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8 Things the French Do Better Than Americans

The Internet may have all but killed newspapers (giving away your product for free proves to be an unsustainable business model), but it has given rise to a whole new literary form: clickbait.

What is “clickbait?” As with pornography or fine art, you know it when you see it. It’s lists and quizzes, and otherwise provocative headlines calculated to attract “clicks,” or “eyeballs.” (We once called them “readers,” or even “subscribers.”) It’s the triumph of titillation over information, for the sake of monetization. It’s entertainment masquerading as news.

I try to avoid clickbait, and I sincerely hope that few would-be journalists aspire to produce it, but I got suckered recently into reading a list of “20 things the Americans do better than the French.” As an American living in France, I could hardly resist, and I confess to having enjoyed it well enough. My only quibble was the authors’ failure to include beer-making.

The list not only made me reflect on what sets clickbait apart from journalism, it inspired me to create some of my own. So here, without further ado, is my list of things that the French do better than Americans, in the hope that it will generate traffic on the CELSA blog.

Democracy
France and the English colonists of North America pretty much invented modern constitutional democracy, but today, voter participation rates in France put the United States to shame.

Furthermore, the French political spectrum runs from Anarchist to Royalist, with everything in between. The two principal parties (both in tatters at present) are the Socialist Party (PS, Center-Left) and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP, Center-Right). The far-right National Front (FN) is strong and gaining, but the centrists, communists and Greens remain significant.  In the United States, the two main parties are the Democrats (Center-Right) and Republicans (Right-Far Right). Other parties exist, but with rare exceptions (salut, Bernie Sanders!), they aren’t allowed to actually participate in government.

One could say, if one follows the news, that French politicians are more corrupt. French politics provides an unceasing parade of scandals and investigations, a playground for journalists. On the other hand, much of what passes for business-as-usual in American politics would be illegal in France. So who’s more corrupt, really?

Note that I am writing about democratic politics, not government itself: the French do better with bureaucracy than government.

Healthcare
American healthcare remains the most expensive, and the least effective, in the developed world. The French system is among the cheapest, and best.

Public safety
The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, yet Americans live in fear of violent crime. France has more police, and less crime. Let’s not even talk about America’s neurotic obsession with guns.

Energy Policy
One could argue that France relies too heavily on diesel and nuclear energy, but at least the nation takes conservation somewhat seriously. Incandescent lightbulbs and hydro-fracking are both prohibited, and the French “carbon footprint” is far lighter than the United States.

Food
I don’t think this one needs explaining or defending. If you have lived in both countries, you know that the quality of food in France is superior. That said, it’s true that France could stand more culinary diversity.

Public transportation
See above, but substitute “public transport” for “food” and “transportation” for “culinary.”

Driving
Though faint praise indeed, the French drive more skillfully than Americans. It’s not surprising; the French have a passion for training and certification. Getting a license in France is expensive, time-consuming and difficult. In the USA, it’s the reverse in every respect. France has higher speed limits, yet fewer fatalities. American drivers treat pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists with indignation or outright contempt; French drivers demonstrate at least a grudging tolerance. That said, “priorité à droite” is an outdated and over-complicated rule.

 

Vacations

Five weeks paid vacation per year is the minimum in France, a factor which helps keep the county’s tourism sector healthy. As for the U.S., as I suggested earlier, we Americans can be real suckers.

Nine, Ten…

My list remains rather short; I invite anyone with opinions on the subject to comment, and share your thoughts.

 

 

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