agd (Sep 7 2008, 09:23 PM) said: > original post
How do you define integration? Speaking french, paying French taxes, having French friends, shopping at local French markets? Not really immersed with the whole wealthy expat community of those from one's same origin? Perhaps I'm forgetting a few, but let's see - I did 3 years of study at the French university, worked for 2 years in France, paid a damn hell of a lot of taxes over 6 years, live in an entirely French community - that seldom is heard of in the expat community - I suppose you might call it a "working class" neighborhood. And yes, I speak French very well.
All of you who simplify the "life is what you make of it" I'm sure are trying to help. But let's be realistic here.
For those of us who are motivated, have ambitions and want to do something other than sleep in late on the weekends and have as much vacation as humanly possible....for those who want to get going early in the morning - to work, shopping, to the gym - etc. it is impossible in France. My friends and I used to have breakfast dates. Ever heard of that in France? Even the company I work for won't allow anyone to begin work before 7:30 am. I want to produce, and I want to produce some more. I want to be the best that I can be as a person, professionally, spiritually, and physically. Let's see, I guess I could take up the famous French activity of Chain Smoking and Diet Pills. Then I'll be in great shape.
I used to wake up early - hit the gym - in my apartmentment building - which included 4 swimming pools onsite, plus a state of the art gym with machines that featured built-in flat screens - 5:00 a.m. Get showered, dressed, be at the office at 7:00 - a calm time to check emails, proofread, etc. And spent a productive day at work, with others who had a more diplomatic and equally ambitious motivation to be at work - knowing that we were working at that company because we wanted to. And we could change whenever we wanted.
Not the case in France. How many people can honestly say they can change jobs when they want to? Face it, there is the "stability factor," the fact that most companies are mainly hiring through attrition, and what the French refer to as a "crisp" employment market.
Not only is it about employment....what about leisure activities - oh so let's see Paris is the "City of Light" - only the intellectuals who want to discuss their self-defined description of "culture" - which by the way I guess the French are still carrying the Cultural Inferiority Complex, cause in case you didn't know America is the cultural leader of the world and has been at least for the past 30 or so years, perhaps longer if you want to debate it. Yes French culture was the leader 200 years ago. And they dominated the domain of culture for a couple hundred years. Now they lost. And they are walking around with a chip on their shoulder because they lost.
Leisure activites - I hope you like clouds and rain - cause that's all the leisure you're going to have time for in Paris. 11 months out of the year it's gloom and doom. Perhaps this is why the French don't smile...SAD???
How many times have I just simply asked a question, be that at an administrative office, cafe, bakery, IKEA, car garage, etc....only to have my head bit off as if I should already know the answer. This attitude has got to go. Yes, I can understand why they could be miserable earning, if lucky, 1,800-euros/month - 50% of which goes straight to Nicolas. And to top it off, there's not much hope that it's ever going to get better for them.
WHy don't you do a little research on Purchasing Power Parities. This will tell you a lot about France and really where the government's concerns are. Even England doesn't tax food. France taxes "junk food" at 19.6 percent and even parishable items at 5.5%. And this is civilization? I suppose it has little to do with increasing the comfort of their own citizens, while taking half of its citizens' salaries. Let us not forget the promised "retirement," which is another entirely debatable topic. Again - European dream - can't wait to stop working - retirement, vacation, RTT, conges, jour feriee....etc...
The difference is in America, old people get bored at home. A few weeks playing golf and hitting the beach and they're ready to get back into the workforce. Not only is the income helpful - though many documented cases of people finanically prepared to retire - but return just out of boredom, wanting to do something while they are still healthy. I see Old People reitred and rotting in France. They sit around their houses so worried about how much longer they're going to live and how they need to save, save, save - cause in life there is only scarcity - right? Or when their spouse will pass away and then they know they'll only get half.....
Please, read the book by Pascal Baudry. I have concluded that his analysis is right on. THe French were never weaned completely and are in a constant state of mental contradiction. A big part of the society is "asleep at the wheel." Though I have to say I do have some French friends who I do value, yet I feel their frustration. There is no way to get out of this hole of a life called France.
The only exception to living well in France is perhaps if you're loaded. I mean really loaded, where you can afford places like the Georges V and all that. That's what they call luxury. But a 3-star hotel in France is a 1-star hotel in the US.
Yet I ask you all - have you ever lived/worked in the US for more than, say 6, months. I mean a good 5 years to get integrated - then return to France. I have met French people who have a worse culture shock after returning to France from the US. THey had forgotten how "hard" life is in France. And that it is - Hard. Unless your goal in life is "slacker" - it's a great place.
Let me make it clear that I don't believe the French are lazy whatsoever. The system makes it so that none is too ambitious. If you are viewed as being "overly ambitious" the French mentality is to negatively view those who are too ambitious. "They're trying to do more than they can handle." "They just want to save the world, and we all know no one can save this world of scarcity, where those who gain profit from those who loose."
Please, read Pascal Baudry. He most articulately explains what I feel about France.
I give you credit on a number of points. I have families in France. I have studied, lived and worked in France, so I could say that I understand French society fairly well. Yes, French society under the excessive weight of taxation and the state does stifle individual initiatives and ambitions. Yes, the French "work to live," not vice versa. Yes, customer service in France can't vie against customer service in the US. Yes, French society still adheres to the archaic socalist idea of equality and is hence "suspicious" of those who make profit even from their hard work.
Nonetheless, life on the other side of the Atlantic is not always rosy. I've been working as a high school teacher in a socio-economic mixed suburb for ten years. My job allows me to see American society in different angles through working with my students. I must say that American society is not always kind to everyone.
I know students whose moms or dads have to work two jobs, struggle to feed the family, and CAN"T AFFORD TO PAY HEALTH INSURANCE. The lack of health insurance coverage is not a fantasy invented by Michael Moore or by knee-jerk anti-American European intellectuals. You talked about OLD RETIRED FRENCH PEOPLE who worry about the scarcity of life during the last days of their lives. WHAT ABOUT MANY RETIRED AMERICANS (SOME OF THEM ARE MY FORMER COLLEAGUES) WHO MUST CONTINUE WORKING DURING THE SO_CALLED GOLDEN AGE BECAUSE THEIR HEALTH INSURANCE IS TOO EXPENSIVE? Health is THE FUNDAMENTAL ESSENCE OF EXISTENCE. IT IS NOT RIGHT FOR A SOCIETY THAT TREATS HEALTH CARE AS A COMMODITY TO BE PURCHASED. AROUND TWO MILLIONS AMERICANS GO BANKRUPT every year because of their medicall bills. And please don't say that we have free health care for the poor or the uninsured. Yes, we do provide free health care in emergency cases for those whose illness weren't treated or prevented because of the lack of prevention care. Furthermore, in regard to the obesity epidemic, I wish that JUNK FOOD IS MADE MORE EXPENSIVE OR BANNED AT SCHOOL. IT IS WRONG THAT TEENAGERS DRINK COKE AND EAT CHIPS FOR BREAKFAST. (I SUSPECT YOU'D SAY THAT'S THE JOB FOR PARENTS AND THE GOV'T HAS NO RIGHT TO CHANGE PEOPLE"S EATING HABIT. YOU SEE THE PROBLEM IS THAT PARENTS ARE TOO BUSY AT WORK!!)
And many of those parents have the sort of "travail precaire" with no or meager benefits provided by big retail stores like Wal-mart, which can afford selling cheap products to working Americans just BECAUSE THEY CAN EXPLOIT THEIR EMPLOYEES AND HAVE THEIR PRODUCTS MADE BY MILLIONS OF CHINESE RATHER THAN MILLIONS OF AMERICANS.
I see how absurd, gratutous school violence (i.e. school shooting) casts a shadow of fear on our campus: we now have 5 police/ security officers at school. And then, every evening,at my comfortable home in the suburb, what do I hear on local news? There is always someone has been shot. But who cares, right? As long as those random shootings don't touch the exurbs, we don't care.
You mentioned about "purchase power" (= pouvoir d'achat, the hot topic in France right now). It's true that every thing, including food, is cheaper in the US. Unfortunately, this cheapness of "stuff" and the frenzy of consumerism create an urge of instant gratification that lures so many people/ families into debt to buy, to purchase. (Doesn't the subprime crisis reflect this kind of compulsive consumerism?) When people have debt, they work harder to finance it. A lot of my students, only 15, 16, work already 30 hours a week to buy cheap "toys." Of course, the next day, they come to school, tired, sleepy, and can't care less about school as long as they have the latest cell phones.
Basically, the whole society gets caught in a gigantic machine of relentless work to produce, to make profit: 24/7. Yet, have we ever wondered about the prices we have to pay for this craze of consumming? What about our mental health? What about our family life? Our environment?
By the way, you said that America was the world leader of culture today. I can't disagree on that point. However, I think we should pause and examine the kind of cultural products we champion. We have the best writers, no doubt. We produce the best movies, no doubt. Local art scenes flourish, no doubt. Nevertheless, we are also the cultural champion of cultural thrash. I don't have to get further into details about this. Just turn on TV at night, and you can tell. (DON't GET ME WRONG: THE FRENCH ALSO LOVE THIS KIND OF THRASH).
MY POINT IS THAT WE SHOULDN'T IDEALIZE ANY HUMAN SOCIETIES. Every society is a product of its history, geography, traditions, etc... Each individual must find for his/her owe philosophy of life. Basically, a path for each one of us. France may not suit to your taste, and the US does; so the US is your niche. You may not like the gray weather in Paris. For others, it might appear romantic. For you, a visit to a chateau in the Loire Valley or a Roman ruin in Nime or a trip to Festival d'Avignon doesn't mean much culturally; for others, it might be. For you, a civilized life style is to have access to cheap junk food or to get up early to toil at your office to help maximize profit of your company; for others, it is not a true life, rather it's to eat "SLOW FOOD" and to have 5 weeks of "Conges payes" are the elements of a civilized life. For you, to pay low taxes, to live in a mcmansion and to drive a big SUV (with "climatisation," of course) that guzzle on fuel are the indispenable elements of a happy life. For others, this kind of life appears as selfish, egocentric and short-sighted because numerous people in America and in the world don't share the same fortune and OIL IS A SCARCITY. (But who cares, right? It's THEM, NOT ME). For you, an easy "hi" or an easy smile or the use of "first name" or "honey" or "buddy" to anyone you don't even know might be a mark of friendliness. For others, it is superficial or fake or impolite.
Conclusion: VIVE LA DIFFERENCE!!!!!