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French make the effort to know you

Connexion edition: March 2008

I WOULD like to make a few comments following the Connexion interview with historian and member of the Attali Commission Dr Zeldin.

I have lived in France with my wife for just over three years, although I have had a love affair with France for well over 40 years.

We have been shown nothing but kindness by everyone French who we have met, either as neighbours or in a more professional capacity as business people.

Indeed the bureaucracy can be very frustrating at times but I will trade that for the way in which people take the time to want to know you as a person.

It doesn’t matter whether you are rich, poor, ugly or wear odd clothes.

It seems to me that the French rationale is genuinely to want to either help someone who has a problem or simply get to know you.

There seems to me to be a real willingness to spend their valuable time on you, as opposed to the normal British reaction, which is to get rid of you as soon as possible.

I know I am generalising, and we live in the very rural Gers in the southwest, where the pace of life is generally like it was in Britain 50 years ago.

However the warmth shown to one even on first acquaintance, does not change whether one runs a Ferrari or a beat-up white Citroen, it is genuine, honest and based on the old values where a favour does not immediately imply one is expected in return.

Dr Zeldin is right in his assertion that the French know a lot about the art of living, it is based on the old values of family and community.

Yes there is a hierarchy and that is seen and would generally seem to be accepted, however from what I have observed there is not the overbearing need to be better than the person next door, simply because they have a bigger / better / faster car.

Rather that they would prefer to get to know that person with no pretence at being anyone but who they are.

Things are undoubtedly changing, but I trust that the deep fundamentals of the French psyche, where, for example, the art of conversation for its own sake is still an accepted part of day-to-day life and that life does not have to be lived ‘hurriedly’ will never change.

Comme on fait son lit on se couche translated as ‘you get out of life what you put into it’ rather than ‘you’ve made your bed, now you must lie in it’ just seems to fit the French frame of mind better.


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