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The frustrating side of life in France

There are times I want to grab my French friends by their shrugging shoulders and slap them forcefully on both cheeks in a parody of the double kiss.

I've never been what you'd call a violent person. My anger has a verbal rather than a physical expression, mainly, truth be told, because I've always been rather terrified someone might slap me back.

Otherwise I might have been tempted to beat the merde out of them.

But I'm sick of the resigned acceptance of life that makes up such a huge chunk of the French psyche, encompassed in that familiar shrug and spread of hands.

They, now we, moi, suffocate under tons of forms and procedures demanded by surly, unhelpful, sneering bureaucrats working out their time to early retirement on almost fully salaried pensions.

(That's just the way it is. Shrug.)

They try to set up a little business, maybe employ one or two people, and give up in despair and often bankruptcy, as they are strangled under the rigid social charges demanded in advance and ludicrous claw-backs of the state.

(That's just the way it is. Shrug.)

They allow jumped-up rural mayors to control their attempts to improve their houses. No, not mega-extensions without permission: simple change of shutter colour or a post-box that extends 4cm over their boundary.

Then they just half-smile on hearing of the latest four-hour jolly lunch in the county town, involving champagne and les premiers crus, to discuss the area's problems.

(That's just the way it is. Shrug.)

The only time I see the eyes widen is when I compare like-for-like with UK prices in terms of food, white goods, cars, flights … actually, practically everything.

After the usual non, c'est pas vrai, and a few emotive hands to cheeks, there comes the shrug (the sad shrug this time) and yes: Ah, that's just the way it is. En France.

Non, non, non. It doesn't have to be. It's both political and arrogant. How often I've used that word when describing life in France.

Arrogance is usually a by-product of fear, and fear in a strange way has ruled and still rules France since both world wars.

Protect, protect, and keep her safe and insular while still pretending she has a major role to play on a stage that history tells her children she still dominates.

Which is why many are rushing to shelter under the banner of the Front National, but I'm not going there again this week.

To us, used to reaping the benefit of a competitive country, it is frustrating and nonsensical to see protectionism at work.

"No-one must be disadvantaged in any way" is the simplified mantra. That means, for example, that even sales are monitored and only permitted on certain weeks during the year.

Woe betides any poor drowning soul who tries to pay the non-negotiable social charges with a quick flash sale. They'd be guaranteed a visit from the police.

Choice is limited and prices mainly pegged - barring the newish online discount firms - when buying white goods, televisions etc. It is almost certainly cheaper to buy from American, UK and even Far Eastern sites and pay the delivery charges.

Tyres for my car are delivered within days from Germany, half or less the price here. Parts the same. Spares and parts right down to fan belts for my increasingly decrepit tractor mower are bought online in the US. What costs, say, €30 euros online, would cost a whopping €80 to €100 here.

Nick, who sorts my mower, needs a new one himself. The cheapest of the type he wants is pushing €3000 in France. In the UK it would be less than €2000, in the States a mere €900 euros. He has ordered one from a site in Asia - identical - €800 euros, carriage paid.

Checking a site, updated every month, gives me a sheaf of comparative prices between Britain and France.

Clothing can be anything from 21 per cent to 40 per cent dearer here. Food is similar.

France is cheaper only for wine and cigarettes - our famous cheeses cost us an almighty 41.42% per cent more than you pay in the UK.

No wonder expats with families find it cheaper to shop in the UK's food stores and have it delivered to a city near their Gallic idyll.

No wonder there was outrage when M&S decreed clothes could only be bought through their new French site and not delivered from the UK. They are dearer here and the free delivery doesn't swing it.

Even global brand Ikea is forced to charge more for virtually every item, with delivery charges that are, frankly, ludicrous.

My books come from Amazon UK, not from Amazon France. Simple: cheaper, quicker and easier to navigate.

Of course one wants to support the country in which one lives. But aren't we meant to be in a collective bargaining arena called the European Union?

My French friends become uncomfortable when shown the undisputed facts. Some quickly click on to my recommended sites and glow with the savings.

Others, yes, just shrug and say: Bof! That's the way we do things.

Slap, slap and slap again.

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