Questions about France and the French (#3)

And also :

 Why is France different ....    The French and consensus

 The French paradox, according to Nadeau:

  • "Imagine a country where people work thirty-five-hour weeks, take seven weeks of paid holidays par year, take an hour an a half for lunch, have the longest life espectancy in the world and eat the richest food on the planet. A people who keep alive their mom-and-pop merchant class, who love nothing better than going to the public markets on Sundays, and who finance the best health-care system in the world. A people whose companies are the least unionized and the most productive among modern countries, and whose post industrial consumer society ranks among the most prosperous in the world.

You are now in France.

  • Now imagine a country whose citizen have so little civic sense that it never crosses their minds to pick up after their dogs or give to charity. Where people expect the State to do everything because they pay so much in taxes. Where service is rude. Where the State is among the most centralized and pervasive in the world and where the civil-servant class amounts to no less than a quarter of the working population. Where citizens tolerate no form of initiative or self-rule, where unions ar so pervasive that they virtually dictate the course of government and even run French ministries.

You are still in France."

  • According to Time Magazine (April 22, 2002), "France is different because.... it sees itself as different" !
  • Is there a French Art de Vivre ? See some typical French values
  • Harriet Welty wrote "After 20 Years in France, Still Part of the Foreign legion" : read the article.
  • Not so different ? America and France share a universal ambition. Read about this rivalry...
  • See what is making the headlines in France and what's only in France
  • The French do not like market economy ! According to an international poll, France is the ONLY country, among twenty, where the is a majority of NO to the question " Do you think that the system of free enterprise and market economy is the best for the future ? ". France : Yes=36%, No=50% ; USA : Yes=71%, No=24%. See detailed results. The French think that "control" is better than "market" but they are not alone and this view is largely shared in Europe : see a very illustrative chart about it.
  • The French do not value consensus in itself and a French person does not feel uncomfortable when he/she takes a position against everybody else (just consider French foreign policy, and not only during the Iraq war...). When you face this situation it is often better not to try to make him/her "be reasonable" and "come half way" etc... : it will only make things worse! This is why there are so many transport strikes and why they are so surprinsingly well-accepted : in 1995, after 3 weeks of transport strikes, when many people had to walk several hours to their workplace, a majority of people still declared they understood the strikers (who, by the way, are relatively well paid and could retire at age 50 or 55).

  • In France, many people feel that, if they agree with you, you fooled them somehow and that the safest position is to be alone against everyone else. Many aggressive little dogs have the same vison of life in society... It is important to understand this attitude : the French do not trust their counterparts and do not believe a win-win solution may exist ; they do not like to compromize :

    • Cogan cites Couve de Murville, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs under De Gaulle, giving his instructions to the French ambassadors "The important thing in a negotiation is to defend one's point of view. An agreement can come as an extra. The objective is not to arrive at a negotiated solution : it is to defend one's point of view." And he adds later, about a specific negociation : "For the first quarter of an hour, I presented the position of France. From then, until the twentieth hour, I presented the position of France. At the twentieth hour, I negotiated the position of France". Wow!

    • Another example : in France, it is almost impossible for the Right and the Left to vote together, whatever the issue (in July 2008, President Sarkozy proposed substantial amendments to the Constitution, most of them if not all having been demanded by the Left for decades : several deputies of his side voted against it but all the Left, except one -Jack Lang-, voted against). A bipartisan vote never happens : read why.

    • I heard Hervé Mariton, member of the National Assembly and former minister in the French Government, pronounce the following general statement : "One must always beware of a consensus : it always hide an ulterior motive". (Dec.2009)

  • Says Robert Rochefort (director of Center of Research for the Study and Observation of the Conditions of Life, Paris) : "There is a certain cultural attitude in France that considers work, money, success and business important only in as much as they contribute to more important things like family, personal happiness and quality of life.That produces resistance to reform, especially when it comes to public services." (see the French and the State).
  • One of the most important differences between the French society and the American society is probably the fact that, by far, France is a much less religious country
  • In a poll, quoted by Time (2002), asked about
    • "what is very important to succeed in life", the French answer : Family life (85%), Love life (78%), Professional life (59%), Friends (55%), Spiritual life (19%)
    • and to the question "a successful life means...", they answer : being happy with what life has given me, both personally and professionally (41,3%), feeling fulfilled in my personal life and limiting the encroachment of work to a strict minimum (27,7%), striking a balance between my ambitions and my ability to achieve them (22,1%), having a successful professional career involving substantial responsibility and income, based on my talent and hard work (8,3%), no opinion (6%).
  • More to come....


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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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