In The Sunday Telegaph, France's economywas accused of being stuck in the 70s. Ican confirm, living in France, her being stuck in the past is deeply entrenchedin French society's collective consciousness.
Sorbonne-educated Jean-Louis Borloo, aliberal, is the president of the centre-right Union des Democrates etIndépendants, and one of its radical members. According to Atlantico, "As the UMP implode, Borloo's UDI rub theirhands (with glee)". I heard himinterviewed an hour ago on France Inter, as he contemplates an opportunistcoalition with the UMP following their being weakened by the scrap betweenFillon and Copé. He was loud and clearon his opinion that the Socialist party are stuck in 18th Centurythinking. You don't say….!
I'll say. Having lived in France for just over 3 years, I was stunned when awell-meaning local employer, at the "Haras National" (National Stud) in mylocal town gave me some advice. Seatedin her office a stone's throw away from the 100-year old shrine to the town'sworking horse heritage, she advised me to wind up my business and go on thedole. Excuse me? "It would make you more interesting toemployers", she continued. Scarcely ableto restrain myself from asking why a "dole layabout" would make an"interesting" employee at any level, I didn't bother saying that I wasn'tsetting my sights on "getting a job", having set up my own company. "Please explain", I said, my eyes wide with incomprehension as she continued this fascinatinginsight into the workings of a machine that pre-dates the Breton Poster horse."Naturally", she said, "government incentives to employ the unemployed meanthat, in fact, you stand little chance of being taken on unless you AREunemployed". So France prefers thatsmall business holders shut up shop and join the dole queue, rather thangetting off their backsides and generating some wealth. Or in my case, encouraging and facilitatingexport. I politely told her that Ipreferred spending my time actually working, rather than having circulardiscussions with fontionnaires. Hersuperior smile said it all – but I was truly glad to agree to differ.
So, for Borloo, how to support smallbusinesses? This morning he commentedthat what he's disliked seeing the most over the past 6 months, is theattitudes and practices that guarantee a talent drain for France, the battlefor the liberty of those who could generate wealth, the heavy taxation andlegislation that weigh them down. Smallcompanies being treated like large ones. Man's instinct to explore, says Borloo, is natural. But France doesn't foster enterprise, norexterior investment, while other countries actively encourage it.
So what about Hollande's "CompetitivenessPact "? "Can we get serious for amoment?", he said, "this crisis isn't about the credit crunch: this governmentis leading us softly to recession…. Unemployment rising is the only one of their promises I'd believe." He went on to say that France should stopmessing around with retrospective tax credits, and just lower the charges onbusinesses and tackle unemployment rather than paying it lip service.
In a bid to emphasise unity after aswingeing attack on the establishment, suddenly the discussion switches to Scouts– a discussion that turns out to be more than simple light relief. At their most impressionable age, young boysare schooled into packs. The mostimportant principle? The establishment ofa clear leader, and the subsequent falling into line by the rest. How they fear chaos and in-fighting – yet howthey foster it in the same breath.
Geert Hofstede's not wrong when heclinically, and without a solid base in theory, categorised the nations in his4 dimensions, two of which are pertinent here. "Power Distance" and fear of the unfamiliar conspire to make the French fearfulof and closed to many things, especially the freedom for the ordinary person toflourish. For all their shouting anddemonstrating in the street, the French are actually MORE accepting ofauthority than many other nations. Thisappears to inhibit their appetite to find ways around problems – they seek waysto fit in with the system as it is, instead. Housewives obey their husbands, children are scared of their teachers –these can be good things in the right context, but are also reminiscent, as hasbeen said before, of Britain in the 70s, and who would want to go backthere? A French person might wind uptheir business and register at the Job Centre in order to "conform", but for methis runs counter to the idea that one must start as one means to carry on:from a position of strength.
The French think they're bad at foreignlanguages – I don't agree, what they're bad at is speaking them out loud, forfear of being judged imperfect. That'sjust another example of how they're tied up in their obsession with conformity They'ddo better to look beyond spelling and grammar, and consider instead theirinability to accept "foreign" ideas – such as a Free Market. Their conservatism, caution and obsessionwith order and control, are what's holding them back.