Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On France 2

There's a brilliant article on the French elections by my pal George Walden in the Telegraph. Reading this, I realised what, in my blood as opposed to my head, I find wrong with the French. It is the contradiction between their progressive, frequently revolutionary rhetoric and their terror amounting to blind panic at any suggestion of change. The first makes them haughty and smug, the second paralytically parochial. But, as I said before, they do the quality of life thing much better than we do now. We were better at that when Alec was a lad.


  1. It's easier to be radical in one's thinking when the chips aren't down, so to speak. Chips! Sacre Bleu!! Nous n'aimons pas vos frites anglais detrempes! (I try. But not my best subject in school). I, for one, like the French.

  2. "they do the quality of life thing much better than we do".

    This has become a truism, but I'm not sure it's true,and the evidence certainly doesn't support it. In all surveys of self-measured happiness the French come significantly down the scale, and substantially lower than us hapless, harried and over-worked Brits. In addition you have to wonder about the quality of life of a nation that pops anti-depressants to quite the extent they do: two and a half times as many as us.

  3. Good points, Recusant. Perhaps I mean they do the quality of life thing better FOR us and for all visitors. Depressed, the tread the grapes to soother our over-worked palates.

  4. Hmmm... If it's true that they do pop two and a half times the anti-depressants as we do, then surely they must be a very happy nation.

  5. That English blood of yours is peeved. All those good wine making areas, lost. But its best to think of it another way. Imagine the price of the stuff, had the taxing masters in Whitehall been able to get their hands on the source and not just the excise+vat.
    The English over the years have produced many fine things, way to numerous to mention(plus I'm to lazy to try). But they have yet to produce wine. Homebrew and the half dozen perches of vineyard Do Not count. When/if English acres produce good wine in volume, then and only then can comments about the French ways of doing things be accepted. MY GOD Man, if they change something they might STOP.

  6. Well Chip, I wouldn't say that anti-depressants make you happy. From , brief, personal experience I would say that they take the edge of all emotional states. In essence you cease to bother about being depressed. Or much else.

    I also think that a large amount of French dolour is down to the lack of enthusiasm of others to follow the French example in politics, culture, economics, philosophy, you name it. Like the USA, not that they will thank you for pointing it out, the French like to see themselves as an exemplar nation; a nation that has something to say to the world and offering a model to be followed. Both of them are 'Shining City on a Hill' nations. The trouble is that, of the two enlightenment republics, the American one seems to be winning the votes hands-down.

    The French need to have a 'point'and to be different: the trouble is that too few think they have one or are.

  7. Too busy to realise you are miserable, perhaps? I don't think so. I reckon depression is just another thing the French do better than you guys.

  8. Good point, Neil, I remember some exquisitely depressed French films.

  9. They have the knack of capturing it on film alright. It's hard to put your finger on it, but the atmosphere can often be...it's like a monumental ennui.

  10. There's three lines of dialgue I always remember from, I think, a Godard movie. They went something like"
    'Why are you crying?'
    'Because I am sad.'
    'Why are you sad?'
    'I don't know.'
    French gloom in a nutshell

  11. Great dialogue. I don't no why, but that makes me laugh.

  12. Not long ago, I spend the best part of three years in a remote village in the Pyrenees. Bar a visceral dislike of the USA among the locals - a casual reference to Les Etats Unis was by far the easiest way to start an argument, even better than a casual reference to the village down the road - I found it a pleasant, happy place a lot keener on change than the average English village. In fact, the local mayor was a socialist firebrand whose changes did a great deal of good. I found the problem to be that the French aren't very good at managing change. They have no idea of consensus or taking people with you. Not for nothing does the French Civil Service have that expression: "When you drain the swamp, you don't ask the frogs." People in France are right to fear change when it means arbitrary and completely undemocratic bulldozing which, alas, it very often does.

  13. say what you like but they gave us some good words.

    like cliche

    and stereotype.

  14. The problem with the French is that they don't have enough contempt for intellectuals.

    Ian: the man who admits (boasts?) that he has never seen a Shakespeare play is in no position to pass comment on etymology.

  15. No, hang on. I've just perfected the bon mot:

    The trouble with the French is that they have too much contempt for everything except intellectuals.

    Positively Wildean, that one. Feel free to pass it off as your own and amaze your friends.

  16. If your idea of the last words in cutting-edged philosophy was Foucault, Sartre and de Beauvoir, you'd be gloomy too.

  17. I once saw a brief presentation by a very severe, bun-haired philosopher at Hatfield polytechnic, in which she folded her arms, and walked back and forth, issuing pronouncements such as "Philosophers are dangerous people," and "Every society tries to minimise the number of philosophers it has."

    However, I believe that philosophy has traditionally been on the national curriculum in France. What does this say about the French?

    Also note that Francis Bacon claimed that "The French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are." (If true, then the last two Liverpool managers, Rafael Benitez and Gerrard Houllier, seem to provide something of an exception to this rule).

  18. he he. no, brit, not a boast. theatre doesn't intrigue me enough and there's too much to fit into a short time.

  19. Mes amis, your ancestral animosity towards the tribe across the Channel comes through here. (As in earlier posts, resentment toward your recalcitrant offspring in America came through.)

    As you can see from my last name, I've got some Gallic blood; I've also lived in France. I would be happy to live there again, too, could I but afford it.

    The French know how to be, not just how to do. Their love of food and sensual pleasures and "le petit moment parfait" suggests that they have a much better sense of how to live than those of us in G.B. and the U.S.

    Faults? Bien sur. You've named a lot of them here. But I'd still rather live in a country where a 2-hour meal surrounded by family and friends is de rigueur, even on workdays. I'd far rather retire in my 50s with a good pension. And take August off every year to simply enjoy the quotidian in a lovely setting.

    Don't diss the French. Besides the best wine in the world, they've got a beautiful culture.

  20. If you judge a system by limiting your scope to those who benefit most from it, then everywhere is wonderful.

    King Mswati III of Swaziland gets to choose a new wife from a parade of 50,000 topless virgins every year.

    This presumably makes Swaziland the best place in the universe.

  21. If you spend all your time empathizing with the worst-off of every culture, you're going to live a very sad life, Brit. Unless, of course, you become Mother Theresa and try to do something about it.

    I presume when (and if) you go to France, you don't hang out in the Algerian slums trying to get a hit of crack or a poke with a Nana. Instead, I would guess you go to the Louvre, walk along the Seine, have a coffee or a Dubonnet at Cafe Flore, enjoy a fine meal almost anywhere.

    Personally, I can't bear the bleeding hearts of the world who don't do anything about the situations they deplore but try to make everyone else feel guilty about them. If you were living in a slum helping the disenfranchised, I'd be delighted to hear your views. Instead, I believe you work in publishing and live in domestic bliss and middle-class comfort in some English village.

    France, like America and G.B., has disenfranchised, marginalized parts of the population. Mostly the disenfranchised represent the return of the colonials (in America, the descendants of slaves). They need redress, but their situation does not negate the other pleasures of the culture.

    Honi soit qui mal y pense.

  22. Non, non, Susan, vous ne me comprenez pas!

    I've been to France on several occasions and each was lovely. C'est évident!

    The question is who has the better approach: the frogs or the ros-beefs.

    In which case, judging exclusively by the best-off is as meaningless as judging exclusively by the worst-off, as you suggest.

    I do enjoy being accused of bleeding-heartery, however. I'm generally accused of the opposite.

  23. And while I do enjoy domestic bliss of the highest order (thank you), I actually live deep in the terraced heart of Bristol's chavland.