The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper not always known for its warm and fuzzy feelings towards our continental neighbours, recently made a shock announcement.
France is better than Britain.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you maybe suspected this already, but to see it confirmed as fact in black and white by the Daily Telegraph must nevertheless come as something of a surprise.
The full article, written by Alex Proud, is here. Below is an extract:
To be fair to us, the French do have a better starting point. They hit the geographic jackpot. Their country comes with everything included. They’ve got Europe’s highest Mountain (get lost, Elbrus, you’re Eurasian at best). They have a second mountain range which is still better than anything we have. They have a third mountain range (the Massif Central) which is also better than anything we have. They have proper sunny beaches in the south, booming surf beaches in the west and Brittany in the north. They have one of Europe’s biggest canyons. In between all these stunning attractions, they have tons of beautiful and varied countryside, some quite like England, but less spoilt.
By comparison, we have a lot of islands, which, while beautiful, are off Scotland where they are too cold and wet to be particularly useful. Our mountains are big hills which lack the requisite altitude to ski on reliably or hold pretty glaciers. We do have a lot of coastline. But honestly, much of this is chilly or badly located. It’s true that Cornwall is great but the French have Brittany, which is like Cornwall, but warmer and with better food.
OK, so France is pretty. You knew that. But there’s not much we can do to change our landscape, climate or population density. However, there are quite a few things the French just do better – and these we could learn from.
Next we have the food. Yeah, yeah, I know that London is probably a more exciting place to eat than Paris these days. And I know that there is good food to be found outside London. I even know that the French quite like McDonald’s. But the fact is, if you pitch up to eat at random in the middle of nowhere in the UK, you’ll probably get average pub grub, quite possibly made in a factory in the Midlands and reheated, and likely pretty expensive. If there is somewhere serving decent food, it’ll be full of people from London congratulating themselves on being there.
In France, by contrast, you can get a good meal anywhere. It may feel a bit retro (there won’t be a horribly Anglicised Thai green curry in sight) but it’ll be honest regional cooking, inexpensive, and come with wine. What’s more, the person on the table next to you might well be a local farmer or a builder.
Aha, you say. But what about the economy? Here in the UK, we’re lucky enough to enjoy an endless stream of right-ish propaganda about how the French economy is dans la toilette. But these claims really don’t really stand up to much scrutiny.
For starters, France’s growth figures for the first quarter of this year were twice as good as ours. It’s true they do have significantly higher unemployment, but they also have extremely high productivity. In fact, as The Economist recently noted, “The French could take Friday off and still produce more than Britons do in a week.” This is not something you hear very often from our chancellor. They also have a rather better balanced economy and a considerably lower Gini Coefficient, the preferred measure of inequality. While we’re at it, they beat us on GDP per capita, earn roughly the same and have a lower cost of living.
So, maybe (and this hurts) those lazy, boozy, holiday taking, socialism-loving Frogs are actually better at making money than we are. But this shouldn’t be such a surprise. The French don’t focus obsessively on their economy. They don’t bend over backwards to please businesses or foreign billionaires. They have a healthy disdain and distrust of the wealthy. And they’re better at making the rich share. Perhaps the French realise that they live in a society first and an economy second – and this actually makes them all richer.