French exceptionalism

Are the French unruly? To explain their singularity, I will borrow a paragraph from my memoir –

As I moved around the city and encountered people and situations of the type I had never known during my entire lifetime back home, I was endlessly astonished, outraged, thrilled and dumbfounded. The French, I was discovering, were a law unto themselves. They were a separate nation, a paradoxical one. I was also learning something important: in different cultures people react differently; they laugh at different things, they get angry at different things. In other words, don’t expect to receive the same reaction that you would back home. In Paris I was an innocent, as green and guileless as a baby.

I am no longer that green and guileless girl. She left a long time ago.

It is true that at first I supported President Macron’s pension reform. I mean, after all, why should the French be different from anyone else? Why should they be able to retire at 62 when everyone else retires at 65 and older? Why should the notion of French exceptionalism prevail?

French exceptionalism is a belief that France is unique and unparalleled based on a combination of cultural, socio-economic and political factors. At the heart of political discourse and culture lies “the French model” which is viewed as exceptional. What we are witnessing today is its possible erosion for one simple reason: it is not immune to
the global, European, domestic … and demographic … forces pressing upon it. The French model is not figé (fixed). To survive, President Macron tells us, it must change. The majority of French citizens resist.

Are the French unruly? Threaten to take away their precious acquis (acquired rights) and, yes, they’ll become quite ferocious.

Macron insists the reforms are needed to salvage a system that is unsustainable in its current form. He and his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, have been taking turns defending the pension reform plans in media interviews, saying they are urgently needed. But many are not convinced. They believe there are other ways to finance the system such as taxing behemoth corporations like TOTAL ENERGIES (oil and gas) that make billions in profits. They accuse their government of “jeter de la poudre aux yeux” (throwing powder into their eyes.)

Believe it or not, the core issue of the unrest is not uniquely about age. It’s also grounded in a deep distrust of government. And even more so of bankers (Macron was at one time an investment banker at Rothschild & Co.) Some of the government’s own agencies refute Macron’s claims that the current system is doomed.

A September 2022 report by the Pensions Advisory Council (Conseil d’orientation des retraites), a state body, found the pensions system actually produced surpluses in 2021 (€900 million) and 2022 (€3.2 billion). According to the council’s estimate, “between 2023 and 2027, the pension system’s finances will reach a deficit of between 0.3 and 0.4 percent of GDP until 2032.” But the council said it estimates a gradual return to breaking even, even without reforms, beginning in the mid-2030s.

“The results of this report do not support the claim that pensions spending is out of control,” the council wrote.

“The pensions report makes it clear that the current system is not necessarily in danger,” said Michaël Zemmour, an economist and pensions expert at Paris 1 University. “It has become a form of political discourse to exaggerate and dramatize the issue, to claim that the system urgently needs to be reformed.”

Zemmour goes further to say that, in truth, it’s about getting the national deficit under 3 percent – as required of EU member states – by 2027. Macron is planning to pay for proposed tax cuts with structural reforms. “It’s not about saving the pension system,” Zemmour said, “it’s about financing tax cuts for businesses.”

Here’s a video of unruly left-wing deputies booing Elisabeth Borne in the National Assembly as she announced the 49-3 last Thursday to push through Macron’s reform.

6 thoughts on “French exceptionalism

  1. Haha I don’t know about unruly but on a recent visit to France I was reminded of just how stroppy and downright disagreeable they can be , obviously not all of them as there are nice and not so nice people in every country, but they can certainly curl their lip and look down their nose at you in total disdain !

      • I was in Nice visiting a friend , just a couple of minor things really but it jogged my memory , when I was going through security at the airport there was nobody else there , when I’d sorted my things into the plastic trays to go through the scanner I pushed them onto the roller things and had the audacity to walk towards the security guard , she was very put out that I’d not waited to be called forward ! The other issue was a belligerent server in Starbucks , looked about 15 and clearly didn’t like her job , however all things aside it’s a lovely city and the transport system is great , I did have a good time !

      • Customer service is hit and miss here. Employees rarely receive a handbook on the subject. I’d say that courtesy and helpfulness depends more on the personality of the employee than anything else. It was worse, far worse before, so consider yourself lucky. But don’t let their rudeness intimidate you. Challenge them. Tell them (in English) that where you come from, service is delivered with a smile. They might or might not understand.
        Yes, Nice is one of my fave cities. I’ve written several blog posts about that fine city on the sea.
        Thanks for sharing!

      • I wasn’t intimidated , I’d just forgotten what they can be like at times and I used my pretty poor French to reply to them , let’s not give them another excuse to moan eh ?

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