Irksome France!
 Are there national traits ?   France's worst enemy : the French!

In a country of 66-million nothing is totally black or totally white ! However certain aspects of the French are hard to adjust to, at least by American standards. Here are some of them... For many foreign visitors, the most unpleasant aspects of France and French life are often related to some form of lack of civic sense. Among them:

  • Selfishness ? Taking people hostage with constant strikes in public transport or in museums or blocking the roads to force the State to intervene in a labor dispute instead of negotiating (in 2003 : after several weeks of strikes, teachers threatening to cancel the high-school final exam or actors and musicians causing the cancellation of most Summer festivals). Read how the French football team ridiculed its country in the 2010 World Cup.

  • Dirtiness ? Dog poop all over the sidewalks (in Paris : 16 tons/day, 650 injured/year) and dogs in shops, restaurants,... graffiti on the walls. Body odors and Turkish toilets

  • Jealousy : the French hate the idea that someone else has more than they have ; they are not impressed by differences in talent or work. As someone said "the dream of Americans is equality at the starting point, the dream of the French is equality at arrival...". See numbers about how jealous the French are.

  • Lack of civic sense ? Growing "incivility" : people smoking everywhere, even in non-smoking areas (but the situation is imroving and comparative figures show that most European countries are even worse !), people incapable of queueing, etc...

  • Illusions ? Many ridiculous aspects of the national political life, as if France was the center of the world. A typical example being François Hollande, then candidate for the French presidency, declaring in January 2012 that, if elected, he would immediately re-negotiate the European Agreement on Budgetary Discipline which had just been painfully reached with the 27 other countries. Although used to dealing with her French partner, the German Chancellor Merkel could not believe it... In Germany, when you sign a treaty, your country is committed.

  • Extremism ? Olivier Besancenot and all these absurd trotskyist organizations, the French passion for violent moves and revolutions like the Yellow Vests in 2018-2019.

  • Conservatism ? The inability to change anything without making a big drama out of it : for instance the suppression of the "baccalaureat", which costs a fortune to organize and does not mean anything. Another example of fear and conservatism is the "precautionary principle" (see an example about shale gas).

  • Grumpiness ? Grumping constantly is a national trait (in French : "râler") and being positive is often considered a sign of weakness and naivety. Why is customer service so mediocre?.

  • Absolute ignorance of economics : most of the economic problems of the country come from the ignorance and lack of interest of the voters for economic issues as opposed to their passion for social issues. Read about French economic illiteracy and the challenge of doing business in France.

  • Franco-centrism ? The French are much more interested in themselves and their rivalries than in anything happening outside France (maybe, in this regard, they are very similar to Americans….). Frequently the French, unable to agree and compromise among themselves, prefer to have their Franco-French quarrels arbitrated by foreigners. This has happened many times in history and it is very common in everyday political life.

  • Violence is a national characteristic (see page on the many revolutions in French history) and violent people always say "we are violent because no one wants to hear us" because the contempt of the "elites" for the people is also a national characteristic. This is what happened with the "Yellow Vests" revolt in 2018-2019.

An example of Franco-centrism : years ago, two French skippers, Eric Tabarly and Alain Colas, were among the best in the world. Reporting on a transatlantic race in which they were first and second, French newspapers did not headline "Two Frenchmen among the best", or "France wins", they headlined "Tabarly bat Colas" ("Tabarly beats Colas" : the other skippers did not count!).



The French are said to be chauvinist but, in fact, they are the worst ambassadors of their country when they are abroad. Why?

  • they think they are funny : the French are so sure of their superiority that they believe they can proclaim stereotypes against themselves as a form of humor. They are surprised when foreigners take them literally.
    A good example is when French astronaut Patrick Baudry flew on the US shuttle in 1985, wearing a "beret basque" : it was an excellent way to proclaim to the world "France = beret + red wine" instead of "France = technology". Too bad for French exporters...
    I wrote to a magazine :"what damage can a monkey make in a space shuttle ? Not much, but Baudry can do a lot of harm : we should have sent a monkey."
  • They export their own quarrels : they often fight among themselves regardless of the impact on the opinion of foreign countries. A well-known case is when people escaped France after the invasion in 1940. Some of them went to London, following General de Gaulle. Many others went to New-York (Claude Levi-Strauss, André Breton, Saint-John Perse, etc…) where they worked very hard to destroy the image of De Gaulle for their American counterparts, chiefly Franklin Roosevelt. For him and for most Americans, De Gaulle was certainly a very dangerous person since, in a situation of war, even his own compatriots advised their allies to distrust him...
  • they do not care about the opinion of other people : if they behave in a ridiculous or provocative way, never say to them "you are hurting the image of your country" because, for most French people, it is natural for other countries to love France… More about French attitudes.
  • more to come...

USEFUL TIP..... If you want to understand us, the French, remember that : we are very much like YOU, the Americans : we think that we are generally right, we too believe that everybody is watching us, we too are sure that what we do and what we think can be useful for the rest of the world, etc ... Read my column "No more lectures, please!" : it could also apply to us.

Some facts & figures

  • Vandalism and violence : the first year of Velib (the fantastic short-term rental bikes system in Paris), out of 20,000 bikes, 8,000 were stolen and 8,000 were so badly damaged that they had to be replaced.
    The City of Paris launched in 2009 a campaign saying "it's no fun to tear apart a Velib : it can't defend itself" (very naive, in my opinion...). (source)

    By the same token, graffiti cost tenths of millions every year to mass trransit, only in Paris.

  • Misbehavior of the so-called "elites" : in a country where authority is the key to everything, many people who detain some kind of power (ministers, members of the parliament, high ranking civil servants, mayors, etc) may take advantage of it up to an undefendable point, even if it is not legally a crime. Examples are innumerable and among some of the recent ones :

    • Agnes Saal was CEO of INA (the French TV national archives), a typical successful (Left-Wing) civil servant from ENA : a whistle-blower disclosed that she had spent more than 40,000 Euros in taxi bills in only ten months, although she has a full-time chauffeur ; she resigned (April 28, 2015) and, the next day, she got a new (tailor-made) job at the Miinistry of Culture.
    • see more examples of that kind of behavior, consistent with a top-down country where anybody close to the king considers him/herself a quasi-king ... parcularly the case of Fran├žois Fillion, a former First Minister who would have been elected president of France in 2017 if a scandal about his behavior had not killed his candidacy (read about it).
  • more to come..

Lying is no big deal in France ....

In France, a cabinet member can lie openly in front of TV camera and still keep her job : read the wonderful story of Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice in March 2014 (see picture opposite).

The story of Chistiane Taubira, lying in front of TV camera (and illustrating her ignorance in the field of technology).
In March 2014, a (new) scandal weakened the Socialist government. A brief recall of the facts.

  • It was established by a press investigation (Le Monde, Feb.26, 2014) that, for eleven months, the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy had had his phones tapped and, in particular, his conversations with his lawyer Thierry Herzog. The pretext allowing a judge to order this very unusual treatment, usually devoted to mafia leaders and terrorists, was that in 2011 a judge had indicted him for "abus de faiblesse" to obtain money from Liliane Bettencourt, the richest woman in France and the daughter of the founder of L'Oreal, for his political campaign in 2006. In spite of the humiliation of being indicted for the crime of extorting money from a very old lady, Sarkozy very easily obtained a "non lieu" i.e. the prosecutor dropped the charges, which were absolutely unfounded. However, the tapping was not discontinued because, for the Left who hated him, Sarkozy was the most dangerous rival for the presidential elections in 2017 and anything that weakened him was good (he had then 5 or 6 indictments on various grounds!) and the Left always found a judge to prosecute him (most judges hated him since he had tried to reform the French judicial system during his term and he had said of them "they're all alike, just like peas in a can", which they did not appreciate!).
  • Anyway, the question was : since the judges are an independent power according to the Constitution, did the four most important members of the executive power (the current president Francois Hollande, the Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Minister of Interior Manuel Valls and the Minister of Justice Christian Taubira who was, constitutionally, the most important member of the cabinet, after the PM) know about the existence of this (very unusual) tapping of a former president's telephones. `
    The president did not comment and the three others said : "I have never heard of these taps : I learned it when I read the newspaper" which is obviously a big joke. Why ?
  • First, because the tapping is ordered by a judge "juge d'instruction" who is independent but must report any tapping to the "procureur" (local prosecutor, who, contrary to the US, reports hierarchically to the Minister of Justice). Second, because materially the phone taps are made by police officers who, in such a delicate matter, will of course report to their boss who will report to the Minister of Interior, head of the police forces. Third, because on January 31, 2014 the Minister of Justice herself signed a decree demanding all "procureurs" to report to her "on any delicate matter concerning important personalities and with possible political consequences".
  • So, of course when she said she had learned of the tapping by reading the newspaper Le Monde, she was lying, but she did worse. On March 12, after the meeting of Cabinet, she declared during the press conference of the President's spokesperson : "I did not lie when I said I did not know and the proof in this letter from the Procureur General but unfortunately, I cannot disclose it for reasons of confidentiality". Of course, some in the media took a picture of the letter on the screen, and it said " . . . regarding the tapping of President Sarkozy, I have kept you regularly informed during the past months . . . " (or something like that).
  • Four conclusions :
    1. She lied (but it was obvious from the very beginning)
    2. She is technologically dumb and underestimates the press
    3. In France, lying is not a case for dismissing the head of Justice (she resigned only in 2015, for another reason)
    4. French people laughed but (at least on the Left) they were not shocked : lying is no big deal in France!Pathetic !
  • More about lying....
Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira during her fatal press conference March 12, 2014. (credit)


Want to know more about irksome France?

A few examples :

  • "Garde à vue" : there is no habeas corpus in France and police can keep you, without any request by a judge, for 24 hours, extendable to 48 (or 96 hours in case of suspicion of terrorism). It is called "garde a vue" (literally "kept under sight"). More about it and about French police.

  • Ugly tourists : all comparative surveys show that the French are the worst tourists in the world : demanding, intolerant, cheap, etc...

  • And how about huge transport strikes (a month long of more) like in 1995, 2018 and 2019 for the most recents ones ?

  • More to come ....
To related pages : more intercultural (#1), anti-americanism (#2), intercultural management (#3) and the image of the USA (#4), more intercultural (#6), French values (#7), ugliest buildings in Paris, etc...

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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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