France is in a bad state. Last week a British newspaper (The Telegraph) wrote that France is in a worse state than Britain was at the time of its 1976 bail-out by the International Monetary Fund.
And it’s true. As I mentioned in a previous post, since the recession has hit the Eurozone, the atmosphere here is full of tension. Last week an anti-fascist campaigner and university student, Clément Méric, was killed by skinheads on a Paris street in broad daylight during a clash. The French government is now taking steps to break up the far-right group allegedly linked to the death of the left-wing activist. Unemployment is at record levels, especially amongst young people, and the current government is short on ideas in terms of remedial solutions. That’s putting it mildly. The current government seems to be paralyzed by ineptitude as to how to tackle the problem. Men and women in their 20s are flocking to the U.K., Canada, Australia and Asia in search of work because there’s nothing for them here.
Today I watched a news report on TV showing images of French retirees fleeing the country. And guess where they’re going? To my country. Yes, they’re fed up with France and they’re going to give Quebec a try. I think human migration patterns are fascinating. In a surprising reversal and because of the dire situation in Spain, Spaniards are now seeking work in Morocco. And Portuguese workers are trying their luck in former colonies in Africa. They are also flocking to Brazil.
On Planet France, the majority of the French population, along with trade unions, dig in their heels and resist all attempts at reforms. When President Sarkozy pushed for raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, there was rioting in the streets. Coming from a country where the retirement age, for as long as I remember, has always been 65, I find this behaviour not only incomprehensible but archaic. Because we are no longer living in a baby-boom era where a sufficient number of children today will pay our pensions tomorrow. It’s as if the French have blinkers on.
There’s a term you hear a lot here: “l’exception française”….”the French exception.” What does that mean, exactly? It means that the French believe they are special and apart, sort of like an exalted race, and that whatever the rest of the world is doing to adapt to changing times, they need not conform to any general rule….especially rules dictated to them from Brussels or Berlin.
Last week, the European Commission told France to cut labour costs, reform its pensions system and open up its protected markets in exchange for a two-year window to bring its budget deficit under 3 percent of its GDP.
The average French citizen associates globalization with “Americanization” and believes it threatens their national identity.
Deep down, the French are romantics, not realists. Wake up, France, and smell the espresso!
That said, when the chips are down I have confidence in the French. In the twenty years I’ve lived here, I have seen again and again the nation strongly resisting all kinds of foreign imports, at first treating them with extreme suspicion, not to mention disdain – i.e. the arrival of the Internet, culinary trends other than their own, Eurodisney and McDonalds, the learning of foreign languages – and then slowly slowly coming round and accepting them, but only because these foreign imports create jobs for the French and are profitable.
The French love their country too much to let it go to ruin. It’ll take time, but they’ll eventually rise out of this quagmire. Self-preservation is critical. They might be intractable, but they are also inventive.