This page is one of the annex pages of www.understandfrance.org, the foremost site on Franco-American intercultural differences. It contains documents, facts and figures illustrating the content of some of its pages.

Facts & figures

 

This page contains Facts and Figures about France and the French. Some are significant, other less so....

 

(credit)

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 France    The French
  • A few examples of "the French way of going on strike" : the state must do something....
    • January 2008 : in the week of a major financial crisis which impacts the stock markets all over the world, most headlines of French newspapers are like the one of the Canard Enchaîné (Jan.23, 2008) : "Financial krach : the minister of finance admits she can't fix it". Big news....
    • November 2007 : President Sarkozy had annouced very clearly in his campaign that he would put an end to the privieges of the "régimes spéciaux", i.e. 500,000 workers (mostly in the transport sector) who can retire with full pension much earlier than the rest of the work-force (see details). The Socialist Party had declared he approved this reform, 7 Unions out of 8 had accepted it, more than 70% of the population supported it. Nevertheless, a long strike paralized trains all over the country and metros and buses in Paris for two weeks.
    • In October/November 2005, 32 days of total strike of public transport (bus and metro) in Marseille (one million inhabitants). Reason : the City had voted to associate a private company (Connex) to the city-owned company (Régie des Transports) in a joint venture (40/60) to build and operate a new street car line. The vote has been perfectly democratic, the city would remain a majority stake-holder and this long strike is purely ideological. It stopped only when a court declared it illegal.
    • Due to the international situation, the price of petrol has increased and is seriously hitting small fishermen's business. On the Mediterranean sea, they have blocked several harbours (it only takes five small boats to block the Sète harbor and force incoming ships to go to Barcelona instead, 200 miles away). The president of the association of fishermen declared (June 2, 2004) : " we'll keep blocking harbours and developing our action until the government helps us ".
    • Unhappy with the project of the government to privatize EDF, the French state owned electricity utility, EDF workers cut off the power for hundreds of trains in Paris (June 7, 2004), forcing half a million people to arrive very late or give up going to work. Later, they cut, selectively, the power to tenth (or hundreds?) of government officials in their homes. The leading labor union (CGT) disapproved half-heartedly, another one (SUD) supported the action (and the Trotskists too). Says Bernard Thibault, Secretary general of CGT :"We shall not tolerate that, in the case of a labor dispute of this kind, with such major issues, any form of sanction might even be considered" (June 29, 2004).
    • An Air France stewardess is killed in an accident in Paris Orly airport when a mobile staircase is moved inadequately by a ground crew who did not check that she was on it. The employee responsible for the error is suspended. Several days after the sanction, called by CGT union, all the ground staff goes on stike and 50% of the flights are cancelled the very week-end of the beginning of winter vacations (Feb.19, 2005).
    • A big stike, including all the Paris public transport system, is scheduled for March 10, 2005, the very day the International Olympic Committee delegates visit Paris to compare it with its competitors (New York, London, Moskow and Madrid) for the 2012 Games. Question from newspapers to the unions : "don't you think this will weaken the chance of Paris ?". The mayor answers :"Not at all : it will show that this is a democratic country". Question from the webmaster : "Am I the one who is crazy?".
    • More to come
  • A few examples of unaceptable provocations in the name of "religious freedom" :
    • April 2010, in Nantes, a woman driving a car with a burqa gets a 22 Euros ticket for "dangerous driving" ; she summons a press conference to protest in the name of religious freedom. It turns out that she is one of the four wives of a Muslim activist who makes most of his living from the money they get from the State for their 12 children ("allocation parent isolé", a benefit for women who raise children and have no husband ).
    • Nora B., a traffic cop in Paris since 2002, suddenly decides to wear an islamic veil under her cap, refuses to carry the instruments attached to her function (defence stick, handcuffs) and does not want to shake hands with her male colleagues and superiors (Le Monde, Sept. 16, 2004).
    • June 2008 : a Muslim husband discovers, on the night of the wedding, that his new wife is not a virgin. He brings the case to court (in Lille) and the courts voids the marriage on the ground of the Code Civil (article 180 : in a contract, if a "subtantial part" of the object is hidden, the contract is void). Thankfully, this causes a national uproar and the Minister of Justice appeals the decision.
    • More sensible, the "Conseil d'Etat" (the French equivalent of the Supreme Court), ruled (June 27, 2008) that a Morrocan Muslim woman could not become French although she had married a Frenchman because she was wearing a burqa during the naturalization interviews and declared that "she knew nothing about secularism and women vote". The court ruled that "she did not share the common values which ground French citizenship, especially men and women equality".
    • Sept.2008 : a criminal court ("Cour d'Assises") in Rennes accepts to postpone a trial on the ground that the Muslim defendent mobster would be too weak to stand for his case during the Ramadan period. National uproar, including from the (Muslim) minister of Urban Affairs, Fadela Amara.
    • Read my column about the Burqa in France
    • More to come

Back to "Anti-Communautarism"

 
  • Equality vs. free enterprise ! The story takes place at the University of Burgundy, in the Department of Economics and is reported by André Comte-Sponville in his (very brilliant) book "Le Capitalisme est-il moral ? "(2004) (Is Capitalism moral ? his answer being : "this is a dumb question"). Interrogated about the lecture she had attended, a student was incapable of remembering what was the model of free competition ; the professor decided to start from scratch with a simple example.
    - "You are a small stockbreeder in a poor region where you have a hard time making ends meet. So do your neighbors. However, one of them starts growing potatoes and, six months later, he drives an expensive car, remodels his house and builts a swimming pool". Question to the student :
    - "What do you do ? ".
    When everyone would expect her to answer "Me too , I grow potatoes", the professor gets an astonishing :
    - "I have a fit" ("je gueule ").
    - "But why ? "
    - "It is always like that : some get too much and others not enough".
    The story takes place in a college where students study economy...

Back to equality

  •  The two Frances : in the May 2005 referendum about the European Constitution, the " non " won by 55%, a neat victory ; it gives an excellent illustration of the split between the two Frances. (Source : Jerome Jaffré, Le Monde July 19, 2005)
    • the wealthier people voted " yes " : 76% of people who make more than $65,000 vs. 37% of those who make less than $29,000
    • the more educated voted " yes " : 70% of people with a master degree or above vs. 28% of people with no university degree
    • those living in poorer areas voted " no " : more than 80% in the 5 poorest cities vs. less than 20% in the 5 richest
    • voting " yes " is associated with right wing (but not only : the pragmatic part of the Socialist party voted " yes ") and voting " no " to the left wing (but not only : the extreme right wing voted " no ")
    • optimistic France : " yes " voters think that France must adjust to the global world, competition is a good thing, reforms are needed, the French " social model " does not make much sense any more, France should learn from other countries
    • scared France : " no " voters think that Europe is pushing the undesirable effects of globalization (de-localisation of jobs, threats to the French " services publics " and " modèle social "); if they are right wing they are against immigration, Islam, the State, the politicians, and are for " law and order "

 

French-bashing

  • "I read a paragraph or two on some Frenchie web site. ..... I use the pejorative term "Frenchie" because in the second world war I had uncles and cousins either killed or seriously wounded on French soil or buried in it, and this is how they show their gratitude? I do not think that the French will ever deeply understand (they probably do not want to) what our American families suffered for them. Hearts have never healed. And all for them. Most of our dying was done on French soil, not German soil, although we had to kick the Germans out of France at a most tearful diminution to us. The French could not even do the job for themselves. How disgraceful is that? ....." and later : "Thanks for that letter from Paris with respect to Franco-American relationships. Allow me one last word, ...... Relative to 9/11, please, understand that B...... NJ is a commuter town for Manhattan. For years I rode that train to my office in Newark NJ (the last stop in NJ before the city). The remainder of the passengers went into the city. On 9/11 seventeen of my fellow commuters from our small town never returned on that train. We held a candlelight observence for them one night on the main street. There were no funerals in our town, because you cannot have a funeral without a body, and there were no bodies ever found for my fellow commuters". Joe K., B. NJ
  • "Before moving from New Jersey to Paris, I was warned of the "rampant anti-Semitism" and "extreme anti-Americanism" ubiquitous in French society. But after two months, I have yet to be tarred and feathered by Jew-hating, Bush-phobic zealots. International solidarity will be impossible until the American media cease their constant mockery and criticism of France and cut "freedom fries" out of the diet forever." Rebecca L., Letter to International Herald Tribune (Jan.5, 2005)
  • More examples of French-bashing :
    • In Summer 2005 the advertising campaign of Subway in several states, including Maryland, was " Chicken and France, Somehow it Just Goes Together ". To people who protested (including the webmaster), Subway answered they did not see was was offending in this campaign.
    • More to come

Back to "French Bashing"

  • In his book The Arrogance of the French - Why They Can't Stand Us and Why the Feeling is Mutual, (what a classy name for a book..!), Richard Chesnoff writes :
  • Schools named after...
    • For primary schools (57,000 in the country), the winner is Jules Ferry (1832-1893), and 565 schools bear the name of this Minister of Education of the 1880s who illustrates the development of education as mandatory, free and secular. Other names include Jacques Prévert (1900-1982, a poet), Jean Jaures (1859-1914, the great socialist leader), Jean Moulin (1899-1943, hero of WW2), Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695, the fabulist), Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944, writer), Louis Pasteur (1822-1895, scientist), Victor Hugo (1802-1885, writer), Irène & Frederic Joliot-Curie (1897-1956 & 1900-1958, Nobel-prize physicists), Marie & Pierre Curie (1867-1934 Franco-Polish & 1859-1906, Nobel-prize physicists and parents of the latter), Paul Langevin (1872-1946, physicist), Jean Macé (1815-1894, educationalist), all of them with more than 200 schools. Then, between 100 and 200 schools come : Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974, writer), Paul Bert (1833-1896, physiologist), Anatole France (1844-1924, writer), Louise Michel (1830-1905, revolutionary leader), Françoise Dolto (psychoanalyst), Charles Perrault (1628-1703, fabulist) and Jules Verne (1828-1905, writer).
    • For high-schools (11,400 in the country), the winner is Jean Moulin and 97 high-schools bear the name of this Resistant who was arrested and killed by the Nazis in 1943. Other names include Antoine de Saint-Exupery (writer), Jean Monnet (1888-1979, one of the founders of the European Union), Pierre & Marie Curie (scientists), Jules Ferry (minister of Education), Jean Rostand (1894-1980, scientist), Jean Jaures (Socialist leader), Louis Pasteur (scientist), Albert Camus (1913-1960, writer) and Victor Hugo (writer), each of them with more than 50 schools. Following, between 20 and 50 schools are named after : René Cassin (1887-1980, jurist), Jacques Prévert (poet), Irène & Frederic Joliot Curie (scientists), Jules Verne (writer), Paul Langevin (physicist), Paul Eluard (1895-1952, poet), André Malraux (1901-1985, writer), Georges Brassens (singer), Marcel Pagnol (writer), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519, painter), Gérard Philipe (1922-1959, actor).
    • In all, few women : Marie Curie, Irène Joliot-Curie (her daughter), Louise Michel, Françoise Dolto, Camille Claudel (sculptor), Jeanne d'Arc, etc...
    • And few foreigners : Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Benjamin Franklin (3 schools), Pablo Neruda, Youri Gagarine, Gutenberg, Karl Marx.etc...
    • More detailed results in Le Monde, Sept.2, 2004
    • See also the mosy frequent names of streets.
  • Quotes about Grandes Ecoles
    • (The Wall Street Journal, Jan.16,2006) : "Is Elite School France's Failing? Pedigreed Alumni of ENA Are Called Symbol of Society's Ills", "ENA has done a lot of harm to the country, says JM.Fourgous a member of France's Parliament, it has produced an elite that is brilliant intellectually but incompetent economically and sociologically cut off from the people", "Enarques have become like the mandarins of Medieval China, says B.Zimmern, a ENA graduate. ENA is the main obstacle to reform and change in France. It needs to be shut down."
 
    • page 6 : "...according to bookstoresales, most books sold in France are adult comic books..." (this is to prove that the French culture does not exist any more and the French can hardly read) : the real figure (2004, source Centre National de l'Edition) is 6,5%, which is not exactly "most" and one might add that there is "French school" of cartoons, not at all designed for children and rather sophisticated
    • page 131 : "...difference between rich and poor are growing, not diminishing..." : wrong! see the figures showing the contrary
    • page 40 : "...the prefects are appointed by the regional councils..." : absurd ! If you have to say ONE thing about them, you must say that they are appointed by the State (to control everything, including the regional councils)
    • and many more.... I hope his reports were more accurate when he was the correspondent in Paris of U.S.News & World Report !

 

Miscellaneous French traits...

  • About gratefulness.... " Le voyage de Monsieur Perrichon " (Eugène Labiche, 1860) is a very funny play about Mr.Perrichon, a ridiculous and pompous character, a typical 19th Century " bourgeois ". He is visiting the Ice Sea in Chamonix with his daughter Henriette and her two rival suitors, Daniel and Armand when suddenly, she stumbles and falls into a big " crevasse " (crack) : Armand saves her life. The whole family is thunderstruck and Monsieur Perrichon expresses his gratitude to Armand but, as they walk down the mountain, he becomes tense and cold, obviously worried, as Armand reminds him how grateful he must be to him to have saved the life of his only daughter. Daniel, who is smarter than Armand, gets the message : he lets himself fall into another crack and Monsieur Perrichon is only too happy to save his life (which was not really at stake). Monsieur Perrichon is very proud of what he did and very grateful not to Armand but to Daniel. In an immortal line he says to Daniel : " Vous me devez tout : je n'oublierai jamais " (You owe me everything : I'll never forget ). Constantly reminding people how proud you are to have helped them can be very counterproductive. Guess who married Henriette? Back to ungratefulness.
  • SNCM : a very French (and Corsican) story.... SNCM is a 100% state-owned company operating ferries between Marseille and Corsica. Once a monopoly, it is now competing with Corsica-Ferries, a private company operating from Genova, Italia, which now has more than 50% of the market share. SNCM received a Euro 70 m state subsidy (no longer accepted by European regulation) and loses Euro 25 m a year. SNCM is poorly managed, offers lousy service disrupted by constant strikes (roughly two months per year !), is grossly over-staffed (it is a well-known job provider for Corsican independent movements such as the FLNC) and is practically managed by the powerful CGT union and its charismatic leader, Alain Mosconi.

America

  • For the French, Americans sometimes appear quite insular! Here are a few examples :
    • The (classical) Hamond "World" Atlas contains 156 pages of map, including 126 maps of the USA (the rest of the world must fit into 30 pages)
    • "Legend and Legacy : the story of Boeing and its people" by Robert Serling, a 480-page book published in 1992 contains only a few lines about some Airbus planes and not a word about their competition : an innocent reader would keep believing that Boeing is almost alone on the market of commercial airplanes.
    • How about the "World" Championships in sports which are played only (or almost only) in the USA : football, baseball...?
    • Many online stores require filling out the "state", which makes no sense in non-federal countries, as if there was no world outside the USA...
    • A whole article on the drawbacks of the project by Google to digitilize 7 million books does not mention the European governments-sponsored project to digitilize 5 million (by Alex Beam, IHT, Dec .6-7, 2008) : it is non-profit, in several languages and (worse of all) a French idea...
    • More to come....

Back to insularity.

 

In September 2005, the government decided to privatize SNCM and, after a competition which did not show much interest from investors, due to the highly political difficulties of the task, a Franco-American investment fund (Butler) and a French operator (Connex) offered a deal which included a huge grant from the state (more than Euro 110 m) and a 400-job cut.The CGT union and Corsican movements went wild. On Sep.27 : the whole harbor of Marseille was blocked, Corsica was cut from the continent (6,000 tourists blocked), a gang of 40 union members including Mosconi took control of a ferry, the " Pascal Paoli ", and after neutralizing the officers, took the boat to Bastia, Corsica.The following night, the boat was taken over by special army commandos and 4 union members (including Mosconi) were arrested. (read more about it). In June 2014, nothing has changed : the SNCM is (again) on strike, the financial situation is now hopeless, etc. What is very French about this ?

    • The State is a lousy shareholder : this situation has lasted 20 years, with no action from the State to treat it
    • It is not courageous : the day after the hijacking, the State pulled back and declared that it would keep a 25% share in the privatized company
    • Taxpayer's money is not an issue : SNCM has cost hundreds of million of Euros so far but the public opinion is not mad at SNCM and CGT
    • If you have a political power (CGT, FLNC) you can do anything and escape laws : the four pirats were released after one day and it is highly doubful they will ever be punished.
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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

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