From the outside, France is perceived as an attractive place to live. From the inside, however, it’s a whole different story.
Consider these current statistics:
- The unemployment rate for young adults in France today is 25%,
- 53% of French expatriates are under 35 years,
- 27% of young adults said they plan to go abroad in order to attain a successful life; in 2012 that percentage was only 13%. In the space of one year the number has doubled and illustrates the growing malaise among young people here,
- 40% of French people working abroad do not want to return to France.
Young people no longer believe in the ability of France to offer them a better future. Despite having university degrees, they cannot find jobs. Despite President Hollande’s promise to make youth and employment top priorities, he’s done nothing of consequence. In the last four years, France has entered its third recession. Disenchanted, French youths are leaving in droves.
“The dramatic cultural and economic changes currently shaking the globe are still often met in France with parochial, irrelevant conversations, a symptom of the insular intellectual bubble in which the country has been trapped for far too long.
Young French people need to go abroad, to work, to travel, to see how things work differently in cultures and countries that don’t play by the same old rules — and then come back to France, and reinject some of the energy and enthusiasm they’ve absorbed to help reconcile the broader population with the global reality that France has shunned for far too long.”
It’s true. I’ve often said that the French live in a bubble. I also refer to this country as Planet France.
An estimated 300,000 French are living in London and 200,000 in Belgium. New York City, Miami, Montreal, Sydney and Singapore are other popular destinations. Once installed, how do they view their native country from afar?
“depressed”, “neither values nor stimulates young workers”, “needs a serious change of mentality, including a new tax, social and political climate”, “a country that has it all and yet…..”, “sinking slowly into decline, division and pessimism”, “fiscal overkill”.
The two predominant complaints are “A country where the general environment is unfavorable to business creation. Why would you want to kill entrepreneurship?” and “In everyday life, it’s the French mentality that is the least missed: the lack of service and aggressiveness in daily encounters.” Those who move to Canada or the U.S.A. say the people are so much friendlier and helpful, there’s simply no comparison.
As a Canadian living in Paris, I do miss so very much the easy exchange and social banter that occurs between fellow citizens in my own country. This doesn’t happen here. Formal and guarded, it’s as if the French are inherently suspicious. Or just downright unfriendly. Why? The only person in my building with whom I have friendly chats is the Moroccan concierge. I also chat with my neighbour, a friendly Frenchman in his late 60s, but I must admit that his discourse is sometimes peppered with racist inferences which I don’t appreciate.
Frenchman Jacques Attali, well-known economist, writer and former advisor to President Mitterrand summed it up nicely. Last month he organized a forum in Le Havre called Movement for a Positive Economy. At a press conference he said that if France wants to solve its crippling problem of recession and unemployment, the economy – and the French themselves – must become more positive.
“The French are suspicious of anything and anyone,” he said at a press conference. “They do not like each other and they are very pessimistic. This leads to a lack of confidence in the future.”
A few years ago I was a private English coach. A student of mine, a pharmacist in her late 50s, wished to improve her English because her 27-year old son lived and worked in New York City. She visited him frequently. He had no intention of returning to France. After a difficult beginning, he eventually secured for himself a high-paid managerial job in finance and was about to purchase an apartment in an upscale Brooklyn neighbourhood.
“Maman,” he would say to his mother, “Never would I have been given such job responsibility at my age nor such a salary in Paris. When I look at my contemporaries in France – struggling to find work or doing internships or stringing together short-term contracts – I feel sorry for them.”
And that’s what happens. They leave Planet France and can’t believe their eyes. Relations are easier, attitudes are healthier, barriers are fewer, and they can progress in an infinitely shorter space of time.