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NYT: How France is confronting change

August 27th, 2013 2 comments

The New York Times had a piece the other day talking about the French economy and political system and its confrontation with social realities. “A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline”.

This is certainly not a new theme. Indeed, in my travels and living in France, I often heard the refrain “France changes not by evolution, but by revolution.” It echoes perhaps true today, with a political system that sees its citizens protest in the streets in an attempt to get their voices heard – it’s the French equivalent of citizen lobbying and activism that can come off as much more noticeable than activist efforts through citizen groups like NGO’s in the US.

It’s an insightful read, no matter where you stand in the political spectrum.

Here are the first few excerpts:

The New York Times
Steven Erlanger
August 24, 2013
Memo from France – A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline

“For decades, Europeans have agonized over the power and role of Germany — the so-called German question — given its importance to European stability and prosperity.

Today, however, Europe is talking about “the French question”: can the Socialist government of President François Hollande pull France out of its slow decline and prevent it from slipping permanently into Europe’s second tier?

At stake is whether a social democratic system that for decades prided itself on being the model for providing a stable and high standard of living for its citizens can survive the combination of globalization, an aging population and the acute fiscal shocks of recent years…”

Cultural readjustment for an American returning from France

August 8th, 2013 1 comment

I wrote this piece in French for the French in Chicago newsletter, a shorter reflection of my feelings readjusting to life in the US after 5 years in France.

The piece can be read here and below.

It is obviously limited in scope by nature since it’s a concise opinion, and I tend to lean towards the optimist side by the end of it. The truth is that although I’m doing fairly well in Chicago now, it took a while to truly readjust to a new life here. France has had and will continue to have an indelible effect on my life. For the better.

Entre deux pays : Réajustement culturel aux Etats-Unis pour un américain
July 12th, 2013

Des amis partagent des bouteilles du vin, des baguettes et des plats, pendant qu’un mec joue de la guitare à côté. L’amitié autour d’un verre avec une belle vue un soir d’été près du Pont des Arts. Les sons des quais de la Seine rajoutent à l’atmosphère déjà électrique de Paris. On peut constater une énergie similaire au long des berges et sur les péniches du Rhône à Lyon. Pour ces deux villes, leurs rivières restent des endroits au cœur de chaque ville.

Chicago est une ville magnifique, diverse et offre des activités culturelles enrichissantes. Et pourtant, cet air magique manque à Chicago pour moi. Il n’est pas facile de trouver une explication pour ce sentiment. Peut-être parce que j’ai toujours un peu d’amertume ayant dû quitter la France après un problème de carte de séjour. Peut-être parce que j’ai beaucoup d’amis qui restent en France, et j’ai laissé un réseau construit pendant les années les plus formatrices de ma vie.

Je suis arrivé à Chicago en septembre 2012 après avoir passé les cinq années précédentes en France entre Lyon, Grenoble et Paris. Une partie essentielle de mon expérience était une relation sérieuse avec une Française qui était ma meilleure amie pendant près de 5 ans. Alors le choque de quitter une existence en France était rude. Mais je suis plus enrichi personnellement et professionnellement grâce à mes expériences en France.

Après quelques mois de transition à Chicago, je commence à me sentir bien dans mon travail et ma vie quotidienne. J’ai des racines familiales ici (en plus de Washington D.C.), et mon université (Notre Dame) est dotée d’un grand réseau de diplômés dans la ville.

J’ai aussi contacté plusieurs groupes francophones de Chicago dès mon arrivée, pour reconstruire un réseau et trouver des personnes qui comprendraient ma situation plus que l’américain moyen du Midwest. Ma participation avec des structures telles que French in Chicago, le Consulat de France, UbiFrance, GPF, FACC, UFEC, Campus France et l’Alliance Française m’aide à garder mon lien culturel et linguistique avec la France.

Je joue également dans un groupe de jazz parisien (le groupe KEOPS) et nous jouerons pour la Fête du 14 juillet à Chicago.

Même si la France et mes amis me manquent, c’est aussi un plaisir de redécouvrir mon pays natal avec une perspective plus internationale. Je suis content de faire partie de French in Chicago !

Michael Barrett

Reflecting on France’s “malaise”

I hope you all had a very good Bastille Day!
As for me, I’m in a Parisian jazz outfit here in Chicago called Keops. We played the Bastille Day celebration at the Daley Plaza. It was a lot of fun.

As France celebrated its Bastille Day, it’s perhaps an opportune time to reflect on what the modern French Republic means, and the attitudes of its citizens.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times penned a poignant, if somewhat controversial, column the other day in reflection about France’s national attitudes. Excerpts below, but it’s worth the full read as these quotes could be taken out of context.

While I witnessed this feeling of “malaise” that seemed to permeate the national consciousness, I also had friends there who were positive people and looked for the bright side of the problem. There are problem solvers in the country, like any country. And the French also have a well-known “joie de vivre”. So I’m afraid Cohen’s column paints a picture that may be too dark. Nonetheless, when comparing France to the US, there is more optimism in general in the US. But in Cohen’s view, a French person would just paint this as blind ignorance.

Do you agree with his analysis?

“…Tell a Frenchman what a glorious day it is and he will respond that it won’t last. Tell him how good the heat feels and he will say it portends a storm. I recently asked in a French hotel how long it would take for a coffee to reach my room. The brusque retort: “The time it takes to make it.”

This surliness is more a fierce form of realism than a sign of malaise. It is a bitter wisdom. It is a nod to Hobbes’s view that the life of man is, on the whole, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Nothing surprises, nothing shocks (especially in the realm of marriage and sex), and nothing, really, disappoints. Far from morose, the French attitude has a bracing frankness. No nation has a more emphatic shrug. No nation is the object of so much romanticism yet so unromantic itself. No nation internalizes as completely the notion that in the end we are all dead.

Now, it is true that France lives with high unemployment in a depressed euro zone; that it is more vassal than partner to Germany these days; that it is chronically divided between a world-class private sector and a vast state sector of grumpy functionaries; that its universalist illusions have faded as its power diminishes; and that its welfare state is unaffordable.

Still, moroseness is a foible in a country with superb medicine, good education, immense beauty, the only wine worth drinking, an army that does the business in Mali, strong families and the earthy wisdom of “la France profonde.”

Malaise and ennui are to France what can-do is to America: A badge of honor…”

Lyon’s Fête des Lumières Dec. 6-9

December 5th, 2012 No comments

Lyon Fourviere Lumieres

Bonjour!

The annual famous light festival in Lyon, France, Fête des Lumières, takes place this December 6th thru December 9th, 2012.

It is really a FANTASTIC show. The amazing aspect of the spectacle itself varies according to year, but you won’t regret going. You may only regret the crowds. I’ve been the past 5 festivals and the population of Lyon doubles to almost 4 million during the long weekend.

You can find out more on their Facebook page and the official site. The site is also available in English. The site has useful information on different shows around the city and times.

Travel info
-You’ll want to check out the TCL Lyon public transport system website for travel updates.

-The regional train system, TER Rhone-Alpes, has information on train schedules as well.

-If you’re taking a TGV via SNCF, check out the SNCF website “Gares en Mouvement” to see about train arrivals and departures. They also have tips for visits to Lyon.

-If you’re flying in, the Aeroports de Lyon website has information.

-Hotels are usually booked this weekend months in advance. Check out classifieds or apartment sharing websites at this point.

It’s truly a wonderful festival, and I love the city of Lyon. Check out my post from last year.

Bonne visite !

The Economist’s France 14-page special report

November 19th, 2012 3 comments

The Economist this week has a 14-page special report this week in its print edition that focuses on France, from its economy to politics, under the central theme of how economic structural reform is necessary in order to avoid a “time bomb” going off at the heart of the Eurozone. You can access the Nov. 17, 2012 print edition contents here. The leader article introducing the special report is here, and the special report link can be found at the table of contents site under “Special report: France” (there are 8 articles).

I’m delving into all this right now and encourage you to do the same. Even if you don’t agree with the magazine’s analysis, it is a highly-regarded publication for a reason: for asking important questions.

This is the not the first time the British news magazine has waxed poetic about France’s economic woes and potential for growth. Indeed, French economic and business paper Les Echos puts past covers and stories into perspective (in French).

What do you think are France’s biggest problems and do you think Hollande and Ayrault’s government can solve them?

 

Bastille Day 2012

Happy Bastille Day everyone! Joyeux 14 juillet tout le monde !

How did you celebrate today? Feel free to post in the comments section your favorite places to celebrate, no matter which country or city.

I myself am in Washington DC today and among several spots to revel in the celebration, Bistrot du Coin is a local favorite.

In the spirit of transatlantic relations, this NY Times piece is interesting.

Vive la France !

French technological innovation and efficiency for cutting costs

November 25th, 2011 2 comments

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving, and for those celebrating this weekend (comme moi), enjoy the festivities!

The Economist has an interesting piece in this week’s issue that talks about the newly automated line 1 of the Paris metro system which was completely outfitted with new technology and revamped to make it driverless.

Besides having better and more service during rush hour and a lower risk of accidents (automated line 14, which I take quite often, has had no accidents since its launch in 1998), the modernization of services also results in a welcome side effect for many: these automated lines will not be affected by the occasional public transport worker strikes since there are no drivers (see excerpt below).

What is your view on technology and innovation in France? Do you think labor costs are too high and discourages employers from hiring more often?

“…Strict labour laws, costly payroll charges and erratic strikes seem to make French firms especially keen on technology. Supermarkets, for instance, have enthusiastically adopted self-checkout tills. “All French hypermarkets have adopted this strategy over the past few years,” says Alexis Lecanuet at Accenture, a consultancy. The idea is to speed up queues at peak times for impatient non-technophobes carrying light baskets. But it also cuts costs. “Self-checkout has worked better in countries where labour is expensive,” says Serguei Netessine, a professor at INSEAD, a business school.

France excels at high-tech services: credit-card operated petrol stations, touch-screen fast-food counters, automatic car-washing. Two years ago, McDonalds pioneered the use of touch-screen, credit-card-based ordering in its French fast-food restaurants. Eléphant Bleu, a self-service high-pressure car-washing chain, has 472 outlets in France, and is expanding. All this in a country where the labour code runs to over 3,300 pages, an employer pays an average of 39% in payroll taxes, and unemployment is at 10%. Spot the connection.”

Pew poll reveals Americans more chauvinistic than the French

November 18th, 2011 No comments

NB: This post is not intended to spark cultural tensions but give cultural insight. Of course, surveys are not perfect measurements, but they can provide perspective. I’m just sharing an interesting article here for cultural awareness, not to criticize the US or France.

The French have a reputation for being quite chauvinistic, but my time living here has showed me that they are not any more arrogant than my fellow Americans. In fact, the recent Pew Research Center survey, called the “The American-Western European Values Gap”, reveals quite the contrary.

Responding to the statement “Our people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others”, only 27% of French think French culture is better than all others. For the US, that number was 49%.

What could this say about Americans? I think overall we are less informed about world events and different cultures than European nations, and it shows in the numbers. So I believe this attitude is based on lack of experience abroad and lack of cultural perspective. That’s just my opinion though, not Pew’s conclusions. What do you think?

Another interesting statistic is that in foreign affairs, there is more isolationism in the US than in France:

52% of Americans polled said the US “should deal with its own problems”, 39% said the US “should help other countries”.

For the French, these numbers were 57% and 43%, respectively.

More from The Local website below, with a link to the survey here.

Poll finds French not so chauvinistic after all
Published: 18 Nov 2011 10:15 GMT+1

France’s reputation for chauvinism took a hit on Thursday from an opinion poll that revealed that only 27 percent of its people think French culture is better than all others.

In fact, 73 percent of French respondents to the ongoing Pew Research Center survey of US and European attitudes disagreed that “our culture is superior to others,” the polling institute reported.

Forty-nine percent of Americans believed US culture was the best, even if “our people are not perfect,” followed by Germans at 47 percent, Spaniards at 44 percent and Britons at 32 percent.

But, when set against past surveys, it appears “Americans are now far less likely to say that their culture is better than others; six-in-ten Americans held this belief in 2002 and 55 percent did so in 2007,” the pollsters said.

“Belief in cultural superiority has declined among Americans across age, gender and education groups.”

Americans were most likely to consider freedom to pursue life’s goals is most important (58 percent), while Germans were most likely to view success in life as being determined “by forces outside our control” (72 percent).

Pew based its findings from random telephone interviews in March and April with about 1,000 respondents in each country (Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the United States) with 3.5-4.5 percent margins of error.

The entire survey appears on its website, www.pewglobal.org.

AFP (fr) (news@thelocal.fr)

French week ‘Semaine Française’ in New Orleans Nov 17-20

November 17th, 2011 No comments

This week the French Consulate in New Orleans is organizing a “Semaine Française” to celebrate Franco-American friendship and ties. Excerpts from Embassy website below. See the sites for more information. Vive la France! Vive l’Amérique!

The Consulate General of France in New Orleans, Louisiana, in partnership with local institutions and sponsors, offers the first edition of the Semaine Française. More than 20 multidisciplinary events will be held in New Orleans during 4 days to celebrate the French-American relationship and strengthen the ties between France and Louisiana.

From Thursday the 17th of November to Sunday the 20th, business, educational and cultural thematic will be highlighted by these events, a large majority of which are free and open to all. Semaine Française is presented under the high auspices of his Excellency the Ambassador of France to the United States Mr. Francois Delattre.

Semaine Française will propose:

-Regional cooperation will be underlined by the signing of a memorandum of agreement between port of new orleans and Port of Guadeloupe, followed by a trade summit on the impact of the Panama Canal expansion with French and American perspectives. Officials from both New Orleans and Guadeloupe will attend this event, as well as his Excellency the Ambassador of France to the United States François Delattre.

-A business symposium will be held on the 18th of November at Tulane University. Three seminars will adress the issues of energy, coastal sustainability and transportation. Professionals in these fields such as the CEO of Areva Jacques Besnainou and nuclear cousellor to the French Embassy in Washington D.C Cyril Pinel will participate to these seminars.

-A French education fair will gather all the Louisiana institutions offering French studies and classes on the 19th of November. A roundtable discusssion with Louisiana State Representatives and a panel of university professors will deal with the state of the French language in Louisiana, followed by a networking cocktail with the alumni of the Teaching Assistant Program in France and professionals.

-Several cultural events will be held during Semaine Française in New Orleans. The Beaujolais Nouveau will be celebrated through a festival and French DJ after-party; culinary cooking demonstrations will be offered by Guadeloupean chef Joel Kichenin at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum; a concert by the Gypsy swing trio and a screening of French film « Le Herisson »by Mona Achache in cooperation with the New Orleans Museum of Art and the New Orleans Film Society. Painting and sculpture exhibitions of French artists living in New Orleans will be organized in several galleries. A photo exhibit on the theme « What makes Louisiana French »will take place at the historic New Orleans Collection. And more…

Semaine Française is presented by the Consulate General of France in New Orleans, the French-American chamber of Commerce-Gulf Coast Chapter, the Alliance francaise of New Orleans and the forum francophone des affaires. Semaine Française benefits from the support of all the French and French-American organizations in New Orleans and has partnered with most of the city’s institutions including the city of New Orleans, the Council for the Development Of French language In Louisiana (CODOFIL) the Port of New Orleans and Tulane University.

How long is the average French lunch break? 22 minutes

October 11th, 2011 6 comments

This just in…taken from the Local’s website.

How long do your lunches last during the work day?

French lunch breaks fall to just 22 minutes
Published: 29 Sep 2011 10:51 GMT+1
Despite the widely-held view that French workers while away long lunch hours over three-course lunches with wine, a new survey shows that most grab lunch in just over 20 minutes.

A survey by insurance company Malakoff Médéric found the shortening of the lunch break has been dramatic. While workers twenty years ago took 1 hour and 30 minutes at lunchtime, the average has now fallen to just 22 minutes.

“The lunch break has become the flexible part of the working day,” said Anne-Sophie Godon of Malakoff Médéric, reported Le Figaro. “The content of the day has become more dense, while the distance between home and work has tended to get longer. Given this, workers have no other choice than to trim their lunch break.”

The way workers eat is also changing. Just one in ten now go outside to restaurants and around one in five eat in the company canteen. Almost a third of workers go home at lunchtime and 14 percent reach for a sandwich, up 2 percent over two years.

Doctors believe that rapid eating can have negative effects.

“When we eat quickly, we don’t have the time to feel satisfied,” Doctor Patrick Serog told Le Figaro. “When we eat in front of a computer, it’s even worse: we don’t pay attention to what we’re eating. The result is a tendency to snack in the afternoon.”

“Taking a proper break of about three-quarters of an hour is the best,” said fellow doctor Odile Renard. “Without this break, stress can accumulate.”

A final incentive to get out of the office and into a restaurant or canteen could come from a survey conducted by job site Monster, which found that the average office can contain 400 times more germs than a toilet seat.

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