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A cultural comparison: French strikes v. American perspective

I found this BBC article by Matthew Price, former US correspondent and current Europe correspondent, to be especially insightful, from the perspective of a neutral Brit regarding Americans and France. Comments welcome. Excerpts below….

What would Americans think of the French strike?
Saturday, 23 October 2010
By Matthew Price
BBC News, France

‎”For the last three years I have been based in the US. And the only protests I have covered, the only ones vocal enough to have been worth reporting on, have been angry mobs demanding the government stop spending and get out of their lives.

Now, just one week into my new role as Europe correspondent, I am faced with angry mobs demanding the exact opposite – an end to government cut backs and a promise that the state will continue to provide for them. Talk about a change of scene…..

…Most French know the world has changed since the days of the all-embracing welfare state..They know the age of austerity inevitably implies an age of personal responsibility….And personal responsibility is something the Americans I have lived among for the last three years have adopted as a way of life…”

  1. October 23rd, 2010 at 14:09 | #1

    I can’t for the life of me understand why the Frenchies want the government to ‘take care of them’. The government is ineffecient and wasteful when it comes to spending tax payers money. Why don’t they want to get away from that? The notion of personal responsibility doesn’t exist in France, unfortunately.

    • October 23rd, 2010 at 14:28 | #2

      Hi Andrea, thanks for reading and your comment. In fact as you know each country has their own cultural differences, and in France they have been more of a welfare state with more people relying on the government for healthcare and pensions. That carries with it pros and cons. Healthcare is actually a combo here, with a flourishing private sector of “mutuelles” that cover costs which the public plan does not pay for. And people do invest (though less than in the US, as France likes to avoid risk) and save their own money for retirement, as most people only get 50% of their salary as a pension based on average of best 25 years…. (civil servants get 75% of their last 6 months…this aristocracy is part of the problem, but that will have to be another reform..).

      But the French seem to recognize in polls that raising the retirement age is perhaps inevitable. In fact, retirement was 65 years old before Socialist President Mitterand changed that almost 30 years ago to age 60. He also made 5 weeks paid vacation mandatory. Which is wonderful, I must admit.

      What we’re witnessing is a country being told after generations that they have to change the way the live and approach life, so it is normal to see strikes, which are a tradition in France, and a source of public voice where in the US, we have NGO’s, people call their Senators, etc.. But the reform will pass, life will continue.

      • October 23rd, 2010 at 15:27 | #3

        So where does the money for the pensions come from? Does each individual pay each month into their own pension fund or the individuals have no control over the pension money? Who invests and controls the pensions? Why wouldn’t you want to cut taxes and then have more money to invest yourself for your own retirement?

      • October 25th, 2010 at 00:02 | #4

        A bit of a complicated system, but there is a determined amount set aside in paychecks through taxes, so that when you get your paycheck, it’s already about 78-79% of the gross income statement, with the deducted portion going towards social charges, health insurance, social security and retirement. But it depends on your professional situation like the self-employed, etc. If you have specific business questions, let me know.

      • October 25th, 2010 at 10:31 | #5

        Here is a more detailed rundown of some of the main features for private sector employees and the French state pension system:

  2. October 23rd, 2010 at 14:45 | #6

    The mandatory 5 weeks paid vacation is what I like best about France (besides bread). They can have me work until I’m 80, I don’t care, but I think it’s great to have so many weeks to get a chance to relax during the year. It allows you to focus more on your job when you get back to work (or maybe this is just a false excuse, I don’t know). But this is at least one social advantage that is worth fighting for. I heard that some French politicians (such as Jean-François Copé) are willing to cut back on the number of weeks…

  3. October 23rd, 2010 at 15:13 | #7

    Just left Paris on the 19th. Only problem encountered (during the 10 days in Lyon, Dijon, Reims and Paris) was a student “manifistation” blocking the entrance to the Salle de Redditiin in Reims. A disappointment but did not see any violence. Did see groups of roving students in each city blocking traffic by police clearing their path.

    • October 23rd, 2010 at 21:39 | #8

      Thanks for reading, Joann. Glad to hear you didn’t have too many disruptions, and I hope your trip went well!

  4. October 25th, 2010 at 12:22 | #9

    Thanks for the link, that’s exactly what I wanted to know.

    Glad I don’t work in France 🙂

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