THE FRENCH have won the dubious honour of being crowned the world's most pessimistic people – but despite the new year doom and gloom, there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful about life in France over the coming year.
The BVA-Gallup "Survey of Hope and Despair" polled 979 people in France, aged 18 to 65, about their prospects for 2011 and the future of the French economy.
While most of them were content about their own personal situation, they were much gloomier about the country’s wider economic and social context.
French pessimism has grown by 10 percentage points on last year, according to the study. Some 61 per cent of people surveyed in France said they were expecting hard times ahead for the country, compared to an average of 28 per cent in the 53 countries surveyed.
Two thirds of French respondents expected unemployment to continue to rise this year.
Iceland came next on the gloomy scale, followed by Romania, Serbia and Britain, where 52 per cent of people were pessimistic about the future.
Germany was among the most optimistic of the EU member states, with only 22 per cent of people expecting their situation to worsen. The most upbeat countries worldwide included Vietnam, Brazil, India and China.
French pessimism is nothing new. A study by the Centre d’Etudes des Niveaux de Vie, a Canadian thinktank, found that France’s "national happiness" peaked in 2001, when unemployment was below two million, the dotcom bubble had not yet
burst and employees were starting to feel the benefits of the 35-hour working week.
Rising unemployment and social unrest over the government’s pension reforms appears to have added to the doom and gloom. Jean-Paul Delevoye, the French national ombudsman who deals with public complaints about bureaucracy, said in a report last year: "People are psychologically exhausted. We are seeing a discrepancy between the little individual joys and the collective malaise."
President Sarkozy admitted in his new year address that 2010 had been a very difficult year for many people in France, but insisted: "The year 2011 brings with it hope."
It was Mr Sarkozy who first suggested, in 2009, that the world should devise a "happiness index", instead of measuring national well-being wholly in terms of money and GDP growth. The measure has since become popular with British
prime minister David Cameron.
France has also lost the title of best place in the world to live, according to an annual study by International Living magazine, which has been publishing quality of life comparisons for 192 countries over the past 30 years.
France has topped the global list for the past five consecutive years, but has now slipped to fourth place, toppled by the United States and then New Zealand and Malta. Fifth place, just behind France, went to Monaco; the UK was ranked eighth.
The demotion is partly explained by a change in the survey’s methodology. The study included new criteria, examining each country’s technology and infrastructure. The US scored highly for its internet access, high percentage of paved roads and number of airports.
France scored 75 per cent in total, down from 86 per cent last year. It received top marks for leisure and culture, security and healthcare, but lost points for its infrastructure (55/100), cost of living (58/100) and economic
Reasons to look on the bright side
You live longer
Boys born in France in 2009 can expect to live to 78, two years longer than the EU average. Female life expectancy is 85, compared with 82 Europe-wide. France has more than 15,000 centenarians (the oldest is 112), a figure forecast to rise to 200,000 by 2060.
You’re well looked after
France spends €550bn a year on social protection, about 30 per cent of its total GDP, about a third of which goes on healthcare.
The French health system is the best in the world, according to two separate studies by the World Health Organisation and the Commonwealth Fund. France has twice as many hospital beds per 100,000 population as the UK (but not as many as Malta, Hungary, Latvia, the Czech Republic or Germany). Some 1.5 million people are covered by the couverture maladie universelle (CMU).
You get around
France has one of the most extensive motorway networks in Europe, with 11,200km, beaten only by Spain and Germany. It also has the second most extensive railway network on the continent, behind Germany, at 29,473km.
You take time off
French workers enjoy some of the longest holidays in Europe, second only to Finland, although statisticians differ. We enjoy an average of 30 days of paid holiday and 11 bank holidays a year. On top of these are days off in lieu (RTT, réduction du temps de travail) brought by the 35-hour working week.
You have a lot of space
France is still, in large parts, a green, unspoilt country. It has a similar population to Britain (64.7 million compared with 62 million), but twice the space. France’s population density is 100.9 people per square kilometre, compared with 250 in the UK.
You build families
French fertility rates are among the highest in Europe, tied with Ireland, with two children per woman, compared with a European average of 1.5. France offers generous tax breaks for large families and childcare.
You eat well
The French way of eating is the first food-related social practice to join the Unesco world heritage list. It was decided that the meal played an active part in the French community, strengthening relations between people and being transmitted as part of the French identity down the generations. France is also the world’s top wine country, producing 419 million cases of wine in 2010.
You’re active in the community
A third of adults in France is a member of an association or charity.
You’re becoming better drivers
French motorists are killing fewer people. The number of road deaths fell below the 4,000 mark last year. That is, admittedly, almost twice as many as in the United Kingdom, but the figure is down from 10,000 since 1991.
You enjoy good weather
Bergerac, for example, recorded 277 hours of sunlight last July and an average daytime temperature of 28.8C, peaking at 35.1C in the first week of the school holidays.
Your reasons to be cheerful
WE ASKED Connexion newsletter readers why they are optimistic for 2011
"The new year may bring a better standard of living in France as the economy brightens. Hopefully, the economic situation in the UK will also improve in 2011 and make our pensions go further in France"
"I was rushed into hospital with an aneurism of the aorta at the end of last year, so my optimism for the new year is that I am here to see it and to live it."
"We’ve lived here in the Vosges for the past 11 years and are still as happy as when we arrived. This is paradise and having won the lottery all in one."
Marion and Roger Llewellyn Smith
"The things to be cheerful about France appear to us to be centred round not being in the UK. My wife and I are finally getting our house in the UK sold and moving permanently to France."