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Joie de Vivre and La Patrimoine (Heritage)

February 6, 2012

A friend recently commented in what she saw as a humorous tale of the abbey at Mossaic.  It had been, basically, cut in two by a railway line.  Now, local dignitaries are, apparently, trying to decide how to reunify the two halves!  It’s certainly a beautiful abbey, and I doubt the British would have done the same.  It seems to be evidence of a pragmatism/ruthlessness, that I’ve seen quite a lot of, in France.

In our town, Lamballe, there’s an important and striking-looking church with underground passages, none of which is open to the public.  This could be because our town doesn’t care about tourism or heritage, since the local abattoir, that slays 9,000 pigs PER WEEK, provides near 100% employment – so the way they see it, there’s no need to bother with history or tourism.  If you don’t believe me, Google the Maire’s “voeux” and you’ll find his new-year speech, over 30 minutes that mentions nothing about this or the other notable heritage, focussing solely on industry.

British people think that French pragmatism is balanced with their “joie-de-vivre”.  I think a balance with a love of life is a British way of seeing things (also the way the Americans, Canadians, etc, would see it).  I’m not sure really how to define joie de vivre, love of life, in how the French live.  It’s certainly true that they love good quality food, and accept only the best in art, handcrafted goods, etc.  This, however, means that anyone who isn’t up to standard has no place practising music, art or anything else, which I find a pity.  In Brighton I was able to, in 10 minutes of searching on the internet, find and book myself on a 1-day silversmithing course.  I made a silver ring.  I later went back another 2 or 3 times, making several pieces of jewellery.  I have all the tools, plus silver supplies, in my house to make things, and do so from time to time.  I doubt a French person would have been able to do this, because the course, had it existed, would have been obligatorily 1 year long, and eye-wateringly expensive (I paid 60 quid per day but only did 3 days or so).  In addition, the tools and materials I bought cost only a few hundred – you can bet your bottom dollar they’d have been a lot more expensive here.  They are so channelled and conditioned to accept only the best, that they don’t tend to try anything unless they can BE the best, either.  I’m a typical Brit – jack of all trades, master of none.  This is a DISASTER here.  In the UK I’m an all-rounder with something to contribute on many subjects.  Here I’m an underachieving amateur!

The French do more with their time.  They go to dances, they have more parties – is that joie-de-vivre?  Maybe, but it’s woven together in a mesh of obligation and conformity.  The dances are fundraisers and dance club events.  My husband pays hundreds a year for us to do Salsa each week. The lessons are pretty sterile, not like Salsa in the UK, where you have an hour’s lesson followed by “freestyle” and people staying on for boozing afterwards.  In France it’s a serious business -there are classes for different dance styles back-to-back all evening.  There’s no time for freestyle, it’s bish-bash-bosh.

A bit like the butchering of the abbey, really.  Done to serve whatever purpose, and not at all romantic.

The French make great “things”, practise music and the arts to a high standard, but are too uptight to enjoy it.  They appear to, to the Anglo outsider – but enjoy that view, it might disappear if you come here and “integrate”.

I went to a Franco-Brit Association (ask if you don’t know what that is, otherwise I won’t bore you!!!) function, and an english lady there said she loves the french laid-back attitude (which to me doesn’t exist) – she lives here – but with her english husband, and they speak very little French. It IS possible to enjoy the mythical France that we see from the UK, if you don’t look too closely – ironically, this is much easier to do if you DON’T speak French!

But hey, why move here if one doesn’t want to fit in.  I will be 40 in a couple of months – not young, not old.  I can’t, and won’t, go around here with my eyes closed.  I’m resolved to find the good in being here.

When I can clear the backlog of reading I have I’ll get back to those meditation CDs (in French, of course! 😉 ) and maybe I can come to the zen position of having my eyes open, yet still achieving “joie-de-vivre”!

If you can tell me what j-d-v is, please do, I’m in search of it!  (this isn’t a rhetorical comment)!!!

  1. February 7, 2012 1:26 am

    Hi Emily, long time no see (a post from you, I mean)! Glad to see you’re still blogging…

    I thought the expression was “joie de vie”. I’ve obviously got that wrong. It’s interesting what you write above because I’ve always thought that even though it’s a French expression, the meaning it’s trying to convey is not really a French national characteristic. To me it was always meant to mean a light-hearted, devil may care attitude to life which I might ascribe to other southern Europeans but not the French. Still, maybe I got that wrong too…

    Sad to see this though: “I’m resolved to find the good in being here….”. Meaning, by definition, that after 3 years there you still havent found it. If one hasnt found it after 3 years, what chance one will after 13 or 30?

    Happy 40th in advance….as my Somali mate Mo told me as I lamented to him a few months after turning 40…the Prophet Mohammed only started receiving his messages from God after he turned 40. Life begins now 🙂


  2. February 9, 2012 6:54 pm

    Hi M

    What a very kind comment about potential at the age of 40. Very apt for your friend Mo – because that name must be short for Mohammed?

    Your observation that “Joie de Vivre” doesn’t match the french culture is well observed. To me, it’s more accurate as a reflection of how British people see the way French people live. The reality is that Brits value “having fun” so, so much more than the French. The French value “being someone”, achieving things (from marks at school through to professional life afterwards), more than letting their hair down, I’ve found. French society places a great deal of pressure on people to achieve these things. Most professions are accessed through a “concours”, which essentially means that in order to move to the next year out of, say, the 9 years it takes to train as a doctor, they have to pass the exams (or get in the top certain percentage of the class) – if not, they fail and in some cases have to resit the entire year, or in other cases are out of that profession. In many cases, there aren’t other professions that someone with x out of y years’ training can do (though in other cases, like medicine, things have changed, so that a “failed” doctor can, sometimes, be a nurse, a midwife or a pharmacist).

    The result of this is that there are many impassioned people who are barred from doing the job they might have been seen as “made to do” in the UK or the USA. So life starts, and carries on, being taken very, very seriously for a very, very long time in a french person’s life. They put on good parties, but behind the scenes these are formulaic – food has to be done a certain way, only certain things are acceptable at certain times of day, etc etc etc.

    By all this I don’t mean to say that I hate it here, just that the French have things stacked against them when it comes to enjoying life! The Brits who come here don’t have to buy into all of that – but since conformity is very highly valued in France, one has to be careful when living as one chooses (or trying to)!

    I’ve found plenty that’s good here, but not how to make myself useful, that’s all.


    • February 14, 2012 3:29 am

      I’m with you on your observations on that side of French cultural attitude. And there is good and bad everywhere. Just dont take years and years trying to find the net positive – sometimes one has to recognise it’s net negative and get out.

      In this case my chum’s name is short for Mohamoud, not Mohammed 🙂 He has 4 brothers, one of whom is indeed Mo (Mohammed)!

      • February 14, 2012 1:07 pm

        Hi M

        I’m not going to “get out”, because that would just be running away! I HAVE to make this work!!!

        Mo and Mo must have had fun growing up!


  3. Mike permalink
    February 13, 2012 10:58 am


    An interesting post!

    A question: “Here I’m an underachieving amateur!”
    Why do you say that? I mean, who says that to you or gives you that impression? I’m wondering if it might be because you are spending a lot of time by association with relatively high-achievers, and so your perception of the culture is slightly coloured by the sub-culture you associate with the most?

    Having said that, I share most of your views on how rigid and conformist the society is in comparison with the UK. But I wonder if that is a price worth paying for a “healthier” society (if France is indeed healthier than the UK? For example in terms of crime, health outcomes, happiness measures etc. It probably is).

    But the French are relatively relaxed in comparison to what I have seen of German and Swiss culture 🙂

    For joie de vivre, I think the French admire it and respect it in their own people more partly because it is comparatively rare and essentially discouraged by the society! So when it happens in a successful way the others recognise it more? (I’ve not specifically seen that by the way, is just an idea of how it might work).

    In terms of finding your own joie de vie, it is potentially an enormous subject with millions of books and philosophies 🙂
    But I will share my philosophy in case it helps to act as a positive catalyst in some small way 🙂

    Simplicity is the key, simple habits of mind and behaviour.
    Regular (daily) appreciation for the good things in life, and a reflection on how truly lucky you are, and how simple it is to be happy.

    If you are sad, or frustrated with something, and tired of your own analysis, just switch off the analysis for awhile and focus on an act of appreciation for what is good.

    Examples – the joy of the laughter and smiles of your children, the smile and twinkle in the eyes of your beautiful partner, the delights of food, the giving and receiving of warm welcomes to neighbours and friends and the sharing of the small stories of life. Taking the time and the freedom to play like a child (having kids makes that relatively easy in terms of opportunities! 🙂 But you have to ignore the adults around, and force yourself to play if you’re not naturally inclined to do so! :)).

    Even just giving someone your best smile rather than an indifferent half-assed one can start a small ripple that positively affects their (and your) day 🙂

    Also remain alert to the possibility of a random act of kindness – if the situation ever arises by chance where you find you are in a position to help someone, always do, even at inconvenience to yourself (especially then).
    I’m quite the selfish bastard so I do enjoy it when I get to genuinely help someone.

    Work is very important though and you are clearly suffering because it sounds like you are not applying yourself to something that is rewarding. I feel your pain. I actually become irritated and grumpy fairly quickly if I’m not doing good work regularly. Maybe you can provide remote freelance work of some kind?

    A final word – don’t let the French get you down! Being British, you are innately superior to the French, so yes learn the language but don’t try to become French or even necessarily to understand them – just enjoy their pleasures, and forgive them their Frogginess, because after all they really can’t help it.


  4. February 13, 2012 3:10 pm

    Hi Mike

    Are you Mike from uni, or another Mike?

    Anyway, thanks for your comment. Oh, I do enjoy my children and try to live in the moment as well, it’s just that I need to get some kind of work life going here, beyond the English teaching, for so many reasons!

    I promise you, the French do/would see me as an amateur! Not helped by the fact that I know I’m one and don’t go around trying to pretend I’m not! For all their reliance on diplomas (french of course, as they manage to ignore EU law and everyone else’s diplomas with it!) – the French are good at bluffing. They are also good at its close relation though, throwing the book at people… hence the need for the diplomas…

    Good point about forgiving the Frogs their Froggishness, they really are conditioned to behave in such a way! And also about the look in my other half’s eye, it’s true that being with him and looking into his eyes is a real tonic! We have been able to escape the kids and work and get out together a couple of times recently, and it’s so, so good!

    And yup, trying to get remote working off the ground – I have several irons in the fire, but the only thing that’s current is the blessed English teaching – such a lot of work for the money it pays (and having the number of pupils that I have means it takes large chunks of my time) – but as it’s the only thing that pays at all, I’m doing it and making it as good as it can be. I have some interesting pupils.

    And I completely agree that despite being uptight the French are getting a lot of things right – and that they’re less uptight than some nations. I wish France was as good at supporting small businesses as Germany is, though!

    I will post a photo of the cover of Courrier International this week – if you’ve got it, have a look. There’s a programme on just after 8.30 tomorrow about Sarko and Merkel, which should be good. It’s refreshing to see that the French aren’t just taking this Merkel alliance lying down. (I wonder whether France 1 would run this kind of story though or whether it’s only Courrier Int / Arté domain…)


    • Mike permalink
      February 13, 2012 4:53 pm

      There is only one true Mike 🙂

      Nice that you escaped the kids, we only seem to manage that for an evening once every couple of months or so!

      English teaching sounds tough, but good that it is working, and does have the benefit of talking to the interesting pupils.

      Agreed on supporting small businesses – I keep getting letters about completing my CIPAV registration, whatever that is, but they haven’t sent me the numbers they want me to register with!

      I’ve made friends with nice people nearby which keeps me going on the social front, and I talk to new French people fairly regularly (like everywhere, people seem to stick to their existing groups, eg at school or parks etc, and I wonder if I am absorbing the culture a bit more because for the first year I had zero qualms about just talking to any group and they all seemed to welcome the novelty, but I’ve gradually become more shy (strangely, as my French has improved, which really should be having the converse effect!). Maybe it’s just winter and I’m hibernating a bit).

      40 is the new 30 🙂

  5. February 14, 2012 1:05 pm

    Hi Mike (the one true Mike!)

    It’s interesting, what you say about becoming more shy the better one’s French gets. I have found, myself, that the longer I’m here for, the more I find myself thinking cautious and self-limiting thoughts. This is NOT A GOOD THING – what is good, is to stay aware of the different way one would react to things compared to how one would have done so in the UK, and become more aware of how things are here, without selling out who we really are. Most of all, it would be good to find a way to contribute, positively, to things in France.

    CIPAV – OK, yet another agency I didn’t know existed. Having looked it up, it looks like it’s an agency that deals with pensions for independent people (professions liberales). I was on the point of checking out whether or not an Auto-entrepreneur has to use the RSI – because I’ve heard they’re a nightmare. One person said no, another (who is a commercial AE) said yes. In checking all this out I’ve opened a can of worms and I’m currently researching the whole thing – I’ll let you know when I’ve worked it out!

    So CIPAV is about your pension – and the numbers I guess you need might be your SIRET number (or the other type, if it’s that one) – your company registered number – but I thought you were registered in the UK, in which case you wouldn’t have one. As regards pensions, I guess they want you to pay into the french system – if you’re going to do this it might be best to transfer your UK pension into the french system via QROPS, though that would depend on whether you think that would be better, or if you’re obliged to (I don’t think so).

    I’ll be watching Arté tonight to see whether the French agree that France needs to be less punishing on small businesses and entrepreneurs….

    Glad you’re getting out there, when the sun shines! You’re probably doing better on that front than I am, as my activity’s mainly focussed on how and what to do for a job (between chores and caring for kids, which doesn’t leave much time).

    I do quite like what I’m doing – but it needs to turn into actual paid activity soon, or else…


  6. February 14, 2012 5:27 pm

    Mike, is CIPAV compulsory? I have looked into it a bit more and it is necessary to build pension rights if one’s also under the régime of “micro-entreprise” (which includes, but is not limited to, the Auto-Entrepreneur scheme).

    I can think of several reasons not to want to contribute to CIPAV:
    – one doubts one will make enough contributions to ever draw a pension
    – one will get a pension or other income from elsewhere – including but not limited to a UK pension (or one from another country)

    So if we don’t need or envisage being entitled to a pension from France, are we allowed to say “thanks but no thanks” to CIPAV?


  7. Mike permalink
    February 14, 2012 6:34 pm

    Thanks for the info on CIPAV etc, I really don’t know much about it, but I believe it is compulsory. I’ll find out soon enough when they fine me for completing the paper work late! 🙂

  8. February 14, 2012 6:44 pm


    I’m still reading up on all this as we speak. Will keep you posted. However, a Brit over here that I recently met said that if you’re looking to talk across the 2 countries about where you’re taxed, talk to the UK first (if you’re being taxed there and/or want to be, which I believe you said you were) – and let the UK take on the French system.

    I don’t know if this advice would hold true if the French system is already making demands for money…

    …however, don’t always take it at face value – someone I know had the RSI (the system of cotisations for the small businesses) continuing to take DDs from their bank account after they’d closed their business. When she went to see them about the demands they were making on her bank (who didn’t seem able to fight back, funny that), the RSI said “for God’s sake just slam the doors on your account, if you give us money we’ll never be able to be organised enough to give it back”.

    I know you’re talking about CIPAV, not the RSI, but I have a feeling the same principle might hold true. The RSI have a particular rep for being chaotic, but these are all big systems. You’ll already know that the French tend to threaten and shout a lot, but that it’s worth being absolutely sure before handing money over.

    If you’re paying pension contributions and tax in the UK I’d question whether you should be paying CIPAV at all.

    However, your wife, if she has an income, would pay tax at a level AS IF you were paying YOUR tax in France – but she wouldn’t be taxed again on your income, if that makes sense.


    • Mike permalink
      February 14, 2012 6:53 pm

      Yeah no worries it’s all in hand 🙂

      LOL for the RSI, that does seem to be how it works though! Did you have fun getting a Carte Vital?

      We should switch this to email tho or we risk boring all your readers 🙂

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