French say country is going to dogs

Good manners and consideration for others are becoming a thing of the past

1 November 2010
By

GOOD manners and consideration for others are becoming a thing of the past and vandalism and yobbish behaviour are rife, studies report.

Despite France topping international surveys on quality of life, the French think people’s respect for others is on the decline according to an Ipsos poll, while economists have been adding up the colossal cost of vandalism.

In a study of more than a thousand people aged 15 or more, pollsters Ipsos found 65 per cent thought there had been a decline in public spiritedness in the past 10 years, with 45 per cent of those polled noting “strong” decline.

Seventy-five per cent of over-sixties saw a decline, while those aged 15-24 were the most optimistic, at 47 per cent. The poll focused on “civisme” (public spiritedness), which 69 per cent said they equated with “respecting others: your neighbours, everyone whatever their age, sex or origins”.

The director of a leading political studies unit, Cevipov, Pascal Perrineau said in Le Figaro: “When you talk to the French about public spiritedness, they don’t think about politics or the vote, but a lack of consideration in ordinary social interactions. What worries them is violence at school, people not holding open doors in the Metro or leaving seats free for the elderly.”

Also deemed important by people polled were “respecting rules of community living such as the Highway Code” (31 per cent) and “values of the republic, such as liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism”.

Almost half polled thought the answer lay in better civic education of the young, who should be taught "how to get along with others" in school. Young people taking part in public service schemes was considered essential by a third.

Psychologist and author Maryse Vaillant, an expert on human relationships, told Connexion she agreed there had been a decline in respect for others: “I think it started in the 1980s, with the idea of total individualism, that each person should make their own way in the world. There was a loss of the idea of solidarity and respect for others.”

What is more she said there was no longer respect for institutions such as the church, the police, teachers and judges, because failures had been exposed. “They were found to have hidden their weaknesses and what was needed was for them now to prove their value, not that they should be automatically respected because of the uniform.”

Similar views are expressed in a study by economists Yann Algan and Pierre Cahuc called The Society of Distrust: How the French Social Model is Self-destructing. They say the French are more than usually wary of “other citizens, the authorities and the market”.

They say these attitudes lead to problems such as vandalism, which economist Jacques Bichot has estimated costs the country more than five billion euros a year, with vandalism in public transport alone thought to cost the equivalent of 4,400 jobs.

These gloomy views of France come as the country topped a poll on quality of life in western Europe. The uSwitch Quality of Life index found France had the earliest retirement age, spent the most on healthcare and had the longest life expectancy. Workers have an average 36 days holiday a year (compared to 28 in the United Kingdom) and it was one of the best (after Spain and Italy) for hours of sunshine.

Comment: Nothing could be further from the truth
by Martin Hills

What are we to make of opinion research showing that a majority of French people feel that life has got worse, both in general and in the detail of everyday social interchange? Is this just an example of a darkening mood reflecting the dwindling daylight as the clocks go back? Or, perhaps,the yearning of an ageing population for a past when everything seems to have been somehow better; a feeling, as Frank Norman put it, that fings ain’t what they used t’be?

Whatever has sparked this malaise, it seems to express itself in a loss of confidence in France, its institutions and even its way of life. In fact, the most startling aspect of this gloomy mood is that it is quite out of character for the French to feel this way. In many ways, what distinguishes the French from citizens elsewhere is that they are more proudly nationalistic. They strongly believe that the French way is superior to any other. They see in the booming tourist business and the number of foreigners that choose to live here a recognition that this belief is both true and widely acknowledged abroad.

They believe their heritage is important and well worth preserving for the benefit of the world as well as for France. They invented the journées de patrimoine and they support it in huge numbers.

Cynics may suggest they go to national heritage sites only when they are free, but free entry would never induce people to go into monuments if they were not interested.

Of course, it is quite easy to find reasons to be depressed in today’s conditions. The economy is under par, the government is extremely unpopular and its policies even more so. Anger causes people to come out on to the streets, but what the polls show is more a disgruntled mood about society. People are less civil to one another than once they were, we are told. Whether true or not, it is hardly a political matter.

As with all opinion polls, the probability is that the public’s response is coloured by the questions asked. There is a big difference between asking, What aspect of life do you feel has deteriorated in comparison with the past? And, Do you think people behave less civilly than they used to?

I do not see evidence of this sudden change in the nation’s psyche in the day-to-day doings of French people. A nation sunk in terminal gloom does not throng in record numbers to celebrate its heritage. It may be dumbfounded by the humiliation of the national football team in South Africa, but it still cheers to the echo its successful athletes.

Above all, the things that the French have always been proud of, and which foreigners so admire, are still there. There is the extraordinarily varied beauty of the countryside; along with it the fact that a large country that has space for hundreds of small and medium-sized towns can avoid the congested conurbations that are the fate of smaller ones.

It may be true that, in eating out, the best value is to be found at the cheap and expensive ends of the market rather than the middle, but superlative cooking, good food and excellent wines are still essential ingredients in the best of French cuisine. Notwithstanding the poll’s findings, la politesse is also very much in evidence in the greeting at the local shop, if less apparent in large city emporia.
That is something that people from more hustling environments particularly enjoy and respect in France.

France still has a great deal going for it and I think that the French remain well aware of it, even if they are distracted occasionally by interviewers with clipboards.

A lifelong professional writer, Martin Hills has lived in France for 15 years and has travelled around the country for far longer before that

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