Hans van der Kruijf, Monday, 18 September 2017
Life in France
As if time has stood still, that's the way francophiles prefer to see life in France.
A baker who prepares fresh croissants early in the morning. A 2CV driving over a country road lined with sycamore trees. Grape pickers in the
vineyards. A village hotel on a small square with a fountain and a Logis de France. And in the evening for a few francs an abundant farmer's meal
with wine as much as you like. But that France is becoming increasingly difficult to find, it's retreating in inhospitable corners, on the Auvergne
plateaus or in mountain valleys that are difficult to reach and where tourists do not come. The France of TGV, ADSL, SMS, Le Web, Les Hypers,
Formula-1, and MacDo is advancing. But don't look at what was, look at what is.
Death in France is part of life. In the villages the body of the deceased is laid out in the house, and in front of the door is a table with the
register of condolence. The funeral is heralded with a mass, after which the procession goes through the village to the cemetery.
The cemeteries are richly equipped with monumental chapels, and the graves are neatly maintained.
On November 1st it is Toussaint, all Saints. Then the dead are honored with chrysanthemums and the cemeteries look like a spherical field in spring.
Chrysanthemums are for the dead, not for the living! So don't come to a happy French feast with an exuberant forest of chrysanthemums.
Cremation is gaining ground, but that's something for the big city, not the countryside.
French people love their children and dogs. Sometimes order and rest are maintained with some blows for everyone.
The families are smaller than before: 2 children is the norm for an average French family. French children stay late. They go to bed after half past
nine, but Wednesday is a day off to relax.
Marriage is not interesting because single mothers pay special tax rates. Usually one only marries years after the arrival of children, when there is
Many French families in the province live in self-constructed, detached houses, which have traditionally been brought in by their parents as a dowry.
Private swimming pools are very popular, but in terms of status a garage is more important than a garden.
The underprivileged live in rental blocks called HLM's (Habitation á Loyer Modéré) and at the very bottom of the social ladder are the homeless
people called SDFs: Sans Domicile Fixte.
Making a quarrel is a kind of theatre that the French are very good at. Those who argue with whom are not always clear. If a Frenchman's attitude
towards you suddenly changes, he will probably have a fight with a friend of yours.
French children go to school early, first to the maternelle, the kindergarten playroom.
Primary education - increasingly common in a public rather than a Catholic school - is five days a week. Wednesday is the whole day off. Saturday
morning there is ordinary school, although the 4-day school system is gaining popularity. Then on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the school day
is an hour longer, in exchange for a free Saturday.
After primary school there is an intermediate form of secondary education, called the Lycée.
Le Bac is collected at the Lycée. Although that is the time to say goodbye to school, it is now possible to get a picture of real study at a
university. Universities exist in almost all major cities in France, and each university has its own specialty.
Those who are called to the highest level can be chosen (and bring along some tuition fees themselves) to study at a Grande Ecole. These military,
technical and administrative training courses date back to Napoleon's time and are intended to meet a network of like-minded people. The future
leaders of La France will emerge from the graduates of these elite courses.
On the job
Freedom, equality and brotherhood are still not empty words in France, but these concepts are constantly being used at work.
On the one hand, the French employee wants a clear, hierarchical structure, where the boss has everything to say. Tasks that have been assigned are
handled according to a predetermined time pattern and working method, and there can be no deviation from this. Working with dual agendas and hidden
interests is not strange to the politically conscious French employee.
On the other hand, the employee wants to be able to decide for himself when and how he will do the work (freedom), he wants to see the boss as his
equal but not as higher (equality) and - even outside working hours - often feels close and honestly connected with his colleagues (brotherhood).
Foreigners have the greatest difficulty in understanding this ambiguity. In a subtle game of hand shake, use of Tu and Vous, attracting and
dislodging the business is done, with a Friendship Service only being called corruption when it comes to a scandal.
The average working week is 35 hours. The retirement age for many professional groups is 55 years old, but officially as in the Netherlands is 65
In France, issues such as childcare and care leave are better regulated than in the Netherlands, but unemployment benefits, disability benefits and
protection against dismissal and redundancy payments are again lower.
Every employee is entitled to a warm meal between noon. If the company cannot provide it in its own restaurant, the employee receives dinner vouchers
for which most restaurants offer a menu for an amount of around 13 Euro.