Many foreigners have a rosy and romantic image of France. Official French
information and tourist information project such an image for obvious reasons.
Media project such an image because that is what people like to read, so it
sells. Media generally tell you what you like to hear. But while the romantic images are not necessarily false, they only
represent a part of French reality.
It may seem needless to say, but I will do it anyway: Don't assume that people
are friendly just because they appear friendly. It's tempting to arrive in the
beautiful nature and the warm climate of the south and take a word for a word.
There are genuinely friendly and honest Frenchmen, and there are Frenchmen who
appear friendly so long as everything goes to plan. However, it may not take
much to turn relations sour. A demand for repair of a rented accommodation may
be all it takes. At such an occasion, many Frenchmen will instinctively accuse
the client or tenant to have broken the equipment himself, without having done
anything to find the cause.
In regions or communities where the locals keep a
regional or local identity that they may value higher than their French
identity, you many find that one local will very often protect another local
regardless of who is right.
This includes legal officials such as judges, bailiffs (huissiers),
notaries, so-called judicial experts, mayors, local administration staff and
many others, although you are more likely to find this tendency of favouritism
in the countryside than in cities. When it happens, it can be real bad when they
put their regional conscience above their professional conscience and make a
sham procedure. This can for example be the case in Provence, where anyone from outside
Provence may be regarded with suspicion, and particularly those from the large
northern cities Paris and Lille. Parisians may in fact encounter more
difficulties getting accepted in Provence than foreigners. While people
in Provence consider the northerners, and particularly those from Paris,
arrogant, those in Provence have a reputation for not hesitating to shaft others
if they can get away with it.
Marcel Pagnol, a French author having spent his
childhood in Provence, and the producer Claude Berri magnificently demonstrate
the Provence character in the double-feature films Jean de Florette I and II,
also named respectively "La source en Provence" and "Manon des
sources". While showing the natural, splendid nature of Provence at the
superficial level better than any tourist film could possibly do it, the film
also has a parallel, very sinister story to tell about the cruel selfishness that makes some people in Provence do
everything for money and gain, or just sheer contempt of outsiders, whatever the damage to others, in extreme cases
as far as murder. It is a movie one
can watch many times and discover new details every time. At the first viewing,
many would mainly be charmed by the beautiful nature. At the following viewings,
the devious scheming becomes increasingly clear. It's nothing less than a
The Irish author and poet Finnbar Mac Eoin, also known as
Finnbar Owens, found out the hard way how
Provence really is, and that it is not just the charming but one-dimensional
tourist scene that Peter Mayle has taken to the extreme. Mac Eoin's crime was to
express public support for Pierre Cardin's purchase and restoration of
properties in the Provence village Lacoste. Finnbar Mac Eoin has since been the victim of
repeated vandalism, obscene phone calls, and two of his dogs died mysteriously,
one of them by poisoning. Listen to Mac Eoin tell about himself in the half-hour
Irish Eye On Provence. A good deal of the locals in Lacoste would rather have their village remain half
full of ruins than have a 'foreigner' - that is anyone not from Lacoste -
In Boyhood's Fire, Finnbar tells about his dramatic existence at the edge
of life during childhood in Ireland and youth in London. George Orwell's
Down and Out in Paris and London pales next to this, and one often wonders
how Finnbar survived his extremely rough youth troubled by alcoholism, poverty,
and a lack of vision for life.
Later diagnosed as dyslexic, Finnbar had been vilified by an old-fashioned
school system that had no knowledge of this condition. The resulting school
failure was what primed his descent in what can only be called an abyss.
But Boyhood's Fire is not just a book of misery. Most importantly, it is a book
of hope, and of how selfless human kindness finally helped him out of his misery
and onto an adventure in New Zealand with his wife and saviour.
Finnbar tells his story with wit in a cruelly frank and refreshing writing style
that catches the reader's attention from start to finish. Don't expect a
polished and super edited book. This is real life in all its nastiness and
Following his adventures in London and New Zealand, Finnbar tells about his and
his Kiwi wife's continued story
arriving in France without a word of French and
As in Boyhood's Fire, their situation seems completely hopeless, but they
overcome all their obstacles and manage to start a new life.
No matter how hopeless or ridiculous the situation is, Finnbar's talent for
storytelling makes this book a joyful insight in how Provence really is, a
reality far away from Peter Mayle's superficial tourist guide style books. One
of the funniest parts in the book is about renovating a ruin in Provence for a
clueless, snobby English woman.
Finnbar and his wife now live next door to Pierre Cardin in the village
of Lacoste in the Luberon, Provence, a village where the beauty is contrasted
with the sinister atmosphere of the locals who are fiercely opposed to Cardin's
buying and renovating properties.
I warmly recommend both books. Despite Finnbar being dyslexic and
a debutant author, these books are as enjoyable as for example Stephen Clarke's
A Year In The Merde but very different.
So don't take anything for granted. You need to be cautious but at the same time
friendly until you know that something is wrong and without succumbing to
paranoia. Considerations of what is fair
in France may differ from what you consider fair. As there isn't any social
stigma associated with cheating (unless oneself is the victim), what is fair
seems to be what one can get away with, not what a Briton or a Scandinavian
would necessarily consider fair.
In countries such as the USA, the UK, the Nordic countries, and Germany, you can
conduct your activities with a certain degree of trust that the other party to
an agreement isn't systematically waiting for every opportunity to take
advantage of you and cheat to gain an unfair advantage. Cheating obviously
occurs everywhere, but it's not the rule in these countries. In France, it's
more or less the opposite. You need to be permanently on your guard and document
everything. If you show confidence in a Frenchman, he or she will often
interpret it in the sense that you are weak and naïve since you are not taking
all the precautions a Frenchman would have done, verifying and documenting every
detail. The Frenchman may well take this as a carte blanche to cheat you. As he
sees it, you asked for it, since you didn't take precautions. This is typically
seen in home rentals, whether short or long term. Here is what an American owner
of a holiday flat in southern France told me about French tenants:
"I won't rent our place in southern France to French anymore. They're
distrustful, abusive, difficult, and frankly-- a bit insane. Like they enjoy
making trouble for you. And they love to argue. I would certainly hate to be in
business there with them as my customers."
The French simply behave as they have learnt to behave, not trusting anyone,
because if they trust someone, they are likely to be screwed in France. Quite
naturally, they are afraid that if there isn't a detailed inventory, the
landlord will bill them for something that was already broken before they came.
That's what French landlords have made a tradition of doing. The trouble is that
when they behave like that with someone from a culture with more of a climate of
trust, you get a clash between cultures.
What you need to understand to survive in France is that when a Frenchman
promises something, it doesn't have the same meaning as when an American,
Briton, German, or Scandinavian promises something. For a Frenchman, a promise
given is no more than a statement of intention that they feel free to change if
they feel they have a reason to do so. If it suits them, they'll just move the
goalposts without telling you in advance. You need to take precautions and not
trust that the Frenchman will do what he said, because he might just as well do
the opposite. If you trust him, you may get burned if you didn't take
Everybody feels entitled to take a bit more than they are entitled to, so they
think it’s only normal if others do the same. Some people don’t know where the
limits are, because the limits are floating. They step over the line and see
nothing happens, so they step a bit more over, over and over again, until they
become as criminal as the criminals. And then finally you end up with corrupt
police, corrupt judges, corrupt everybody. In 2012, a huge police corruption scandal broke out in Marseilles. This
must-read Telegraph article is an excellent summary of the third world
conditions in French police.
To survive France, you really need to become almost totally paranoid and
distrustful, no matter who you deal with, from the individual to the
corporation. The cheating mentality is so deeply ingrained in French mentality
that it permeates everything, and to the extent that it is you who is seen as
the odd one out if you question the tradition of cheating.
To make a very crude allegory, where one can consider the American character
as a dog, recognising its master, running and panting to go fetch the stick to
return to the owner, jump up and down, and get its reward, the French character
can be associated with the cat, independent, suspicious, cunning, refusing to
obey any orders, considering itself the master and the owner its territory (no
offence intended for any of the nationalities). If you walk into a cat's
territory without knowing what you're doing and what you're facing, you'll get
your nose or limbs scratched. If the dog thinks it can charm the cat by fetching
sticks and panting, it needs to review its strategy. The cat couldn't care less.
French journalist and author Éric Dupin published the book
Une société de chiens in 2006 describing what he considers the
increasing cynicism in French culture. His views are close to mine.
You will only rarely hear a Frenchman admit a mistake and even more rarely
apologise for a mistake. You might want to keep a bottle of Champagne for the
one occasion in a lifetime it happens. According to French culture, admitting a
mistake, or that something can be improved would be seen as a weakness. If
something goes wrong, it is always someone else's fault. They don't feel
responsible for anything. They
think they must pretend at all times that everything is fine, and nothing can be
improved. That means that even the simplest things can turn into infuriating,
That was the case when my ten-year old daughter once told me she needed to
change when I picked her up at school, because there was no toilet paper, so she
had not been able to wipe all the faeces off during a visit to the toilets. I
immediately wrote a few words to the head teacher to ask him to assure that
sufficient toilet paper be made available in the future, as this is obviously
unhygienic and humiliating to the children.
Instead of simply telling me the problem would be duly dealt with and fixed,
he used his reply to explain that the paper was checked twice a day. Well, what
do I care how many times they check it, if there is not enough? The only right
answer is to increase the supply, but that would be much too simple for a
Frenchman. So I wrote another complaint to which he still did not reply that the
problem would be dealt with. Instead, he suggested an appointment so he could
explain their toilet paper policy at the school.
I finally called him on the phone, and it took about 20 minutes' heated
discussion before he finally admitted that he would deal with the problem. So
why didn't he just reply that the first time, as that was the only thing I
wanted to hear? "Because that is obvious", he said. A head teacher is incapable
of clearly expressing what he wants to say, apparently, and one has to guess
between the lines. He was more upset about what I had said about foreigners'
perception of France being an unhygienic country, and how his lack of action
confirmed this, than the unpleasant situation for my daughter.
The next day, I received an e-mail from the regional director of education
who defended the failing head teacher although he did mention that the absence
of toilet paper would not be repeated. He was upset that I had criticised the
head teacher verbally for his failing to confirm to me the problem would be
fixed and asked me to be less "aggressive" in the future. French civil servants
expect obedience from ordinary mortals. Criticism of a civil servant, or someone
else in a privileged position, is seen as lese-majesty by this privileged class,
and that is much more serious for them than school children having to wipe their
behinds without toilet paper. Try removing some comfort from unionised workers,
and you'll see strikes and demonstrations. School children have no social
status, so it's not important.
In cases where a company was wrong,
they won't apologise either, nor will they admit having breached the contract.
If you write a formal complaint and they can't find any possible excuses that
they can twist into their defence, chances are that in many cases, they will
just stick their heads in the sand and not reply. The many ombudsmen in France
are thus busy sorting out what companies themselves should have sorted out in
the first place. If they compensate or refund what they are supposed to do
according to the contract or the law, they will call it a "commercial
gesture", as if they were acting generously to do more than they were
obliged to, whereas in fact they are simply fulfilling their obligations.
It is not without reason that France and the French have a reputation for a
complicated administration. There is so much detail and so many exceptions in
French laws, regulations, circulars and other more or less official text that no
human being can understand it all. As a result, the application of these laws is
often incorrect or even arbitrary. The civil servants who have to administer the
laws on a daily basis simply cannot have sufficient knowledge to do it
correctly, unless they spend many weeks a year studying laws.
However, the government occasionally makes a real effort to simplify things
and reduce the red tape. The trouble is that even after that is done, the local
authorities continue as before, insisting on paperwork that has been officially
As an example, the proof of domicile (justificatif de domicile) was
officially abolished by
Decree number 2000-1277 on 26 December 2000, except for a handful of
particular cases. A
guide to local administrations was published by the government to explain
this. However, more than ten years later, many local administrations continue
illegally to insist on providing a justificatif de domicile even when
it has already been verified by other means that the person is living where he
claims to live. It is a dogma. No logical argumentation can change their mind.
If you show them the Decree and the governmental guide, they will just shrug. It
is hardcoded into their brain from birth that without a justificatif de
domicile, no procedure can be valid. They feel that would betray their country and
heritage if they even dared to question the usefulness of the justificatif
de domicile. Hence, they may well refuse a perfectly legitimate and
complete request illegally because that document
In the private sector, companies have an obsession with the wording lu et
approuvé (read and approved). They insist that when signing a paper or
contract, the person signing must add lu et approuvé in handwriting
next to the signature. However, lu et approuvé has no more legal
significance than bonjour. It is the signature that counts, not what
people might add of silly remarks next to the signature. This is another dogma
that cannot be discussed.
Already in 1976, the government decided that it was a waste of money for
schools to require medical certificates for children absent because of illness.
Circular number 76-288 was issued to school directors on 8 September 1976 to
tell them to stop requiring these certificates and explained it was a waste of
public funds. Yet, in 2011, many schools continue to require these certificates,
a requirement that any parent can ignore because of the government position. One
simply does not need to bother about this.
Hence the paradox that while the French never stop complaining about their
administration and its endless complexities, they thrive with useless complexity
and formality. They just won't admit it. They desperately cling to unnecessary formalities in some
irrational fear that things would stop working if they were really simplified.
The more a procedure is entwined in formalities, the more they consider it
genuine and worthy. Why make it simple if you can make it complicated? It is not
On the 3 May 1990, the Académie française decided unanimously to
reform the French language, notably to make the spelling more consistent
with the pronunciation. The Académie française are officially charged
with deciding how the French language is used and spelled. This is where
well-connected Frenchmen are placed the last few years of their lives,
particularly if they have published an intellectual novel that nobody has read.
Part of their work consists of keeping influence from the English language out
of the French language and decree silly words such as courriel for
e-mail, a silly word that almost nobody uses anyway, but they occasionally
publish a reform that makes sense.
Many of the changes
corrected the accents. For example, réglementaire was
changed to règlementaire to reflect the way it is pronounced. A more
radical measure was to abolish the accent circumflex on I's and U's except
specific cases, so for example maître is now spelled
maitre and coût is now spelled
cout. These accent circumflexes only served as a
historic reminder that once upon a time, there had been an S that place. One
still finds that S in the English version if the words above: master, cost.
But if one reads any official French text or newspaper or report or commercial
or whatever, one would not notice that a linguistic reform had taken place more
than 20 years earlier. The French treat their country and language as if they
were museums. Admitting that anything could change would destroy their
perception of the world. Hence, they stubbornly insist on the old spelling,
ignoring that what they consider traditional spelling had also at some time been
a reformed spelling. Even school teachers stubbornly continue teaching the
outdated spelling. If we look further back in history when Latin was dominant in
noble circles, French was considered no more than vulgar Latin, a language so
vulgar that noble people should not condescend to even trying to understand it.
For the French, their rights are something God-given that come before any
duties they might have. Rights are undeniable and mandatory, while duties may be
performed if no rights prevent it. You will hear about rights to make mistakes,
rights to strike, perceived (but illegal) rights to make blockades, right not to
work, right to stop providing a service in the middle of it, right not to
respect a promise, rights to holidays, weekends, lunch breaks etc., and many more
Car drivers have a right to whack their doors open onto other cars, and if
you dare to ask them to be more careful, they will aggress you verbally and let
you know how much of a stupid idiot you are. It is never their fault that they
whack their doors open onto other cars; it is the fault of the toddler who
pushed the door, or the wind, or the town hall for not leaving enough space, or
the other car driver for parking next to them, or the car manufacturer for
designing door that open onto other cars, or whatever. It is never, ever the
adult car driver's fault. If there is not someone next to them every minute of
the day to tell them what they are not supposed to do, the French don't know any
limits. That's how they were brought up in their schools: being told every
minute of the day what to do and what not.
If a garage forgets to tighten the wheels on your car after service, you
may be told that they have a right to make mistakes, and you will understand
that you are a nuisance for complaining. Like children, the French feel no
commitment to or responsibility for anything they do. You are unlikely to be able to change
that mentality. It can sound relaxed when you hear about the typical French
laisser-faire attitude, but it may not be quite so relaxing if you need
something and no one wants to take responsibility for it. After a few years, it
may even become stressful, but that depends on your own attitude.
The French have an obsession with keeping as much as possible secret. The
principle of giving out as little information as possible permeates French
society. It doesn't matter what the context is, if you want information out of a
Frenchman, you'll have to drag it out of him or her, sometimes in a prolonged
combat of words and letters.
A consequence of this secrecy is that the French don't like to explain
anything, and if they are to do it, they prefer to do it verbally, maybe so
there is no trace of what they said so they can't be held responsible. As I
explained above, the French do everything possible to wiggle out of taking
responsibility for anything.
Administrative procedures in France are rarely fully explained. If
explanation there is, it only mentions the most common cases, and some of the
information is so general that it is incorrect in some cases.
If you want a copy of a report an administration has written about you,
something that is a basic right, you need to complain to the Commission for
access to administrative documents so they can tell the administration concerned
that it is their duty to provide a copy, something any idiot can read several
places online - just not a civil servant. The administration concerned should
provide the copy to you on simple demand, but they can't get into their bunker
mentality that they have to provide the information and documents a citizen
requests without further complications.
A school that informs parents of an upcoming occasion where parents can meet
teachers may just hand out a table with a few names and times mentioned with no
further information about how the whole thing is organised. I have designed
server software for IBM mainframes, but I was unable to understand the slightest
thing about such a table I was handed out, and it is not a linguistic question.
They just don't like to explain anything. When you ask, they ask you to go to
the school and meet them, wasting an hour getting there and back for something
that could have been read and understood in two minutes if they had bothered to
explain it. The more backward and secret they can keep things the better.
The Politically Correct Intolerance of Criticism
I stumbled upon a short debate about this page on
Expatforum. Articles such as this one naturally attract a wide range of
reactions. The right to criticise is a fundamental part of the Western world,
and that is a right that goes both ways. But there is a worrying tendency from
certain politically correct quarters that any opinion expressed must conform to
some unwritten rules about what is considered 'correct' to say, and to demonise
anyone who steps outside the boundaries of these 'rules'.
An article by Jonathan Turley, Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University, in the Washington Post,
Shut up and play nice: how the Western world
is limiting free speech, discusses this problem.
On my own sites, there is a Disqus space underneath every article for the
purpose of letting readers express their opinion freely. I accept critical
views as well as positive ones and only moderate in extreme cases. Hence, I
have no issue with criticism of what I write.
Back to Expatforum. One of the first comments say:
"It's a load of horse
-sh*t written by an extreme right -wing Norwegian living down here. He
regularly posts anti-semetic bullsh*t on twitter." (this comment
has now been removed by the webmaster for breaching the site's terms regarding
The first thing one
notices is the eloquence of the opinion. It's not P.C., so it must
be horse-shit. No further argumentation is necessary, because he or she has
the 'right' opinion.
Secondly, I discover
that I'm extreme right, whatever that is. My views on French culture
correspond to what the French journalist and author Éric Dupin wrote in his
book Une société de chiens. As one can find out on
elsewhere, Éric Dupin has left-leaning tendencies. Oh, and I support gay and
abortion rights too. That clearly makes me extreme right? Or does that mean I'm a
leftie at the same time as being extreme right? Probably not, because when I
dare to express dissenting opinion, I must be put in an evil 'box' such as
extreme right so it is obvious to any well-meaning person that I have
offended the holy world of political correctness, committed lese-majesty. In
medieval times, I would have been put in the stocks.
I also learn that I'm
Norwegian. That's new.
Finally, I'm informed that I post anti-Semitic bullshit on
Twitter. It doesn't matter that the accusation comes out of the thin air. What
matters is that nasty labels must be put on me because I have transgressed a
Next, we have the forum moderator claim that
"France is a perplexing,
frustrating country when you're an outsider and it's clear that he is still
fighting the old fight to show how "wrong" they are in their attitudes.
Well, the French aren't going to change because some foreigner doesn't like
the way things are here. And most of the complaints in the article stem from
the same source: this guy has no clue what the rules are and, as a
foreigner, manages to break all the rules so makes himself fair game to the
This is the typical 'it's-because-he's-a-foreigner'
argument. But Éric Dupin is not a foreigner in France, so what is the
explanation that he has described the same kind of issues that I talk about?
When I talk to a French shoe shop owner in Avignon who talks about business
conditions in France: "on ne vie pas, on survie" (one doesn't live, one
survives) and the owner of a car wash in the same city who tells me that French
justice always helps those who act in bad faith, their 'dissent' cannot be
explained by their being foreigners. But according to one expat on the forum,
"the French have created a country which works for them"
I find such an expat attitude incredibly arrogant; so long as the
expats can enjoy life in their bubbles, they don't give a damn if many of the
French themselves end up being trapped or ruined by the system that "works for
them". It is a very naïve opinion to have that just because it is written France
in their passports, they have no problems. It is nothing less than a colonial
attitude: 'France is there to please us expats, and nothing and nobody is
allowed to interfere with our rosy dreams. If the locals suffer in their own
system, we just close our eyes to their problems, not caring what they are going
through'. It is a quite cynical attitude.
Next, we have the 'things-won't-change' argument implying that
since things can't be changed, then they shouldn't be criticised. So why do we
bother criticising China's occupation of Tibet? It can't be changed. Why did
many criticise George W. Bush all the time? He wasn't going to change anyway.
According to the P.C. brigade, we should just observe things as they are, never
criticise, never try to change anything. We should just walk along like sheep in
the grey mass and accept anything thrown at us. Unless it's something the P.C.
brigade don't like, in which case criticism is justified.
Apparently, I manage to "break all the rules", however the
moderator knows that. The trouble with that argument is that the type of
rules the moderator talks about seem to be the unwritten ones. But that a Frenchman breaks a rule
written in a law or contract doesn't matter. It's the foreigner who doesn't
understand that the entitlement to break the written rules is an unwritten
rule. "No matter where you go in the world, as a foreigner you're always
going to be wrong - because you don't know the local laws or rules or
customs." This is the 'everywhere-the-problem-is-the-same-so-why criticise' argument.
And apparently, 14 years in France, and speaking fluent French from day one, is not enough to know French laws and
customs. And when the foreigner happens to know the French laws better than
most of the French themselves, he's still wrong if he wants them enforced,
because according to local customs, laws are there to be broken. And when
it's a Frenchman who ends up being trapped in the system because of favouritism
and corruption, he presumably also broke all the rules. When you get out of your
rose-tinted expat bubble, you end up hearing many desperate stories told by the
French. I guess they just don't understand their own culture and rules.
A third debater states that I
"make a living by spreading Hate".
the demonisation of dissenting opinion. Criticism of politically correct
ideas is hate. As George W. Bush said after 9/11: "Either you are with us or
you're against us". The same applies in the politically correct world. It is
a world view of simple minds. If someone dares write something
that conflicts with politically correct opinion, he must be Lucifer himself
so no mudslinging is too bad.
People like this are blind to the fact that by demonising dissenting
opinion, they themselves are spreading hate. But that's ok, because they
have the 'right' opinion.
The next point is interesting:
is Danish by the way and from what i read about the Danish system, i would
say he is not in a position to judge or give advice."
So after being told that I don't understand France after 14 years in the
country because I'm a foreigner, I'm told that I don't understand my native
country. Because what? We don't know, because my views are politically
incorrect, and that is reason enough. These P.C. debaters manage to
contradict themselves several times over.
never seem to stay in anyone place long enough to actually have such strong
feelings about any one culture."
Sure, 14 years in France isn't a
long time, and neither is 33 years in Denmark. How could anyone understand a
culture in such a flash of time?
Then comes the next hit, a comparison with
a convicted mass murderer:
ideology does coincide with that Norwegian kid who hurt all those people as
a way of deterring immigrants." (this comment has now been removed
by the webmaster for breaching the site's terms regarding defamation)
The demonisation for daring to have a
dissenting opinion knows no borders. I must be dealing with the Stasi of the
politically correct brigade here. I'm not sure which ideology I have, but
clearly, this person knows it better than I do.
the other hand I cannot take advice from anyone who speak ill of an entire
culture because they have some bad experience."
Here we have the rule
from the book of political correctness again: no criticism of their ideals
is allowed. Taking advice from someone with positive experiences is fine,
but negative experiences are not allowed.
Then the moderator continues:
"But it does illustrate rather
well what we often try to tell folks here. When you move countries, you need
a reason to be going to a particular place. If you just are "fleeing" your
home country, you wind up like this guy - never happy where you are (which
may just be the reason you were so anxious to get out of your home country
in the first place)."
While this may be good advice in general, this person knows nothing about why I have moved to
one country or another, but he or she has already decided that I must have
'fled' my home country and just drifted aimlessly around. The political correctness is
taboo, so someone with a different opinion clearly has no idea what he's
doing. It is emphasised again that nothing could possibly be wrong in a
you have a reason to stay, you'll do your part to get used to the strange
and curious ways of the country you're in."
Here is the patronising
view that "we" know what is good for you. If you move to a crime spot where
you're raped every week, you'll get used to it. It's you who don't
understand the local culture. The locals can do whatever they like. That's
"A good job, family or a spouse, a genuine
interest in the culture, a desire to learn the language - all these are
valid reasons to make a big move like this."
Note again: "valid reasons".
"We" know which reasons are "valid" for you. Big Brother always knows best.
It has been said over and over again that it is impossible to
please everyone no matter what you do. I do not aim to please anyone, and I
do not recognise politically correct borders. It is up to each reader to
decide if he or she likes it or not. I am not an anti-Semite, a racist, a
xenophobe, a nationalist, an extreme right-winger, a socialist, a
conservative, a communist, or anything similar. I make up my own opinion
independently of mainstream views, something that must be difficult to
understand for the politically correct who get their opinions served by
France is a land of contradictions, between high technology such a
power plants based on original French research, high-speed trains, a modern and
performing communications network, a dense network of high-quality motorways, and a reactionary, obsessive resistance to
any type of change, unless that change is immediately beneficial to one-self.
Decades of public over-spending, over-regulation, a bloated public sector, an
overly generous welfare system that often makes it more profitable not to work
than to work, high taxation, high social charges, unfavourable conditions for
small businesses, taxation of capital through a wealth tax, corporatism and big
state mentality has brought France close to bankruptcy. France has been unable
to cope with the changes imposed by globalisation and then the global crisis,
desperately clinging to the pre-1960 past, fearful of change and the future. A
relatively modest pension reform in 2010, raising the pension age from 60 to 62
(from 65 to 67 for a full pension) threw the country into chaos with weeks of
strikes and blockades. The government and the media are simply not telling the
French how bad the economic situation is, and how severe the necessary cuts will
be, so the French persevere in their rosy dreams of welfare, unaware of what
awaits them. Authorities at all levels continue wasting vast amounts of money
supporting pet projects and businesses they like so they can boast with their
achievements and distort competition. When it finally dawns and there is no more money to pay the bloated
army of civil servants and to hand out to friends, I fear that Greece will be a playground
compared with the civil unrest that is to come in France.
What adds to the problems is a growing immigrant population, whether first
generation or later generations, from north Africa. A vast part of them are not
integrated in French culture, social life and employment. They are simply piled
up in concrete towers in unpleasant suburbs that have become breeding grounds
for all sorts of crime and underground economy. Successive governments have
largely failed to address the problems. These problems, and a minority of
violent, rioting youth regularly burning cars and attacking police, have led to
a general refusal by the 'historic' French to accept the immigrant population,
so even perfectly decent people with an immigrant background from north Africa
find it very difficult to find work.
The introduction of the euro in 1999 is accused of many for having led to
price increases, unemployment and lack of competitiveness in export and tourism,
since France cannot devalue its currency, and French productivity has never been
able to keep up with Germany. It is my view from price comparisons that the
French overestimate the price increases and that the tightened household budgets
are mostly the result of stagnating salaries, and increasing property taxes and
fuel. The stagnating salaries are a result of the 35-hour working week and the
falling competitiveness of French industry caused by the high cost of manpower
including social charges, and the overvalued euro that makes it difficult to
French protectionism, sometimes by introducing decrees that violate
international law, led to Ryanair announcing in October 2010 that they were
going to shut down their only French hub in Marseille, until such time that
France is ready to respect international law. Whatever one thinks about Ryanair,
it is an undisputable fact that the creation of a hub in Marseille by Ryanair in
2006 brought hundreds of jobs and economic activity to the Provence region.
big-state, corporatist France don't mind shooting itself in the foot and
destroying jobs if old-style, communist-marxist unions demand it in their own
selfish interest, to defend the interest of corporations such as Air France and
union members. The first to lose out are small businesses and workers in the
When in 2010 the Eurostar high-speed train company providing rail services
through the Channel Tunnel decided to buy German trains from Siemens instead of
the French company Alstom, after a fair call for tender, the French government
immediately threw a spanner in the works, claiming the German trains didn't
fulfil safety regulations in the tunnel because of some detail that can be
easily adapted, bringing France on a collision course with Germany. The French
are bad losers. The term "fair competition" doesn't exist in their
It is relatively well known that French employment law is very protective of
the employee. But as another contradiction, once you're away from the union
controlled sectors, French employers can be the least willing to respect
employment law, effectively laying off workers illegally, as if there were no
employment law at all, and not respecting employment conditions, including not
paying the contractual working hours. The worker may eventually win in court,
but it requires a fair amount of determination and energy to keep suing employer
after employer, and when it becomes known that Mr Dupont regularly sues his
employers, he may end up finding that no one wants to hire him. As such, the
high level of protection of French workers is partially and effectively a myth.
On the other hand, the employer who honestly intend to respect the employment
law in good faith will find that it is an almost insurmountable nightmare to do
so, as the employer is bound on hands and feet if the law is applied.
One could be forgiven for thinking that France holds the record in the number
and extent of laws regulating everything at the same time as its population,
government and administration hold the record in breaching the laws. Someone
with a British or Scandinavian mentality may find himself in a dilemma between
upholding his principles of respect for the law, leading to everybody else
walking all over him, and becoming like the French, cheating and breaching laws
as a necessity for surviving.
The French are so used to not respecting anything and anybody that they don't
pay attention to elementary safety precautions. Hence, you can see a Frenchman
arriving at a service station while lighting a cigarette, all windows open while
the brain is presumably in the gloves compartment. Hence, one reads about
children and adults dying in fires because the electrical installation was
dangerous and nobody had bothered to fit a smoke detector. Hence the deadly fire
in the Mont Blanc tunnel some years ago that revealed a chaotic organisation of
how to deal with fire.
You will not be able to change this irresponsible mentality in any way, but
you need to know that you cannot presume that the sense of responsibility and
safety standards in theory and practice are anything near the level you are used
to. It means that you need to verify such things yourself, particularly if
planning to buy or even rent a property.
Expats would be well advised of not becoming too dependent on French
structures (jobs, clients, income ...), as the whole thing may come crashing
down when the public debt becomes an insurmountable problem. Don't burn the
bridges behind you. You may need to get out quickly.