Over the years, I have grown to observe a few differences between France and England. Not just culturally or in the obvious linguistic way, but in other ways too. The interesting thing, is that when I first moved to the UK I hated it. I had never felt more french and vowed to leave the UK as soon as possible. But now I have left it, I realise it does have certain qualities that act in it’s favour. There are some striking differences between France and England, and some of them are quite important.
Take for example, striking. In France it is the national sport: people go on strike all the time and any time, for practically any reason. As a kid, you grow up surrounded by strikes: teachers on strike, transport on strike, and if you don’t strike yourself then you haven’t had a proper french education. By the time I was 18 I had been on more than one strike. In England on the other hand, strikes are so rare that when they do occur, it is most likely for a very important reason. What does this say about France? France is a country where people are deeply dissatisfied, where they feel that they are not being done just by, and at the same time they refuse to allow change. In the case of striking, I feel that they strike so much it becomes ridiculous. The strike loses its meaning, people don’t even know what they are striking for. Students enjoy strikes because it allows them to skip class, people enjoying being seen on TV chanting. But what are they striking for? How many of them actually know? And in the end they strike so much, that the message is lost. When people see in the news that the French are striking, I’m sure “Oh, not again!” comes to mind.
Another fundamental difference I have noted between France and England is the education system. Having done a french baccalaureate, I am proud of this achievement and greatly value the fact that I had such a rounded education. I think A-levels pale in comparison. But the difference between France and England, is that the english have such a more pedagogical approach: encouraging, helpful, whilst the French are harsh and strict. In France if you have difficulty understanding then you are slow, and are pulling the rest of the class behind. Whereas in the anglo-saxon system, the approach is that with a little help and encouragement, you will be able to achieve anything. Later on, at university, students are encouraged to further themselves and gain experience through societies. In France you would be lucky if you managed to find where your department office is, let alone find a society… In my opinion the pedagogical approach works wonders, and helps people to believe in themselves rather than feel cowed into a corner of failure and low self esteem.
Similarly, after university, it is easier to find a graduate job in the UK. Of course, I know that job hunting, no matter where you are, is difficult. But the British are more lenient, will take people from different backgrounds, with degrees not necessarily relevant to the job. You will be given responsibilities, and a good salary (hopefully). In France people spend years trying to find a job in their sector. It is difficult for them to be able to do so, though I do not say it is impossible. If they do, they possibly end up miserable in their job, with a poor salary (I have one particular person in mind here. I am not making this a generalisation). If they can’t, they will settle for a job in a non-related sector or they will try and find a “stage” the equivalent of an internship. Except that in most stages people are unpayed, and are made to do boring menial tasks. This is no life for someone recently graduated from university, and yet noone will accept you without experience (although this problem also exists elsewhere).
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an open criticism of France. I love France and much prefer it to the UK. It has many things in its favour that England could learn from, but France as I said, is a country in need of change that refuses to accept it. They voted for Nicolas Sarkozy and now they won’t let him go forward with his reforms. They hang on to the 35 hours rule even though loosening it up would help the whole country. They are outraged by the idea of shops being open on Sunday. These are small things that the French should open up to and allow themselves to enjoy. France should stop being so protectionist and allow small drabs of anglo-saxon ideas in. They wouldn’t bite!