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  • Those Sophisticated Europeans

    Posted by Shannon Love on April 10th, 2006 (All posts by )

    Well, it’s the 21 century and the French are still letting rioters overrule the democratic process and set national economic policy.

    The next time the French try to tell us how much more mature and sophisticated they are compared to Americans, can we just laugh in their faces?

     

    39 Responses to “Those Sophisticated Europeans”

    1. ed in texas Says:

      Yeah, all we have is illegal immigrants demonstrating because they don’t like the laws.

    2. ArtD0dger Says:

      I think you mispelled “sophistry-cated.”

    3. Shannon Love Says:

      ArtD0dger,

      Strangely, my spelling checker doesn’t work in title field. Lazy as I am, if the spelling checker doesn’t complain I probably won’t notice.

    4. Helen Says:

      One thing I don’t understand about Americans: why do you guys care what the French say about you?

    5. Mike Says:

      People in France, students in particular, seem willing to entertain the possibility of a discourse beyond capital. That, possibly, there’s something beyond the bounds of business ontology. Not that anyone’s offering an acceptable alternative.

      And yes you should just laugh in their faces. They are certainly doing just that to you.

    6. Ginny Says:

      Helen is right – but do we ever reach the level of security where we don’t, not at all, care what others think about us?

      Lex’s point is troublesome because it is perceptive – we have problems for which no answer seems really good. I, but then that is probably because I’m an American and used to our system, see no reason why people should demonstrate to calcify a system so that it is worse than working for the state/feds here.

      Today, teaching Steinbeck, I said something about proletarian novels having the same vision as the anti-globalist demonstrations and mentioned the French in passing. One of my student – actually a Hispanic – said his father had been running two federal programs and came home constantly complaining that he couldn’t fire – at least without a tremendous amount of hassle – some of the employees on those projects. Another student said he’d pulled two twelve-hour shifts over the weekend because the restaurant he’d worked had fired some people. He thought they should have been fired.

      So, we accept – even embrace – the ability to fire. But the immigrant problem – fence/no fence, fine the employers, felonize the illegals, guest workers, etc. etc. – I think most of us see this as so complicated that any solution is likely to have unexpected and not necessarily good consequences and hiding our heads in the sand isn’t really a solution either. So, the demonstrations demonstrate there is no easy answer. But demonstrations that protest the government of the country to which you are applying does leave a bad taste in the mouth of the citizens with whom you want to throw in your lot.

    7. veryretired Says:

      The solution to the immigration problem, at least as far as our southern border is concerned, is to follow the lead of more enlightened nations as to how they deal with the problem.

      I suggest we model our laws after Mexico’s laws about immigrants and citizenship. Since they have repeatedly told us we don’t handle the situation very well, they certainly couldn’t object to that.

      Then we can adopt the Japanese regulatory model for imported products, and the Chinese trade model for managing investment and copyright/trademark issues.

      Think how excited they would be to see us emulating their sophisticated and high-minded approach to these problems. I can hardly wait.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      Mike,

      That, possibly, there’s something beyond the bounds of business ontology

      I don’t think there is a business ontology. That runs a bit metaphysical for most.

      What we really should be talking about is creativity versus statism. The protesters do not believe that economic activities are creative endeavors requiring freedom and failure to advance. They have a childishly simplistic view in which the wise state can just order up the economic result it wants. When reality doesn’t conform to their fantasy, they pitch a tantrum.

      I see nothing there to emulate or praise.

    9. Quaker Says:

      Nice model Ginny. Reminds me of our Supreme Court these days.

    10. GFK Says:

      Helen,

      I don’t think we care much what France thinks, but we take alot of schaudenfruede from their calamities. This is partly due to their intense opposition to our foreign policy and partly due to leftists in the USA wanting to use Europe, especially France, as a political and economic model.

    11. veryretired Says:

      I don’t mind overzealousness, it’s your incoherence I take issue with.

    12. GFK Says:

      VeryRetired,

      Every time I read your post I laugh… Bravo!

    13. Mitch Says:

      Helen –

      My first reaction was that we didn’t use to care, that it was only the betrayal in the Security Council that shocked us into paying attention, and then we did not like what we heard.

      My second thought was that this was incorrect. We have always looked for comment from the outside. Part of it is the enduring sense that the US is really an experiment, and while it seems to be going well enough, we need to keep an eye on things to make all the gears are still turning. Another part of it, closely related, is the Anglospheric habit of constantly checking for errors and correcting them. That’s why we use free markets and competitive politics — things get found and fixed more quickly.

    14. genghis Says:

      The French are just being ‘The French’. If you had heard, as I did, a small slice of an interview with a Frenchman whose origins were from Algeria, you wouldn’t get with the ‘Schadenfreude’ so much!

      This young guy actively welcomed the new Labour Law, as he, and many like him, saw it as a possibility of climbing on to the twisty ladder which is the hiring structure in France; and he along with his many young brothers, was looking forward to a time when he would be able to apply for a job without the employer’s thinking fifteen times about whether he could afford to give him lifelong employment! This guy WANTED to work, and was only denied it by the silly regulatory practices which we in the U.K., for example, got rid of some time back!

      The French Prime Minister blew it, when he announced the new legislation without any prior consultation, the unions and the students saw the legislation as an attack on their power base, and the results were pictured on the screens and front pages of the world!

    15. Helen Says:

      Scahdenfrude means caring. And I lost count of the number of times I heard/read American comments about what they should do to make the French (not others, just the French) be nice to them. So, I repeat, what do you care? I am sorry to say that it is not a country that is going anywhere and its standing in the world is based on a con trick: France preens herself as the representative of Europe and, for some reason, too many Americans have bought into that. There is no such thing as Europe, politically, economically or socially. And France is not the high priest of European culture. That may have been true 200 odd years ago (and even then they tended to lose to the British). There is a European Union, a sclerotic but rather powerful organization in which France has, in the past, played the main role, which is why it is sclerotic. It is our money that is financing French preenings internally and externally. Gosh, I feel a posting coming on.

    16. GFK Says:

      I guess I care about France the way I, as a Laker’s Fan, care about the Sacramento Kings.

      They considered themselves our rival more than we did them and they’ve never beaten us in anything meaningful, but I still love to see them lose.

      ===

      Alot of it has to do with the way we saved their ass in WWII. The invasion of France was very dangerous and alot of us have family that took real risks doing it. I have a great-uncle that parachuted down into France. Alot of his buddies were dead when they hit the ground. when he came back he never got married and he spent his last 15 years or so in a VA hospital with a weak grasp on his sanity.

      Today when we see France saying bad things about the US and doing things on the international stage to hinder our policy and embarrass our leaders alot of us take it personally.

      We made a huge sacrifice to free France after it couldn’t defend itself. Now it prances around telling us how our foreign policy is so wrong and our leaders are “cowboys” (funny that hitler referred to us as “cowboys” as well.) France is pissing us off.

      We aren’t the stoic english or the frigid Norwegians. We are patient, but passionate. We feel betrayed by France and it will be a long time before something bad can happen to France without us toasting over it.

    17. Shannon Love Says:

      My interest in French internal politics is related almost sorely to the fact that some many American Leftist are Francophiles. John Kerry springs immediately to mind.

      Many American’s think that the French model is one we should emulate and I think it is important that we remember the reality that is France. France is not a worldly, tolerant, wise nation. They are insular, parochial, chauvinistic and destructively quarrelsome. They resort to massive violent strikes and riots in order to solve relatively minor political problems. Their politics are shot through with corruption on scale not seen in American since Teapot dome. Their foreign policy is staggeringly cynical and selfish and ruthlessly pursued.

      We don’t wish to be like the French and I will just laugh in the face of those who claim that the French are someone we should emulate.

    18. James R. Rummel Says:

      And I lost count of the number of times I heard/read American comments about what they should do to make the French (not others, just the French) be nice to them. So, I repeat, what do you care?

      It is important to note that there are always layers whenever you discuss any complex situation.

      On a personal level, GFK pretty much nails it. If you are looking for practical reasons, then Shannon goes straight to the heart of the matter.

      It is an well-used ploy for European politicians to blame the US for all of the world’s ills, or at least to say that we are so screwed up that they can’t go wrong by taking an opposite course. But the simple fact of the matter is that the US had to make some profound sacrifices in order to stand our ground against both Fascism and Communism in order to literally save civilization. And we notice that both of those threats were European inventions of the Left that were gleefully embraced by large sections of Europe.

      Like Shannon, I look at France as a perfect reverse barometer of US policy. Their all-consuming desire to define themselves as something other than American is extremely useful in skewering some conceits held by our own Liberals.

      To be frank we would lose vitually all interest in France if they would face reality, get their house in order, and adopt fiscal policies that would bring them prosperity and foreign policies that would bring them significance. In other words, if they would become more like the US.

      Until then they are very useful as an object lesson in how not to behave.

      James

    19. andrew Says:

      “One thing I don’t understand about Americans: why do you guys care what the French say about you?”

      Personally, I don’t care what they think. I’m just glad to see an enemy in bad shape.

    20. Ginny Says:

      Two editorials on this topic: Charles Krauthammer on “Liberty, Equality, Mediocrity.” He concludes: “There have, I suppose, been other peoples in other places who yearned for a life of mediocrity. But leave it to the French to make a revolution in its name.”

      A second critical take comes from “A Collective Loss of Europe’s Will”: Daniel Johnson notes that “the Bush administration should be worried that Europe is in such disarray on the very issue that should be uniting the West.” Noting differences with the lead-up to WWI, he contends the last week has shown us much: “April 10, 2006, was not so apocalyptic, but its symbolism is nonetheless potent.”

    21. Commissioner Gordon Says:

      One thing I don’t understand about Americans: why do you guys care what the French say about you?

      “French” is another word for “progressive”. Substitute “Swedish” or “Canadian” as facts dictate.

      Don’t take it personally. Unless the shoe fits.

    22. Helen Says:

      “Progressive” as in how? France is nothing like Sweden or Canada. For one thing, most of them smoke.

    23. Commissioner Gordon Says:

      “Progressive” as in how?

      “Progressive” as in people in America who call themselves “progressive” will often point to Canada, France, and Sweden as exemplars. For well known real world examples of “progressives” consider Michael Moore or Jeremy Rifkin.

    24. Michael Blowhard Says:

      I guess I take a different view of the France thing. I’m not a fan — spent a year there, didn’t like it all that much. At the same time, I do marvel a bit at the way some Americans like pointing at the French and going on about how evil they are, or telling them what they’re doing wrong, or (especially) how they should run their economy.

      Why should virtually anything the French do bug us one way or the other? They aren’t that significant, and little that they do has any impact on us. So they act superior. Why not let ‘em? It’s not like it gets in our way.

      I guess there are two points I’d make. (And I’m no France-Sweden lover, believe you me.) One’s that the French, at least as I knew ‘em, really really enjoy being French. (The whole cheese-eating, sneering-at-the-US, affairs-in-the-afternoon, going-on-strike-every-six-months thing.) They get up in the morning looking forward to being French. Things may have changed since. But you almost never see a French person who’s jittery or overstressed (let alone a fat nervous overeater) in the American way. They’re generally speaking getting something out of life that’s a big mystery to most Americans. I submit that, so far as this goes anyway, we shut up and learn. Oh: hey, we used to. Americans used to go to France in large numbers and return convinced that they’d learned a lot about l’art de vivre. I was one of them, come to think of it.

      The other is the attitude towards economics. Hard though it is to believe, not only do the French think we’re full of it, they’re pretty pleased about how they go about things. And in many ways they’re right to be pleased. They were a very poor, defeated nation in 1945. By 1990 they were rich and dynamic. And they didn’t do it by following American advice, or by paying much attention at all to what they view as Anglo-American economics. They went about getting rich in their own way, and it worked pretty darned well. Can we point out flaws and gaps? Sure. As if we don’t any that can be picked apart?

      I dunno, my own tendency is to giggle over their arrogance, not take it too seriously, and marvel at the way they seem to do awfully well for themselves. Honestly, it goes further than that. I think that French success (relatively speaking) throws a lot of conventional economics into question. Maybe some of what we take to be absolutes really aren’t that absolute after all. In any case, I’m pretty sure the French aren’t going to be listening to us or taking our advice. Or if they do, they’ll make of it something that suits them. And it’ll probably work out pretty well.

      To repeat: I’m not saying this as a particular fan of France, let alone as someone who wants America to emulate France. But, come on, they’re a pretty impressive culture, and even a pretty impressive economy.

    25. Steve Says:

      To repeat: I’m not saying this as a particular fan of France, let alone as someone who wants America to emulate France. But, come on, they’re a pretty impressive culture, and even a pretty impressive economy

      Michael,

      Are you generally in the habit of affirming in every particular what you deny in general?

    26. Ginny Says:

      Michael Blowhard’s position seems quite sensible except for the fact that what France does affect us: its positions have endangered us – whether in the run-up to WWII or the run up to the War on Terror, whether in Africa or the UN. That effect bears little relation to their power in terms of economics, philosophy, moral authority. De Gaulle was clearly great at leveraging positions.

      It seems dangerous to ignore them. And, yes, if they do something well (they know how to cook and how to dress) we need to appreciate their strengths. I have my doubts that their economic system is one we want to emulate, however. I’m quite sure their particular guest worker program is not the solution to our own immigrant problems. (It’s always nice to see a visitor from such an interesting blog.)

    27. Jonathan Says:

      I think American bloggers would pay less attention to France were it not for the UN and France’s disproportionate prominence in it. Some of our resentment of France may also be displaced resentment of our own leaders for keeping us in the UN against what many of us see as our own best interests.

    28. Michael Blowhard Says:

      Steve — Since when has “respecting what you don’t particularly like” been a logical problem?

      Ginny — I think you’re right that we’d do well to be wary of France’s approach to economic policies! (Although I think there’s almost always something to be learned by inspecting how other successful countries manage their affairs.) At the same time, I think it’s interesting how well France has done for itself while ignoring our advice. A globe-hopping businessguy I know just came back from Paris. Ate great, worked hard, had a lovely time. “I don’t know how they do it,” he said. “According to all our theories they shouldn’t be doing as well as they are. But somehow they just keep rolling along.” Interesting, no?

      Jonathan — I think that’s very shrewd! I think there’s another thing about France too. (Not saying that Shannon is succumbing to this, btw. Just a general observation about a tendency some Americans show to go after France out of all proportion to her importance to us.) There’s something about France that just galls us. What is it? I’m just guessing, but I think it may have to do with a kind of cloddish self-defensiveness we have. We’re populists, people of the people, darn it — real folks. We’re suspicious of art, culture, sophistication. And art, culture, and sophistication are what France is all about. (Whether they do it well or not to one side …) Not only that, but they’re proud of it, and they get a lot of uot of it. (They really do, too.) By everything we value and believe, they should be misersable, as well as an economic failure. But they’re probably more pleased with their lives than we are with ours, and they’re an economic success. Something major doesn’t compute. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. So we return to the France thing over and over. For one thing, we feel a little defensive, surly, and put down. For another — well, crap, they just shouldn’t be as prosperous and pleased with themselves as they are, darn it. Yet year after year they role on, drinking coffee and wine, having affairs, turning piroueets, turning their noses up at us, and to all appearances having a really good time of it.

      But I’ve taken things too far off-topic. Apologies.

    29. Shannon Love Says:

      Michael Blowhard,

      We’re suspicious of art, culture, sophistication

      No, American’s are suspicious of elitism.

      Our cultural problem with France is that as a matter of deep culture, the French do not truly believe in equality. In every relationship, there is a superior and an inferior. One side dominates and the other submits. This leads to an inability of those with near equal power to cooperate effectively. All the great French failures of the last few centuries have occurred because various powerful groups and individuals could not effectively cooperate because they could not agree on who be on top.

      The Anglosphere and Americans in particular have a much different attitude towards cooperation. Ours is a culture born of ruthless frontier pragmatism in which the refusal to cooperate to solve an immediate problem is a sign of selfishness and immaturity. The French refusal to cooperate until a social pecking order has been established just seems bizarre to us. If they acquire what they consider a dominate position they act arrogant and condescending. If they they acquire a subordinate position they act petulant and resentful.

      The French dominance in artistic matters is the result of centuries of using the arts in their social status competition. Consensus about what constituted great art, fashion and food became group signifiers used to maintain strictures of class and ethnicity. Admiring the French for their art is like admiring the Japanese for lopping off heads with swords. Each is the result of the efforts of an elite to maintain themselves.

      Americans are never going to buy into the French hierarchal view of human relationships. We are never going to truly get along.

    30. Michael Blowhard Says:

      Shannon — Those are nice distinctions, although I think you’ll get a *lot* of disagreement from a lot of people about whether or not Americans are suspicious of art. (I sure think we are, and I think part of what bugs us about the French is that they’re so comfy with it.) Still, it’s weird that they bug us so much, isn’t it? And that so many Americans (not you) think that what the French really need is a stern dose of tough Anglo-American economic advice. I have friends living very nice lives in France. They think that the French system — whatever that might be — has a lot going for it. Works for them (and a lot of other Frenchies), in any case.

      The giving-the-French-advice thing is just a reflex I can’t intuitively connect with. I think about the two countries as people. We’re doing OK, if with problems. They’re doing OK, if in different ways and with different problems. And when I have an acquaintance who — to all appeareances — is doing well-enough and is fairly happy with how things are going, the last thing I tend to think such a person needs is my advice.

      Your point of course is different — it’s that we should laugh in their faces when they sneer and us and offer us advice. And I agree with you completely about that.

    31. Ginny Says:

      To reinforce Shannon’s argument, we might look at the difference between the French & the American Enlightenments as well as the French & American revolutions. I suspect those differences are still at the heart of our different points of view. As Himmelfarb observes, “The moral sense and common sense that the British attributed to all individuals gave to all people, including the common people, a common humanity and a common fund of moral and social obligations. The French idea of reason was not available to the common people and had no such moral or social component.” (170 – The Roads to Modernity)

      What bothers me is the record of revolutionaries in the twentieth century trained in France; they found such ideas congenial. When they returned to their home countries, tragic quantities of blood were spent. As a superpower balancing various needs, we have no doubt been complicit in some quite unattractive governmental activities. But France’s distinctions between the “reason” of the elites and that of the common man encourages seeing the plebes as pawns in a broader and more systematic way. It works against a basic American vision – that of Whitman’s “For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead.” We retain that sense that spark lies in all of us. We are less likely to believe, as Diderot did, that “the common people are incredibly stupid.” (Thus, of course, leads us to wonder at the EU.)

      The division between those who feel aligned with France & those who find Britain more compatible is very very old here, but, generally the British vision wins out.

    32. Lex Says:

      As I noted here and here, animosity between the France and the dominant “Anglo-Saxon” power is an ancient condition, many centuries old. So, it is not a problem with a solution, it is a structural feature of world politics which we have to just deal with and accept. The fact that the Anglosphere and the French have been forced into alliances does not make them friends. It just means they usually, eventually, recognize when they jointly face an existential threat from something even worse. The Americans already think we are in this situation vis a vis radical Islam, the French either do not think so or prefer to operate more quietly (I think it is the latter).

      But Michael Blowhard points out something that this blog has rarely focused on — since we like to talk about economics, technology and warfare more than cultural stuff most of the time (with Ginny being the exception) (Though I did have This one on French culture.). But another aspect of the relationship has been the often grudging recognition among Anglophones that the French have a genuine talent for making life pleasant and amusing and tasty — often to the point of decadence. But there is no denying that on these matters, the French have usually over the centuries been way ahead of us. And they do not have a speck of guilt about it, and they do not have a nagging sense that they should be working when they are indulging in their refined sensuality. And they do seem to get away with more socialistic practices than we could tolerate without choking themselves to death. And this mixture of bilateral, mutual envy and disdain for each other is also a permanent feature of our lives together.

    33. djfru Says:

      An interesting blog. The French-American relation is like a “strange” love affair “I love you”, “I don’t either”. Personally I admire your way of being and passionate and positive.

      The french system is “a prideful desire for primacy amongst men”, people are pawns, it is all about a so called elite. The french economy is not very dynamic. The Democracy is not achieved in the sense: politicians are lifelong politicians, coming from the bureaucracy; this bureaucracy inherits from the monarchic absolutism a strong tradition of dominance, of over ruling the country.
      @ Ginny: “I have my doubts that their economic system is one we want to emulate, however. I’m quite sure their particular guest worker program is not the solution to our own immigrant problems.” you are right, it doesn’t work, it is based on subsidizations, massive. Yes there is the “art de vivre”, culture, cooking and a language that enables subtleties in the domain of Diplomacy. In my opinion it is a little bit short as regards the problem we have.
      @ Shanon love: You are right when you compare the french and the japenese elitist systems both are hierarchical. Do not, never buy into those hierarchical view of hulman relationship.

    34. djfru Says:

      In addition:

      …..”A recent study published by French history professor Barbara Lefebvre and journalist Eve Bonnivard concludes that French college textbooks are generally biased against globalization, deeply anti-American and somewhat complacent towards terrorism. French students are taught to approach the future with foreboding and skepticism of market forces. Not surprisingly 76% of French between the ages of 15 and 30 hope to become government employees.

      President Chirac seems to relish every opportunity to repudiate the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” caricature of crass, uncaring capitalism and competition. What is this Anglo-Saxon paradigm? Britain has a nationalized health-care system and strong labor unions. Meanwhile, non-Anglo-Saxon, social democratic Sweden has dramatically cut its public debt and Finland achieved low unemployment and a high rate of R&D spending while undertaking economic reforms.

      Nevertheless, Mr. Chirac overlooks these successes and draws attention to the external threats to France’s quality of life and l’exception francaise. Consequently” …..

      more: this link

      http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=
      publication_details&id=3960

    35. LotharBot Says:

      Ever notice…

      … the French are proud of their art, yet America produces the most popular films in the world? (Hollywood)

      … the French are proud of their cuisine, yet America produces the most popular “food” in the world? (McDonalds; note the scare quotes on “food”.)

      … and so on.

      Of course the French hate us. Everything they take pride in doing for the elites, America mass-produces and the “common man” gobbles it up.

    36. Mitch Says:

      I like and enjoy what France has to offer culturally. Paris is paradise. Had they limited themselves to agreeing to disagree over Iraq, I would have had no problem. However, the evidence suggests that Powell was lured into the UNSC with French promises of an open mind, when in fact they were working behind the scenes with Saddam. A precis of a private meeting between Chirac and Bush turned up in Baghdad, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t come from us. France has been eager to make arms deals with some very unsavory regimes. Aside from Saddam, they have been agitating to resume arms trading with China. If China does make its move against Taiwan, do you want them to have modern French equipment?

      France is playing old-fashioned balance-of-power games to cut the largest player down a bit. It’s not personal, just business. Talleyrand and Metternich would recognize it immediately. It galls me most that they maintain the formal posture of a NATO ally while working against us. Nobody trusts a double agent.

    37. Lex Says:

      I’m with Mitch. The problem with France is not their wine or their underwear models or their food, all of which are top-notch. Nor is it the fact that they insist on some apparently insane economic policies, since after all if they are as bad as they look the main victims will be themselves. The problem is that they are positioning themselves as hostile to the United States while maintaining a pretense of being “allies”. This kind of dishonesty can work genuine harm to the USA, and that is what the French leadership wants. I agree that Talleyrand and Metternich would understand what they are doing, but I think those two are sitting together, somewhere, watching this scene and shaking their heads at the cack-handed way that Chirac and Villepin are handling things. We should be grateful that the French leadership lacks someone of the deftness of Richelieu or Talleyrand. This current crop is not up to their historical standard.

    38. GFK Says:

      I’m suprised you all are still talking about France, but while we are at it….

      France has been taking it on the chin culturally.

      In cinema French films are tremendously overshadowed by Spanish filsm. The only real international hit the French have had in the last decade is Amelie, meanwhile Spain and Mexico have each had quite a few. Ask an American cinema-phile to name a famous Spanish Director and they’ll quickly say Almolvodar. OK, how bout a French one? umm… Pierre something???

      The same goes for wines. California, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina are breaking records for production year after year while French wine consumption has been going down, not only abroad, but in France itself. My guess is the best wine comes from California where modern practices are applied with very open minds not just to lower costs, but to increase the quality of the wine.

      Wine and film are only a couple of examples. I’m sure there are more. France isn’t just getting beaten at mass-produced low-brow American fare, it’s getting beaten at it’s own game.

      France’s over-regulation is now affecting even their most precious industries and I’m sure the French are aware of this. It might account for why they’ve been in such pissy moods the last few years.

    39. corbusier Says:

      Some wonderful discussion going on here. As a French-American dual national, I can somewhat relate to Michael Blowhard’s position. I find myself preferring to enjoy living life the French way although my political and economic position is purely Anglo-Saxon. Nevertheless, it’s true that much of what we admire about French cultural life is mostly enjoyed by the elite in that country. The common folk in France have tastes that are just as vulgar as you would find in the lower classes in the U.S., with hip-hop replacing la Chanson Francaise as the preferred mode of expression for the youth there. Still, the fine dining, the art-loving and fine fashions that put France on the map has over time become only accessible to those who can afford it, which comprises of an even smaller percentage of the population than in the U.S. The relative modesty of French incomes don’t permit them to enjoy the most lavish entertainments, but it has engendered the cult of the ‘petit plaisir’,where between working more or enjoying a small moment, they’d opt for the latter.

      Still, I’m not convinced most Americans would want to live life the French way even if they were exposed to it. My wife, an American, finds the ‘petit plaisir’ a waste of time, and finds that the French don’t make the most out of their vacations. She’s the physical type, in that she expects to go water-skiing, scuba-diving, and exercising rather than just sit at a cafe chatting away while enjoying the ambiance (something I would rather do myself).

      Michael makes an interesting point about France’s economy, namely that it is one of the most prosperous in the world. I argue in my blog that it’s more a case histrorical luck than actual validation of the French economic model. Through a combination of favorable demographics, the massive rebuilding after WW2 and the general backwardness of the rest of the world during most of the post-War period, France took advantage of its position to rise. But since the early eighties, the French economy has been relatively stagnant, and structural unemployment has stayed the same give or take a few percentage points for the last twenty years. The French economy has calcified for quite a long time, but that doesn’t mean that people get poorer, only that upward mobility ceases to exist for most at the bottom and no one in the middle ever becomes fabulously wealthy.

      What’s also left out in this thread is the existence of the French ideal of America. The longing to be in America as a free-spirit peppers French literature, song and their films. Jack Kerouac probably garners more attention in France than in the U.S., and Johny Halliday, France’s most beloved rocker, carefully markets himself as Harley-riding rebel, covering country-rock songs. These examples don’t describe the reality of America as we know it, but as an ideal place in the dreams of the French who at times feel constrained by the traditions and social expectations that define what it is to be French.