|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.
This page contains
Facts and Figures about France and the French. Some are significant,
other less so....
See also :
|| 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
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
- 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
- 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,
- 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.
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,
- 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
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
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
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)
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
- 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,
- 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,
- 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
- (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."
- 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
- 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...
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. 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
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.
- 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.
The following night, the boat
was taken over by special army commandos and 4 union members
(including Mosconi) were arrested. (read
more about it). 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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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
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
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