France’s Sarkozy is feeling pretty smug. In fact, the French are feeling pretty smug…almost a feeling of schadenfreud, if they had a word for it. They knew the war in Iraq was a waste of time and money, so they stayed out of it; they were right about that. And they knew, too, that American-style hyper-capitalism wouldn’t work. They think they were right about that too.
We like almost everyone we meet…once we get to know him. We have lived among the French for more than 10 years. We have learned their language and gotten to know their curious customs.
For example, while Americans pretend to work hard, the French pretend not to work. For example, the parking lots in our offices in the United States are nearly empty at 5:30PM. Here in Paris, when we left the office at 7PM last night, most of the staff were still at their desks.
French teenagers brag to each other about how little schoolwork they do…then, they sneak off to study until the wee hours of morning.
Likewise, while Americans pretend to have a lot of money, the French pretend not to. There are few flashy cars on the streets of Paris. And when you see a top-of-the-line Mercedes, it is usually owned by a foreigner. Nobody ever made any money building McMansions for the French either. Instead, houses tend to go up slowly…are solidly constructed…and much less gaudy than their U.S. equivalents.
The French also pretend not to care about money, but they are the biggest savers in Europe. France’s public debt – at 66% of GDP – is lower than the United States’ – at 72% of GDP (and soon to be at 100%). As to private debt, the French are way ahead…they have private debt of 140% of GDP…about where the U.S. was at before it went on its Fed-fueled spending spree 2002-2007. Now, private debt in the United States is 280% of GDP, twice the frogs’ level.
Markets and Money