Paris has been brought to a near standstill by a wave of strikes and protest marches aimed at the French government’s plans to restructure the nation’s retirement system.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In Paris, life has ground to a halt. A general strike there is in its 11th day. And there are daily protests, too. Unions are upset about Emmanuel Macron’s changes to the country’s retirement system. And they are threatening to continue striking through Christmas. Here’s NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It’s not the protests that are the problem. If you’re not on the march route, they don’t really affect you. But the transport strike is killing everyone. [ Listen below ]
Puzzling as it may seem in a country that appears to have so much going for it — fine wines, haute cuisine, high fashion and roughly 1,000 different cheeses — the French are Les Misérables. As author Sylvain Tesson told France Inter radio recently: “France is a paradise inhabited by people who believe they’re in hell.”
Economist Claudia Senik, a professor at the famous Sorbonne University, has studied the French malaise and believes it dates to the 1970s and the end of the “Trente Glorieuses,” the 30 postwar years when France boomed.
“It’s linked to the way the French view the world and their place in it. They have high expectations about the quality of life, freedoms and many values driven by the French Revolution and this sets a high benchmark for satisfaction,” Senik says. “They look back at a golden age when France made the rules of the game, and now we are just another smallish country forced to accept and adapt to rules.”
In her research paper, “The French Unhappiness Puzzle,” Senik found that even when they leave France to live elsewhere in the world, they take their gloominess with them, suggesting it is not France but being French that makes people unhappy.
“I was surprised to discover that since the 1970s the French have been less happy than others in European countries, much less happy than you’d have thought, given their standard of living, lifestyle, life expectancy and wealth,” Senik says. “It’s a problem of culture, not circumstance. It’s the way they feel, their mentality.”
On paper, the French have few reasons to be gloomy: They enjoy free and universal access to an enviable health system ranked first by the World Health Organization, free schools and universities, a maximum 35-hour workweek, six weeks’ annual vacation, paid parental leave and an enviable welfare safety net. Continue reading “Les Misérables: Why are the French, who seem to have much, so quick to protest?”