For the past three decades my media company, Vidicom, has worked for French clients creating content and distributing to media outlets. I returned to Manhattan office today after four days in Paris where restaurants are still full, luxury boutiques still teeming with shoppers and the global impact of the U.S. economic crisis just beginning to set in. My friends and colleagues gave me an earful: below are my perceptions–not my opinions–of what I heard.
Those Pro-American Parisians (and there are plenty) are not gloating. They are bracing for when the domino effect hits them. One of my friends scheduled to move to New York City has frozen all plans. Dual citizenship hasn’t prevented her from feeling ashamed for what America’s lack of regulation has done to middle class families without homes and many, without jobs.At least the French, she says, have good lives whether they are working or not…whether they own or rent their home. Far fewer believe in mortgages or borrowing money for anything. Many more apartment dwellers in Paris rent than own compared to US cities.
The French, she admits, may not work as hard as the Americans . Alas many still defend the 35 hour work week. In fact my friend calls her fellow countrymen “lazy” because they know the government protects them. The government sends doctors on house calls, buys eye glasses and has an agency just to find jobs for the unemployed. French unemployment has always been almost more than double US rates (until now). Why be encouraged to get a job if the French can live so well with out one?
My French friends and “Sarkozy the American” have always admitted the French tend to lack ambition, entrepreneurship and the work ethic that made the US a global force. The current feeling in Paris seems to be that it is better to be lazy and coddled by governmental security than to have a government that doesn’t protect the bare necessities for its citizens. The feeling is that “poor” in France is not like “poor” in the US.
Another French investor blames the U.S. for bundling our bad debt mortgages with other products and selling them to banks around the world which now could fail thanks to America’s erroneously guaranteeing investments that soured.
In all, French opinion seems to be Americans are too greedy, took too much credit, and gambled. Maybe it was pure chauvinism on my part, but I couldn’t hold back. My standard response was:
American entrepreneurial spirit–the willingness to risk–is what the French lack and often admire in us.. We are indeed paying our dues now and deserve to suffer for our excesses. However, if it weren’t for our American cojones and freemarket spirit, there would be no first man on the moon, no ability for anyone to read this blog, no cure for polio, and no billions swirling around the world to fight hunger, HIV-AIDS,etc. And of course there are those Americans who never left French shores. They lie beneath thousands of tombstone in Normandy.