Life in France

France attracts the British like nowhere else, their nearest neighbour with whom we share quite a history! However it is the differences that probably attract us. These are subtle, such that tourists get just a hint of the foreign, sufficient to add an attractive mystery to the country and the people. I have made passing references to these differences in past blog entries and I will continue to do so as we encounter and savour new divergences from our own norms. The other evening we saw a BBC program by Robert Peston (This World, Quelle Catastrophe – France). He crystallised a lot of our own, largely British viewpoint. In Britain since Thatcher we have become accustomed to a more American attitude where consumer is (allegedly) king, where if you don’t like some product or service you can just switch and the marketplace and attitudes reflect that. Of course it is largely an illusion but I think it lies at the heart of the difference between British and French attitudes.

In the UK, unemployment is too high but in France it is sky high, in some places for the under 25’s it’s nearly 50%. France is a socialist state, worker’s rights are paramount possibly comparable to pre-Thatcher Britain. There is a tome of workplace regulations for France that measured in weight has doubled in the last 10 years (now 2kg). Apparently this unbearable weight of regulation is being lightened by reducing the font size – I kid you not! Lunchtime is a time when workers eat together and talk at a usual 2 to 2½ hours this is a big chunk from the day. A 35 hour week is enshrined by law. For a small to medium sized company to employ someone is like a marriage, a major commitment and as difficult to get out of; what’s more, only one third of the cost to employ someone goes on actual cash in their pocket, the rest goes to the state. Even the relatively new status of autoentrepeneur – the nearest to UK self-employed is simpler but with heavy regulation and taxation yet without the cushion of much of the social security employed workers enjoy. A public worker cannot be made redundant easily if at all, unemployed get up to 2 years full benefit.

All this reflects our experience here; it is refreshing (once you get used to the timing) for lunchtimes to be mostly just about lunch, rather than squeezing a quick weekly shop before dashing back to work as I often did in the UK. Sunday and Bank Holidays too are about the holiday rather than an opportunity to dash to a diy store (they’re closed). In many respects it feels like the something out of Enid Blyton except instead of lashings of lemonade its lashings of wine!

The cost of employing people is high, personal taxation is only second to Denmark but, like Denmark, that is what it takes to fund the expectations we have in France and most people accept it. The problem is that foreign companies like Amazon and even RyanAir can avoid many of the restrictions and compete unfairly. Unfortunately it is the ‘foreign’ aspect that encourages the far right and gives them a toehold. Just like in Britain, it is possible to latch onto the xenophobia that mostly stay buried but pops out in times of hardship.

The two of us can only hope the euro crisis etc settles down. The few French political conversations I have had revolve around the loss of past standards and as autoentrepeneurs we pay higher tax than we would in the UK but we get by comfortably and summer will soon be here. La vie est belle.

After being recommended Aldi for shopping savings – I went shopping at Swansea’s Aldi and it seemed very good. So we tried the nearest equivalent here – a Lidl (they are brothers afaicr) but even though a local friend had recommended it we found little difference – in fact less choice. Regular discounts seem to be the rule in France so our policy of buying high price items like steak and chicken specifically when discounted helps a lot. I did some research and according to brand prices are less than at Tesco’s – I have to say that I’ve found that not to be, very few things are cheaper, many perhaps more specifically British things are significantly more expensive. On the whole I’d say that with care we can spend slightly less than we would in the UK.

I got a dose of RyanAir Rhume (cold) visiting my grandson last week, as far as I know I didn’t pass it on to them but unfortunately I did graciously donate it to my poor Delia who is currently snorting and sniffling in bed – as opposed to me down with the dog coughing up the final bits of cold. Unwatched Siena seems to be a thorough thief and has chewed my mobile phone, a computer mouse as well as stealing various gloves and hats. But she looks so cute sitting halfway down the garden with a purple felt hat hopefully looking at us to chase her. Yes we are hopeless…

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