alone against everyone else : it reinforces them in the feeling that they must be right. Before being elected, he said he would "réenchanter le rêve" ("re-enchant the dream") and : renegotiate the European Treaty (already signed by all the other countries), force the other countries to "introduce economic growth in their policy" (?), balance the State accounts, and make other European countries come closer to "the French social model", etc… After 10 months, he was was asked, in a press conference "You said you would balance the accounts and nothing can be seen in that direction" and he answered "I said I would balance the account and as soon as I was elected, I decided they would. Any other questions?". Second lesson : for the French a general idea is always better that a a particular fact : reality is boring. In his life, he has never set foot in a company (except for cocktail parties) and he has been a public servant since age 18 : he lectures entrepreneurs about what they should do and should not do. He traveled very little and in China, where he never went before, he offered the Chinese government the help of the French government to overcome any problem they might encounter. Third lesson : for a Frenchman, nothing is out of reach, intellectually speaking. Finally (this column is too small to accommodate more than four lessons), he has five children from three different women, was never married to any of them and he spent the first year of his mandate painfully making accepted a new legislation about gay marriage and adoption. Fourth lesson : for a Frenchman, there is nothing common between his public opinions and his private life. In addition to that (but it might be in some of my next lessons : remember, the French love to give lessons), I might consider other aspects of this strange human phenomenon (François Hollande and maybe his compatriots) : he is very bright, quite funny (he is famous for his jokes) and, as the the leader of the Socialist party, proved very skillful in handling its contradictions and making it win. Strange man (strange people?). (May 2013). More about French politics.

Good news for Europe : UK steps out ! In the midst of the Euro crisis (Dec.2011), a very timid step toward a more efficient Euro zone coordinating the financial policy of the member states has been voted by 26 countries, the 27th one, the United KIngdom, which is not a member of the Euro zone, voting against it. This is good news. There is no doubt that, culturally, Britain is a European country : we share Shakespeare, Goethe, Molière, Cervantes and many others. There is no doubt either that politically and psychologically it is not. When the British refer to Europe, they do not refer to themselves, they mean what is in the other side of the Channel. The proportion of British citizens who think that UK should opt out has always been between two thirds and three quarters. OK, this is their choice. At the same time, the other European countries are painfully trying to build what will be, one day, a confederation. They started with a free trade zone (Marché Commun, 1958) : UK created a rival zone (European Free Trade Association, 1960). Then UK decided to be inside the EC and control it so it would be only to its benefit (remember Margaret Thatcher and "I want my money back"). For many European common projects, the British strategy is always the same : they refuse to participate in it at the beginning and step onboard only if it works and then they negotiate their contribution as low as possible. In the European institutions, the British quota is filled with competent civil servants. They certainly believe in the future of Europe but no doubt they serve the future of their country first. An example : Lady Ashton, the first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, certainly did not do anything that would hurt the British policy (in fact she did no do anything at all : this is why she was proposed by her government). Therefore, instead of being inside and making the life of the other countries even more complicated (they do not need that...), isn't it better to be nicely out ? Europe (as they call it) would have nice and friendly relations with the UK, as a close foreign partner, like the USA. I understand that trying to build a federation out of 27 countries is no fun (the UK pushed to increase the number, in order to weaken it : good shot!). We'll try to build a confederate Europe without the ambiguity of having one of us constantly pushing backward because its citizens do not want it. For me, it will be an improvement and it will not change my profound and sincere admiration of the UK and its people. No kidding! (December 2011)

To related pages : to previous (#1), (#2), and (#3) editorial pages, current events in France, speeches by Philippe Rochefort, a Paris Diary, about the webmaster, my family website and its genealogy pages

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For more on intercultural differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's 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

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