Monday, April 25, 2011

The Other French Paradox.

The French Paradox is usually the claim that French people have relatively low level of heart disease, despite a diet relatively rich in saturated fats. 
But here's another French paradox for you :
the French are the most pessimistic people in the world about the future of their economy (Time) YET they keep having more babies - with the 2nd highest birth rate in the European Union, almost as high as the United-States' - and spend more time shopping, eating and drinking than any other western nation (our post).
So what to make of this French paradox? The French may believe their country is doomed, but they also believe it has a future, or else why have babies? 

It is true that the French tend to focus on their private social life and separate it from public life. They can easily see no contradiction with whining about their boss, or their country, bureaucrats and politicians, and yet be happy with their individual situation.  
There is also something inherently French about pessimism.It is in literature and in movies. (The French will often snub hollywood endings for being so positive!).  It is in the French education (here). 
But there's more to it.  Expression of joy and/or optimism is akin to being either naive (a major faux-pas) or uncaring towards the poor and the less privileged. I claim that there is some sort of societal pressure to sound more pessimistic than you may really be.
To a certain extent, there is also something almost "fashionable" about being pessimistic, like wearing black and not smiling.
So really, in the end, what the French say in polls about pessimism should really be taken with a grain of salt. Deep down, and when you get to know them, they may be a lot happier.

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