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US Tax deadline April 15, and June 17 for US expats abroad

Just a friendly reminder that the April 15th tax deadline is fast approaching with our friends at the IRS. Americans living abroad have until June 17th to file their returns, but still any taxes owed to the US government that are outstanding must be paid by April 15th.

For those in France, the US Embassy Paris has a page dedicated to taxation resources, including many links to IRS and forms (like the 2555-EZ form for Foreign Earned Income Tax Exclusion). As the article stipulates, if you’re American and work and reside outside the US, you may be able to exclude up to $95,100 USD annually in foreign income. Check out the links above for further information.

AARO has some views on taxation of Americans abroad, worth the read.

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?

 

Interviews with American expats in France: cultural perspective

December 6th, 2011 2 comments

Bonjour!

I was recently interviewed by Margarita Gokun Silver, MPH, CPCC, PNLP at her site here (article below). I sought to explain my story and provide a little does of cultural insight into living in France based on my experiences.

My fellow expat in France, Lindsey, was also interviewed about doing business in France as she started her own company, Lola’s Cookies, selling cookies. You can find that article here.

I invite you to leave your own cultural perspectives in the comments section below.

An American in France
Posted on December 5, 2011

There have been quite a few famous Americans (and other expats) in history that decided to either settle or live in France for long periods of time. Today many follow their example and in this blog post we interview Michael Barrett, an American who is now living in France.

Global Coach Center (GCC): How long have you lived in France and how did you come to live there?

Michael: I’ve lived in France now over four years in a row but longer than that over my lifetime. I lived in Paris as a baby and toddler for three years as my father worked here on assignment. My family always had an interest in France so it influenced my decision to study the language and culture in middle school, high school and then in college. My first trip back to France was with the French club of my high school in 2003. During my sophomore year (2nd year) at the University of Notre Dame, I studied abroad in Angers, France 2004-2005, where I lived with a French family, studied in French, traveled and made friends from all over the world. It motivated me to come back.

I followed that with an internship at Sciences Po Paris in 2006, and then after graduating in 2007, I moved to Lyon to be an English assistant. I met my French girlfriend there, pursued graduate studies in communications in Grenoble for two years, during which I worked at AmCham France. In July 2010 I was hired as a Digital Project Manager at New BBDO Paris, and advertising agency. I’ve been here ever since, and I also manage the site Americanexpatinfrance, write for several websites and am involved with the expatriate community while keeping a close group of French friends. I plan on applying for dual citizenship soon.

GCC: What do you love most about living in France?

Michael: My girlfriend, my French friends, the rich culture and gastronomy and history, the diversity of the regions and their characteristics… close proximity to other European countries. A generally balanced approach to life and work…their healthcare system –although it’s not perfect.

GCC: What frustrates you?

Michael: Generalizations about America and its culture, strikes, lack of convenience here (the US is a culture of convenience)…although I’ve gradually come to accept these cultural differences with the traditional French shrug of the shoulders. Every country has its own pros and cons.

GCC: What would you have liked to know that you didn’t before coming to live in France?

Michael: To know how to (try to) master the inner workings of the French civil service bureaucracy and its paperwork, implicit messages (not explicit) and assumptions that you know everything if you don’t ask a question. But I’ve learned how to manage that, too.

GCC: What are three tips you can give people planning to move to France?

Michael:

Learn the language and about the culture as well, as this will not only enrich you but also show a genuine willingness on your part to the French that you’re making an effort and reaching out.

On a related note, be open-minded. This is not America, and there will be some culture shock and things and approaches that are done differently. They have a different perspective here on many things, so approach it with curiosity and don’t be afraid to have friendly debate with French coworkers and friends (make French friends), as long as it’s not on taboo subjects (money, religion) – those are for closer friends usually.

Take a look at practical matters in detail – education, healthcare, taxes, driving regulations, housing – hopefully your employer or organization can help you with these matters. Better to be well prepared than land here and figure out as you go along. That can add to frustration. I’d be happy to advise on questions or refer you to an expert in a field that I don’t master as well.

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.”

Why do the French often have a difficult relationship with work?

November 21st, 2011 7 comments

The Economist has an interesting business column that recently addressed the relationship that French workers have with their jobs. Over the past years, people abroad have heard of disgruntled factory workers “boss-napping”, holding different kinds of strikes and working 35 hour weeks. These are stereotypes, and most French workers are at the office more than 35 hours. In fact average work time for full-time employees is 41 hours) and all employees taken into account, 39.4 hours. I know I work more than that!

According to several studies, France has one of the world’s most productive work forces. As recent as 2009, they had the world’s most productive work force (description of productivity).

This site has some benefits of doing business in France, as well as some challenges.

Incidentally it appears that often management teams at many French companies are responsible in part for this unhealthy relationship, as many directors come from a few grandes écoles (elite schools) and thus career advancement can be hindered within companies that retain top-down power structures with a few elite at the reins.

However, the article (below with some boldfaced parts) cites companies such as Danone which has been refreshingly open to basing promotions on skills rather than which elite school an employee attended. Other companies cited are Alcatel-Lucent and Schneider Electric.

What do you think? Do you agree, disagree? What is your experience working in a French company with French workers?

Schumpeter
The French way of work

Managers must shoulder some of the blame for France’s troubled relationship with work
Nov 19th 2011 | from the print edition

EVERY year, Sophie de Menthon, a French entrepreneur, holds an event called J’aime ma boîte (I love my firm) in Paris. The idea is to counter the notion that the French don’t like work. Employees are enticed to make lip dubs (a video of them lip-synching to music, if you need to ask), massage each other, vote for the nicest colleague, arrange for the accountant to swap jobs with the secretary and other stunts to celebrate their firm.

The much-mocked campaign has not had much luck. In 2007 a national strike interrupted the festivities, and in 2009 a series of suicides at France Télécom spoilt the atmosphere. This year employees showed less love for their boîte than ever before. Only 64% of those polled liked their company, down from 79% in 2005.

A truer reflection of work attitudes came this summer when French workers covered office windows with huge pictures made up of Post-it notes. Employees at GDF-Suez, a utility, stuck thousands of them to the windows of its HQ near Paris to represent Tintin, a comic-strip hero. Société Générale’s bankers responded with a picture of Asterix and Obelix across six storeys. A few employers cracked down on the time-wasting, but most did not dare.

Many outsiders conclude that French workers are simply lazy. “Absolument Dé-bor-dée!” (“Absolutely Snowed Under”), a book which came out last year, described how state employees compete to do nothing at work. Another title in this bestselling genre on avoiding toil, “Bonjour Paresse” (“Hello Laziness”) by Corinne Maier, an economist, explained how she got away with doing nothing at EDF, another utility.

In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.

Two-fifths of employees, according to a 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm, actively dislike their firm’s top managers. France ranks last out of ten countries for workers’ opinion of company management, according to a report from 2007. Whereas two-thirds of American, British and German employees say they have friendly relations with their line manager, fewer than a third of French workers say the same. Many employees, in short, agree with Ms Maier, who recommends that chief executives be guillotined to the tune of “La Carmagnole”, a revolutionary song.

If French work attitudes are out of the ordinary, French management methods are also unusual. The vast majority of chief executives of big firms hail from one of a handful of grandes écoles, such as École Polytechnique, an elite science school. Through what is known as parachutage, they can arrive suddenly from the top ranks of the civil service. Air France KLM, for example, announced unexpectedly last month that its new chief executive would be Alexandre de Juniac, formerly chief of staff to Christine Lagarde when she was France’s finance minister.

Although the grandes écoles are superbly meritocratic—candidates compete against each other in a series of gruelling exams—their dominance of corporate hierarchies makes workplaces much less so. At a big French bank recently, a manager promoted an executive, only to be reproached by a furious rival who said he should have been given the job because he had done better in the final exams at the same grande école.

As Thomas Philippon, a French economist, pointed out in “Le Capitalisme d’Héritiers”, a 2007 book, too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. A study of seven leading economies by TNS Sofres in 2007 showed that France is unique in that middle management as well as the lower-level workforce is largely disengaged from their companies.

For those farther down the ladder, French companies are hierarchical, holding no truck with Anglo-Saxon notions of “empowerment”. And bosses are more distant than ever. A big change in French management, says Jean-Pierre Basilien of Entreprise & Personnel, a Paris research centre, is that industrial managers now seldom rise through the ranks. Fifteen years ago a leading graduate would have worked in factories before moving to headquarters. Now many come up via finance or strategy.

From the ranks

There are important exceptions. Danone, a food-products firm, is one. It has made a big effort to promote people solely on competence, says Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts, a professor at HEC, a business school which is one of the elite grandes écoles. The 2006 merger of Alcatel, a French telecoms-equipment firm, and Lucent, an American one, created a less hierarchical group. Alcatel-Lucent even encourages teleworking, uncommon in France because it means trusting workers not to goof off. Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chief executive of Schneider Electric, an ambitious energy-management firm, came up from the ranks.

French companies have particular reason to worry now about their bad boss-worker relations. An important factor in the growing gap in industrial competitiveness between France and Germany, said a recent study by Coe-Rexecode, an economic-research centre, is that German bosses and employees are better than French ones at working together. French bosses badly need to follow in the footsteps of Danone and other modernisers. If they try and fail, then at least they can blame the workers.

Parlez-vous MBA? A look at languages in MBA programs

October 26th, 2011 No comments

The Economist has a long-running column “Which MBA?” and a recent post talks about something with which you are all likely well acquainted: the role of foreign languages in education. The article features two French schools: INSEAD and Grenoble School of Management.

Do you think that learning foreign languages is an important factor in deciding an MBA program?

Parlez-vous MBA?
Oct 18th 2011, 16:32 by S.H.

SPEAKING three languages wasn’t enough for Lenka Menden. When it came to choosing where to study for an MBA, she wanted a chance to absorb a new culture and learn yet another tongue. “My first language is Czech, I studied for a degree in business administration in Germany and I went on to take an MSc in Prague,” she explains. “I then worked for three-and-a-half years as an analyst at Morgan Stanley in Canary Wharf.”

Ms Menden turned down the chance of studying at London Business School, instead choosing IESE in Barcelona, because she thought it would open new doors. “Staying in London I would have been in the same environment and there wouldn’t be that many challenges. So I learned a new language alongside my MBA because Spanish is a very important language of business. I have extended my personal network to include people from Mexico, Spain and the Philippines. I can now work anywhere in Europe or in an emerging economy,” she says.

High-profile business schools still teach primarily in English. But many, especially in Europe, are beginning to realise that language tuition is a big selling point. The attraction of learning a language is two-fold. With so many alumni on the market, bi-lingualism distinguishes the exceptional MBA from the run of the mill. And in a global business, the ability to speak languages and understand cultures is vital.

INSEAD, which has campuses in France and Singapore, has a three-language requirement. Students joining its MBA programme must be fluent in English and proficient in at least one other. A third language of a student’s own choice is taught alongside the MBA. Facility in that language is a condition of being awarded an MBA. “It’s about developing a cultural sensitivity and is a way of becoming a global citizen,” says Leila Murat, the school’s assistant director of MBA admissions.

Chinese whispers
Mandarin is popular on both campuses. A quarter of students are of Asian origin and many Westerners come to the business school specifically to gain insight into doing business in China. Other emerging markets are shaping interest too: Portuguese and Russian are also becoming more popular, says Ms Murat.

Despite Anglophones’ reputation for lazyness in this area, such stringent language requirements don’t seem to be putting off English-speaking students. INSEAD has seen applications from America more than double in the past five years. Nevertheless, there are drawbacks. For one, teaching languages is expensive. The most effective method is face-to-face. That means recruiting native speakers.

But how easy is it to find a native Chinese speaker in a provincial city? At Grenoble Graduate School of Business in France, they can call on the university’s renowned languages department. But responding to students’ demands is not always easy. Japanese teachers are particularly hard to source, says Carol Gally, the school’s language co-ordinator. She says she often has to rely on the partners of people employed on the campus coming forward to teach.

Grenoble’s students are given 72 hours of language tuition over two semesters, with classes running into the early evening after the MBA teaching finishes. Compulsory French classes expose students to everyday situations, official documents and radio and television. Beginners start with the basics, such as how to shop, eat and drink. Other languages are then taught in the medium of French.

At IESE, learning Spanish is a big attraction for international students such as Ms Menden. Although the MBA is taught in English, some second-year modules are in Spanish. The school’s aim is to graduate students fluent in both languages. Ninety per cent of students pass the Spanish element and qualify for what is known as a bi-lingual MBA.

Students are advised to come to Barcelona to attend a summer language school before joining the programme. This makes them more employable, according to Javier Munoz, IESE’s admissions officer. The internships arranged through the business school demand fluency in Spanish; without considerable language skills the offers from Spanish banks, engineering firms and car manufacturers would not be forthcoming. Given the current economic situation in the country, they need all the advantages they can get.

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.

Communications job opening for native English speaker in Lyon

August 30th, 2011 2 comments

This job opening could interest some of you. It’s for Communication, Press Relations and Social Media Manager at Aéroports de Lyon (Lyon Airport Management).

Read the full description here (along with relevant contact information). Sounds like a great job opportunity, in a wonderful city! Please be aware that they prefer native English speakers.

Good luck!

Salaries of French university graduates on the rise

According to this article, citing a study carried out by Aon Hewitt, salaries are increasing for French university graduates, especially those from elite engineering and business schools. This comes after economic stagnation during the crisis. In 2011, the overall increase in salaries in France was 2.6%, whereas for young graduates the increase was 3.4%. Some salaries include stock options, company savings plans, retirement accounts and other features, according to the company.

But there is still a sense of insecurity, because out 75% of companies offer young graduates fixed-term contracts (CDD) as opposed to long-term contracts (CDI).

The study surveyed more than 70 companies of all sizes and in multiple sectors, as well as more than 17,000 young graduates who are now employed.

L’Express also speaks about the study.

You can see links for French business, networking and jobs on my site here.

Semaine spéciale
publié le 25/04/2011
Rémunération des jeunes diplômés : la fin de l’austérité

Une étude menée par le cabinet Aon Hewitt montre des perspectives intéressantes pour les jeunes diplômés en matière de salaire. Une embellie qui profite surtout aux diplômés d’écoles d’ingénieur et d’écoles de commerce.

La stagnation des salaires des jeunes diplômés devrait toucher à sa fin, d’après une enquête d’Aon Hewitt. En 2011, le pourcentage d’augmentation de leurs salaires montre en effet une progression de 3,4% soit plus que les 2,6% du marché général. Près d’une entreprise sur deux a même mis en place des mesures d’augmentation salariales pour les jeunes diplômés, basées principalement sur des critères de performances individuelles.

Des rémunérations complémentaires
Pour compléter ces hausses, de nombreux salaires sont dopés par un intéressement et surtout une rémunération variable (dans plus de 8 entreprises sur 10). Certains jeunes diplômés ont même accès à des actions gratuites (10% des entreprises), voire des stock-options (4%). Une minorité de sociétés (14%) proposent des Plans épargne entreprise (PEE) ou des Plans épargne retraite.

Les plus diplômés très demandés
Dans ce contexte, ce sont les plus qualifiés qui tirent le mieux leur épingle du jeu. Les écoles d’ingénieurs seront ainsi les plus sollicitées, avec une hausse d’un tiers des recrutements de leurs diplômés. De la même manière pour les salaires d’embauche, les entreprises sont plus nombreuses à prévoir des augmentations pour les élèves issus d’écoles d’ingénieur ou d’écoles de commerce.

Une baisse des recrutements
Les recrutements seront eux moins importants, 9 entreprises sur 10 prévoyant un nombre d’embauches de jeunes diplômés égale ou inférieur à 2010. Les prévisions restent tout de même élevées, en particulier dans des secteurs comme la finance, la vente, le marketing et l’engineering. Autre point négatif : les contrats, les embauches se faisant le plus souvent sous forme de CDD, même si la politique de rémunération est la même que pour ceux en CDI.

Why France is depressed and how it can reform

This fantastic, rather long article by The Economist (April 20, 2011 print edition),“Reforming Gloomy France”, profiles the country’s current pessimistic mood, economy, prospects for growth and entrepreneurial start-up spirit that is motiving many today. It speaks about how the French state of mind is hard to pinpoint and also hope for the future. Excellent read. These are only excerpts below. You can read the full article at the link above, and I’ve made it available for download.

France
Reforming gloomy France
The French are feeling morose about their future. The thrusting energy of their digital entrepreneurs suggests they should not
Apr 20th 2011 | PARIS | from the print edition

BEHIND the bustling terrace cafés and bright municipal blooms of springtime, France today is not a happy place. Tense, fearful and beset by self-doubt, the French seem in a state of defiant hostility: towards their president, political parties, Islam, immigrants, the euro, globalisation, business bosses and more. Such is France’s despondency that its people face “burnout”, said the national ombudsman recently; previously, he had described the nation as “psychologically exhausted”.

It is a sign of French disgruntlement that the publishing sensation of the past six months has been “Indignez-vous!” (“Time for Outrage!”), a pamphlet by a 93-year-old urging his fellow countrymen to revolt. Indeed, the French currently rank among the world’s most pessimistic. Only 15% told a global poll that they expect things to get better in 2011, a far smaller percentage than of Germans or even Afghans and Iraqis (see chart 1)…

…The French seem simply to doubt their politicians’ ability to do much to improve anything. The economy is emerging only slowly from the recession, with GDP growth this year forecast to reach 1.7%, compared with 2.5% in Germany. Joblessness, at 9.6%, is high, and even more so for the under-25s. Although the government has embarked on fiscal consolidation, public finances remain under strain, with a deficit of 7.7% last year. Ordinary working people keep hearing that their high-tax, high-spending model provides them with one of the world’s most generous social systems; yet even the middle class feels a squeeze at the end of each month.

The upshot is a fatalistic France that seems to have set its sights on little better than controlled decline: a middling economic power, whose people cling to their social model and curse globalisation, while failing to get to grips with either. Considering what they hear from politicians, this attitude is perhaps not surprising. The Socialist Party promises, with a straight face, to restore retirement at 60 (the age was recently raised to 62) and urges greater European protectionism as a response to globalisation. Ms Le Pen vows to withdraw France from the euro and put back border controls. Mr Sarkozy’s political day-trip of choice is to a metal-bashing factory—although only 13% of jobs are in industry—where he surrounds himself with workers in overalls and hard hats, telling them they need to be protected from globalisation and other ills.

One conclusion from all this is that France and its politicians are irredeemably conservative. Indeed, France often seems to be in semi-permanent revolt, arms crossed and heels dug in against change. Only last autumn, unions and oil workers led weeks of strikes and blockades in protest at Mr Sarkozy’s modest raising of the minimum retirement age. On a single day, up to 3.5m protesters took to the streets; petrol pumps ran dry across the country. “Why France is impossible to reform”, lamented L’Express, a news-magazine….

…But if the French really are so allergic to change, how come the pension reform not only went through but has now been accepted, even forgotten? Only weeks after the new law reached the statute books in November, the matter did not rank among the nation’s top ten subjects of conversation, according to a poll for Paris-Match. France seemed to go through a painful spasm of rebellion, then to shrug it all off and resume business as usual. “We were able to demonstrate to the French people that there are things that a government just has to do,” argues Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister. “For once, the government did not give in to the street.”…

…By holding firm, and ignoring charges of political deafness, Mr Sarkozy appealed over the heads of those on the streets to the silent majority. He took a bet that this invisible France would quietly back change, and prevail over the rest. For, in reality, two halves of the country co-exist. One half, mostly, but not only, in the public-sector, is led by hard-talking trade unionists promising to prolong benefits for privileged “insiders” and entrench rigid labour laws. The other half, mostly found in the more dynamic, private sector, is plugged into global markets and just as despairing of its strike-happy fellow countrymen as anybody else.

This is the France that does not go on strike, that defies disruptions to struggle into work, and whose voice is seldom heard. It is found among the 92% of workers who do not belong to a union. It is the small traders and artisans who are up before dawn scrubbing their shop-front windows. It is the workforce whose productivity per hour worked is higher than that in Germany and Britain, and which helped to make France the world’s third highest destination for foreign direct investment in 2010. It is the third of private-sector employees who work for a foreign firm. It is France’s leading global companies—Vivendi, L’Oréal, Michelin, LVMH—which busily reap the benefits of globalisation, a force that the French say they deplore.

This voiceless France, more adaptable and forward-looking, seldom permeates the national conversation. Yet a glance at the France behind the headlines hints at a picture that is a lot less glum. Shops are full, markets busy and consumer spending is buoyant. Property prices are up. The French have snapped up the iPad and 20m, or nearly a third of the population, are on Facebook. The French may moan about their country, their bureaucrats and their politicians, but they seem happy with their individual situation. Though only 17% of young people told one recent poll that their country’s future was promising, a massive 83% said that they were satisfied with their own lives.

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