A look at France from the outside

Having grown up in Geneva between the mid eighties and the late nineties, I was greatly influenced by French culture. This is due, among other things, by the fact that in Switzerland, we only had one french speaking channel, TSR, and the rest of the supply came directly from Paris.

eiffel towerOutside series like Salut les musclésNicky LarsonDragon Ball, les chevaliers du Zodiac,  and Hélène et les garçons, that rocked my childhood, I also remember watching political and social debates with great interest. I grew therefore more informed about french politics than swiss politics.

Furthermore, there was also a great french artistic culture. In fact, singers like, Michelle Berger, Daniel Balavoine, Serge Gainsbourg, Veronique Sanson, etc. were among the most famous. TV shows from the 90s including, Un Dîner de Con, Les trois frères, les Visiteurs, Taxi etc.. are also part of my childhood memories without forgetting great comedians, such as Coluche, les inconnus, Elie Semoun and Dieudonné, Jamel etc.  who definitely influenced my sense of humor.

However, I remain swiss (although my roots are of foreign origins). Indeed, the swiss society is very different from the french one. The social climate is different, human relations are different and the relationship between citizen and public figures are different from those experienced by french citizens with their governments. But there is also wages and prices that differ, the tax system, the health care system without forgetting social insurance and education (apprenticeship – a system where formal education ends at the age of 16 to leave place to semi work semi academics system for three years until the obtentation of a national certificate called CFC is the norm and there is no Grandes Ecoles.)

Switzerland is a country where people are generally reserved to the point where spontaneity can be misinterpreted and feared. Here again, I have long envied the French that seemed freer, more honest, more real in their self-expression, in other words, closer to what I thought I was behind my social mask.

Then one day I landed in a French company for a position abroad. The French who were there were more or less all in expat package except for the few who lived in the country for a long time and often married with local people. These expats (for the most part men, aged between 25 and 45 years) were all graduates from good schools in France (for some, Grandes Ecoles, while the other held at least a Master’s degree).

So I was very happy to speak French in a foreign country and even more to real french people. Although I personally grew up with people from different social status  I thought I had more than the necessary equipment to be comfortable discussing with young french adults from privileged background.

Then came the disillusionment.

Even though I was first enthusiastic to talk to these people and was ready for some heated intellectually stimulating exchange, I realize that these young expatriates were completely folded on themselves, not in the sense of depression, but in that of contentment. For them, the exchange I expecting was a courtesy that they didn’t feel necessary to indulge upon.

What a nigger who probably was brought off of social insurances could ever teach them anyway?

This arrogance and condescendence displayed in their every move took me aback. But I was not hurt, rather disappointed. And I decided to act as if I didn’t notice anything and I spent a few evenings with them, because the option of spending  Friday nights alone in a new town seemed to be even more boring. We did not become friends, but I “hung out” with these young men for a while before getting bored and finding friends outside my professional circle.

What surprised me the most beside from their attitude of contempt was their level of psychological immaturity. Not only, they did not seem to have the necessary experience to understand and comment on the news, but their relationship to the Other (sex, society, culture) was still at an embryonic stage and the level of their jokes was that for pre- adolescent when compared to my references.

Is that what critiques of the establishment are refering to when they point out the disconnection between rulers and the people they govern? Because what I felt with this group of people, was that they were in their own world (peter pan syndrome may be), smart in a sense, but very foolish and childish in another. The overall picture was one of dimorphism, young men educated in top school but unable to appear strong outside of their specialism. As a comparison, if you look at Ivy leagues’ gentlemen of the 1950′s who had that  general knowledge in addition to their speciality and still managed to be manly and mature, at least from the image we get from people from that period of time and from what we see on TV. Well, it’s a different time you may say but are these not symptoms of the greater ill of modern capitalism; great progress vs regression, excess of money vs debilitating poverty etc., extreme social and economic liberalism vs zero tolerance for anything “politically incorrect” etc. etc.

In conclusion, I shall say that this small example was by no means an inquisition against France and its citizen but rather a reflexion on how increasing social polarity, which can be witnessed in all western countries and which has to be understood as a consequence of the advance of capitalism, can have debilitating consequences for its people. These people can by no way be great leaders.

4 thoughts on “A look at France from the outside

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