La dynamique fran?aise
Nine down, eighteen more to go! I exchanged Spain for France this morning and will spend the next 15 days or so in the country of frog legs and smelly cheeses. I am happy to arrive just after a wave of strikes paralysed the country. The railway strike came to an end last week, so I should not have any difficulties reaching Luxembourg before the end of the year. I am looking forward to hearing people from Angoul?me, Tours, Le Mans, Caen, Paris, Lyon, Belfort and Strasbourg tell me about local French life.
Leaving San Sebasti?n in the early morning, I aim to arrive in Bordeaux before noon. As the sun rises, the French meadows recover from a frosty night. Valleys hide behind patches of fog while neatly organised crops decorate the gentle slopes. Every now and then, the Atlantic Ocean and its beaches pop up on the lefthand side of the track. The houses of Saint-Jean-de-Luz are all painted in the same colour white, making it look like a pretty and coherent city. The city centre of Bordeaux, some two hours later, makes an equally monochrome impression. Instead of white, it`s a sand-like tint of yellow that dominates fa?ades and pavements alike.
`French people want to please others, but they will expect preferred treatment in return`
France in Europe
Not knowing anything about France is not an option for most Europeans. France regularly raises its voice in Europe, and has been a main intiator of European integrations. Together with The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany and Italy, it took the first steps towards today`s European Union ? a process of ongoing integration that started after the Second World War.
Beside for its role in Europe, France is widely known for its food culture that some consider barbarian. It is known for the turbulent and semi-hidden love life of its presidents. And it makes headlines every now and then with virulent strikes that regularly paralyse the entire country.
Faire la gr?ve
The recent election of Mr Sarkozy as the `President of the Republic` has been an indirect reason for train drivers and students to organise a number of strikes over the last few weeks. Striking simply is a favourite method of exercising pression in France. And who could blame them? Taking the day off to improve your labour conditions it not something every other European would think of. While labour unions in other countries often see strikes as a last resort to create a break-through in negotiations, the French prefer to stop working almost even before thinking of solving a problem with words.
Sarkozy won the elections after insisting that France needed change. The French people wanted reforms in the education system, they wanted a stronger position of France within Europe and a solution for the immigration problems. But the implementation of the changes is met with a lot of resistance, of which the recent strikes were just one result.
Train drivers, who in France are employed by the state, do not want to accept that they will soon have to work the same number of years as other employees in order to have right to their pensions. Students are blocking universities to protest against a plan to privatise public universities. Juliette (19) and M?lissande (19) are both studying at university and they are happy to take advantage of the current university strikes. `We don`t want the universities to rely on money from companies, because it will mean that studying probably gets more expensive and less accessible than it is now. Apart from that, it is nice to have some days off, because all lectures are cancelled anyway`, says Juliette.
Voting for change while embracing acquired values is typical for the French way of thinking. Edouard (26) quotes a famous French expression, that runs: Vouloir le beurre, et l`argent du beurre (wanting to keep the butter while also collecting the sales revenue of the butter), meaning that they tend to want one thing but are not willing to sacrifice what it takes to actually get what they want. The French adore innovation, but only if it allows them to keep things to the old.
This eternal struggle may well be the reason why made the word dynamic is so popular in France. Non-French could easily interpret it as unreliable or at best opportunistic. In France, the word dynamic has the most positive meaning possible. It describes a condition in which there is something to win for everyone, a fluent state of mind that satisfies all requirements. Companies want to be dynamic, people want to be dynamic and all of France wants to be dynamic. They are just not always at good at it as they wish to.
One thing French people are definitely good at is making excuses, apologies and compliments. They will even get the most horrible news across with a touch of style and flair. Marina (22, photo) thinks that French people always want to please, and that they are fairly good at it as well. On the negative side, she thinks French people can never be fully honest and always keep something behind. They will expect equal treatment for everybody, but a preferred treatment for themselves.
Her disagreement with the way French people like to keep up appearances does not keep her from feeling happy and at home in France. `People complain a lot, but they should travel outside France and see that our situation is not that bad at all. Send them on an excursion to Congo for example, it will give them a different view on how good life in France is.` Marina is proud of the French cuisine and even mentions French bread as the thing she misses most when she`s abroad. Her boyfriend only comes to mind as second entry on the list.
The French Savoir-Vivre, living a happy life and enjoying it along the way, ranks high on the list of excuses for chauvinism. But the fear of having to unexpectedly give up the good life is holding the country in a tight grip. Voting for Sarkozy`s policy of change was a surprising move. Many claim that is was due to a lack of feasible alternatives on one hand, and to a national identity crisis on the other hand. Problems like immigration and unemployment have been left aside by previous governments. Sarkozy has promised to add action to his words and bring France back on the scene of the world`s leading nations: in politics, in civilisation and in national pride.
According to Bejamin (21), many people are waiting for the new president to start making mistakes. His energy and readiness to act are appealing to many, but many fear that he will use his close connections with France`s main media conglomerates to influence the public opinion to his advantage. The Sarkozy issue divides France in to something inbetween shame and pride. Fortunately for the French, they can always combine opposing points of view and write it off as dynamics. They would probably be lost without that word.
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