| Facts and figures about
|| The well-off and their
most French think that their
State is more impartial and their civil servants more honest
than in other countries. This belief is largely shared. Although
this is a difficult domain to explore, most studies (including
by NGO Tranparency International) show that the situation in
France is just average compared to the other Western countries
(ranking 18th) : see figures. In addition to that, the French do not seem to be familiar with the concept of "conflict of interest" : see my column.
of the current problems in France is that the flow of people
emigrating has become significant :
either for tax reasons : wealthy
people refusing to pay ISF,
the tax on wealth, and moving to Belgium or Switzerland (several
hundred a year)
or for a better life : young
well-educated professionals wishing to find a better paid job
in London or in New York more rapidly (10 to 20,000 a year)
As someone said : " The
French keep hunting the rich and wonder why they fly away. They
are the only hunters surprised to see the game trying to escape.
: during the 2007-presidential
campaign, the Secretary general of the Socialist Party (François
Hollande) was asked about the policy of the Left if its candidate
was elected. As he had explained they would raise the taxes,
he added " I must admit I don't like the wealthy ".
When the journalist asked at what income he considered somebody
wealthy, he said 4,000 Euros a month (5,500 $), which is only
about twice the average French income. No wonder he raised taxe at such an incredible level when he was elected in 2012.
Equality : the distribution of wealth is much more equal (or less unequal) in France than in the US, whatever the way it is measured (income or assets, before or after taxes, 10% richest and poorest, Gini coefficient etc). It decreases or increases much slower than in the US : the country is much "less unequal" than the USA with a trend toward reducing unequality. To know more read a few hundred pages by Thomas Piketty or click here for a few numbers.
A BRIEF PASTIME ? Contrary to the banknotes, which are identical for each value, the Euro coins are minted with, on one face, a figure chosen by one of the Euro countries. For France, it is either a female sower (people with a sick sense of humor say it represents the State wasting money) or a tree. In France, about a third of the coins were issued in another country : try to identify what's in your purse.
The image of wealth and rich people
is extremely negative.
For most French and for the French media :
The image of wealthy people is the "rentier" i.e. somebody who lives from the capital he inheritated. It is not the image of a successful entrepreneur.
You can be an entrepreneur but
please remain small ! The image of entrepreneurs is good (60%
positive) for small companies (less than, 250 employees) and
bad for bigger and international companies (25% only) (Source
: IPSOS April 2004)
The shareholder is a thief !
To the question " to whom does a company have duties "
the answer was : to clients 78%, to employee 71%, to the State,
the environment, etc.. (20 to 30%), to shareholders only 6% (same
According to Forbes (2007) the richest Frenchman is Bernard Arnault, who created LVMH
(Vuitton, Dior, etc...), with a fortune of $ 26 bn. Read about the 5 richest.
The relationhip of the French
to money is somewhat like the relationship of Puritans to sex
: they like it but they pretend not to and they do not like to
talk about it.
In France, if
you are rich you do not show it
: it is considered very bad taste. A typical example being the
traditional rich "bourgeois" from Lyon who drives in
town an old dilapidated Peugeot to his garage in the suburb where
he parks his sumptuous Mercedes.
A few illustrations :
- One of the first decisions of the new president Hollande in 2012 was to cap the salary of all the head of state-owned companies, and they are already much lower than their foreign counterparts' : for example the head of the national train companies make 250,000 Euros for the French SNCF (staff 150,000) and 2.5 million Euros for Deutsche Bahn (staff 240,000)
Checks and chip cards :
All French payment cards are
Chip cards (since the end of the 1980s : see who
invented them) and the smallest shops have the terminal to
Contrary to the US, almost all
cards are debit cards and the French use credit cards very rarely
; card bills are generally paid monthly by automatic bank wiring
: read my opinion about credit cards ("Credit?
No thank you").
The French use checks much more
often than the other Europeans (29% vs. 11% in 2004) but this
% is diminishin rapidly ;
Money scandals : while Anglo-Saxon countries
have sex scandals, France enjoys permanent scandals about money,
bribes to foreign dictators (ELF 1990s), " gifts "
to politicians (Beregovoy, Dumas, 1990s), insider trading (EADS
2007), private use of public money (Chirac 1970-2007), etc...
France being a "regal republic" (see the French state), anybody close to the power feels that he/she deserves to benefit from it (with the implicit approval of the King). I am not talking about bribes but about perks (apartments, cars, staff, services, all private expenses paid, etc…). Anybody from the President of France to the mayor of the smallest village behaves in a way that would horrify any of their Scandinavian colleagues. See my column about it. The situation is very similar in corporate life, where the CEO is the King.
Money vs. leisure : contrary to what you would expect, a majority
of people (53%) understand that shops are closed on Sunday and,
if given the choice, would refuse to work on Sunday and make
more money. More about
: the French love gold and they are among the largest gold holders in the world : ingots for many, coins
for most (there is always a grandpa or an uncle to present a
little "Napoleon" gold coin to a kid). The reason :
in case of war, you never know... See comparative figures.
Money is dirty : the government has decided that the best scientists would get a bonus (15,000 Euros during 4 years) as a reward for their achievements (Le Monde, October 25, 2009) ; a highly regarded physicist, Didier Chatenay (Directeur de Recherche, CNRS) refused it and declared : "As a matter of principle, I am against any kind of bonus...". Making 4,600 Euros a month ($80,000), he says it is a "perfectly adequate" salary. A huge proportion of scientists and researchers share this view. Do you believe that ?
When Thomas Edison visited the illustrious French scientist Louis Pasteur in 1889, he asked him how much money he had made from his discoveries. Pasteur answered : " a true scientist would consider he lowers himself by making money by his discoveries : a man of pure science would complicate his life and irk paralyzing his inventive faculties". Wow!
In France, you cannot desinherit your children : red about it and in Paris you can get a loan by leaving your (gold) watch at the counter at "ma tante".
- Read how the attitude of the French toward money translates into the way Economics is taught in High School.
- Read about tax-free saving accounts
- More anecdotes
about the French and money ; read Brunet.
- More to come
USEFUL TIP...... If you pay for something and receive insults from the dealer, you must understand that for
him/her, you pay for the product or the service only but you
do not buy him/her, who remains free to express his/her feelings,
including for your own good ! An example : you take lessons (skiing,
piano, cooking, you name it) and you do something wrong. The
instructor may treat you the way no American instructor would
do and tell you that you are DISASTER (" Vous êtes
nul(le) "), that you MUST do what he/she instructs you to
do and NOT QUESTION it (" Faites ce que je vous dis "),
etc... If you say : " but I paid you money, don't bawl me
out ", the answer is likely to be : "You paid me to
teach you something : that's what I'm doing". Read more
on education in France.
A few typical French statements about money...
A few statements, definitely impossible to translate in English with the meaning they convey in French...
- "Je n'aime pas l'argent, mais ..." (not that I like money but...) : somebody who wants to say that he/she is morally honorable!
- "Ce n'est pas parce que vous me payez que je suis votre esclave" (it is not because you pay me that I am your slave) : if you complain about the service in a shop by someone who wants to make clear you don't buy him/her when you buy his/her products !
- A quote from the (newly appointed) Socialist Minister of Culture, Aurélie Filipetti, gives a good illustration of the French attitude toward money. The daughter of an Italian miner in the former mining region of Lorraine, when she learned that the De Wendel family (the French equivalent of the Carnegie family, they made Lorraine a steel region) had given 1.5 million Euros to support the new Pompidou Museum of modern art in Metz, she said "I am against that, after all the bad things they did to my region". She does not want any money from the dirty capitalists! (May 2012)
- A literary quote : from Balzac : "Derriere chaque grande fortune, il y a un grand crime" ("Behind every big fortune, is a big crime")
- A few political quotes from De Gaulle : "Mon seul adversaire, celui de la France, n'a aucunement cesse d'etre l'argent"("My only enemy, the enemy of France, has never been anyrthing other than money") , from Francois Hollande in 2012 : "Mon seul adversaire n'a pas de visage, c'est la finance"("My only enemy has no visage, it's finance"), etc.
- More to come...
DID YOU KNOW THAT....? The Franc, which
disappeared forever on February 17, 2002 was created in 1360
by King Jean II "le Bon" ; this name means : the Valiant,
and it is an absurd name for a king who was a notorious idiot,
lost the battle of Poitiers and spent 3 years in London, a prisoner
of the English. The Franc ("franc" means : free) helped
free him for a huge ransom.
Money and politics
Do you know that, in France, the Communist party (among others) is financed by taxpayer's money ? In France the political parties are largely subsidized by the State (around 40% of their expenses : see detailed figures) according to a very complicated rule taking into account the number of votes and the number of elected officials in the various elections (having members elected is the only condition to get a check from the State) ;in 2012, each party receives approximatelyt 1.60 Euros per voter.
a special body (Commission Nationale des Comptes de Campagne et des Financements Politiques) is in charge of verifying and certifying the accounts : it can (and does) fine parties and can (and does) declare ineligible an uncompliant politician
in addition to that : there is a 66% tax break on dues and donations by private individuals (donations by corporations are not allowed)
and : in national and European elections,TV channels must run (for free) political ads (in proportion to the previous votes)
people elected to an office (from mayor to member of the parliament) give to their party a part or even most (for the Communist Party) of their salary
in 2008, the total budget of the 12 main national parties was approx. 171m Euros ($250m), 19% less than in 2007, which was a year of national elections
- see some of the strangest anti-rich ideas of the 2012 political campaign
- more about politics
DID YOU KNOW THAT …? To illustrate the (strange) relationship of the French to money, read that quote (1971) about money, from former President François Mitterrand : "money which corrupts, which bribes, which crushes, which kills, which ruins and which rots even to the very conscience of the man". He enjoyed money like anybody else and had many very wealthy friends but did not want his compatriots to know it.
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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
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