What we value living over here

Readers respond to Professor Joseph Stiglitz's request for what they value in France.

1 July 2008

Last month Professor Joseph Stiglitz, tasked by Sarkozy to look into new ways of measuring economic success beyond GDP, asked readers what you thought should be counted.

High on my approval list is French people's healthy scepticism about the benefits of commercialisation, coupled of course with their sane pursuit of la douceur de vivre (translated in my dictionary as the gentle way of life), and appreciation of la bonne bouffe (the ability to turn ordinary food into delicious meals through the addition of flavours derived from generations of peasant know-how).

Next up on my list is the strength of the cooperative movement, derived from small-scale wine producers’ need to share investment in vat machinery and professional expertise. Also the acceptance of mutuality principles in the management of health insurance and some banks.

But at the top of my list is local democracy. There is tremendous strength in the two-round electoral system which enables minority voices to be heard before the second vote reveals the majority and the fact that in small communes most candidates stand for election without party labels ie. one votes for the person rather than for right, centre, left or green affiliations.

If these points are held by French people to be socially valuable, as I believe most do, they illustrate in what way GDP fails as a measure of national well-being because its focus is on money and not on human values.

That is why, as Professor Stiglitz will know, researchers have for years been trying to evolve indicators that combine financial with social values, culminating in a 'Beyond GDP' conference in Brussels last November and also why a citizen policy initiative similarly titled Beyond GDP has been posted for public discussion on www.simpol.org.uk (click on Policies, then Policy Proposals then Latest additions).

This is a website of the international civil society organisation call Simpol that provides democratic space for voters in parliamentary democracies to develop policy measures of urgent global importance, and to vote with others, across frontiers, for their simultaneous implementation.
Brian Wills

The area of France where we live, Morbihan, is clean and there is fresh air to breath. There is no rubbish in the streets and no graffiti on the walls. We are not aware of very much crime and so feel safe and secure. The roads are relatively quiet and always well maintained. There appears to be little pollution.

There are flowers on roundabouts and flower beds are well maintained in towns, cities, villages and public spaces. There are always good sports and public social activity facilities, even in the smallest villages. French people are kind, welcoming, friendly and interested in visitors who are prepared to integrate and join in their activities.

When we arrived here in Morbihan in the summer of 2004, on retirement from England, we are the only English couple living in our village of 3,000 people.

On arrival, our neighbour recommended that we join the over sixties club, club de troisiemme age, which we duly did and it has been our life line. We play boules in summer, cards, belotte, in winter and there is dancing on Sundays.
We enjoy meals and trips out together and spend a week abroad on holiday together each year. We regularly receive invitations for soirées and return the compliment, we are very content.

We could not afford the life style we enjoy here in France if we had stayed in England, especially living in a lovely large house with lake and stream, large garden, privacy and clean fresh air.
C L Priestley

IT is the intangible aspect of French life that I enjoy: The feeling of personal security; the politeness and respect the French people have for others that reaches across all ages.

Their live and let live approach; the civic pride; the lack of stress engendered by the French approach to life, "ce n'est pas grave!" (the number of times I have heard that for example).

Their lack of snobbishness or "side", an apparent disinterest in material things and the pursuit thereof; the importance of maintaining community and family bonds across the villages, the boules and belote concourses [card games] for example. The food, style and fashion I find to over-hyped, however.
Terry Hawker
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