Adrian Leeds, in a recent post in “Parler Paris” highlighted the difference between life in the US and life in France better than I ever could. Following is an except from her website…..
“A recent weekend in Provence and the two-week vacation that began today has made me feel so spoiled. Not the same kind of spoiled one feels for having a big luxurious house with all the modern conveniences, driving a beautiful and powerful new car or walking into a large closet with matching accessories for every outfit. In fact, not one of those things do I own now, although I once did when it was relatively easy and inexpensive in the U.S. to amass such kinds of material possessions.
When we moved to France, we gave up the big house, all the cars, things we no longer wore and opted instead for an apartment half the size without all the conveniences we had come to think of as normal — like a sink disposal, elevators and Jacuzzi tubs. At first I wondered why it was so different in France. Why they hadn’t caught on to all these conveniences in life that we had come to take for granted. “Wow! Then we started to become accustomed to lights being on timers so as not to waste electricity, hanging the laundry instead of using a dryer and shopping daily so that we could buy fresh fruit ripe enough to eat the same day. Life began to change as we knew it and so did our perception of life itself — that which is ‘quantity’ and that which is ‘quality.’
What became clear is that what we had all along was not really ‘quality’ of life, but something disguised as that, and instead what we had was ‘quantity’ of life. When we had all that money buys was fooling us into thinking our standard of living had risen. Let’s face it, we were taught that through our hard work and knowledge we would earn lots of money and therefore live an easier, healthier, happier existence. The buzz word was “future” — to always think that the reason you do something ‘now’ is to achieve a better ‘future.’
But, ‘future’ never came. It never does.
I could expound on this philosophy — the teachings of the Buddhists, of philosopher Eckhardt Tolle and others, but I won’t. I’ll leave it to them to enlighten us in understanding that the past and the future are out of our control. We can only plan for them or use them for practical reasons to enhance our ‘present.’
The French have this ‘power of now’ built into their society and is one of the reasons quality of life is improved. The reason it’s inherently here is primarily because their social security system provides a huge ‘safety net’ that removes stress and worry about one’s future.
For example, unemployment and retirement benefits are substantial along with job security and guaranteed vacation periods. With healthcare benefits and other given rights, including decent housing for all, one rarely has to worry about having a roof over his head or a healthy old age. With a lot less fear of the future, it’s a lot easier to live ‘in the moment.’
No, it’s not a perfect system. Far from it. Yes, it can reduce the incentive to work hard, earn more money, improve one’s standard of living. You should see the streets of Paris at this very moment. It’s the height of the vacation season. Stores, restaurants and the like are shut tight all over town with signs on their doors that read something like: “Réouverture 24 août” (“Re-opening August 24th”), with no care that they are not earning money to pay their rent. Even my local post office is closed for vacation!
One of the things I’ve discovered as an American with a capitalistic indoctrination living in a society that is strongly socialist is that utopia is somewhere in the middle. It takes both political sides to ‘tango’ well. One cannot provide employment benefits if there is no employer earning enough to pay for the benefits! Decent and inexpensive housing for the tenant requires a landlord who can pay his mortgage with adequate rents! Education cannot be free nor healthcare provided for all if the government doesn’t tax its people. But if the taxes are too high, the incentives to earn more, achieve more, are weakened.
It’s a constant push-pull between those who want to give and those who want to take, but it takes both to make it work!
Politically speaking you might call this thinking very ‘left’ from the U.S. point of view and very ‘right’ from the French one. From my own perspective, it’s very centric, with one foot in each land and in each mind set, struggling to achieve a balance between the two sides.
There is no doubt, however, that while living Stateside we had a very high standard of living. We didn’t even realize it then, but it was here that we discovered a much higher quality of life. A few days in Provence helped clear the vision just a little more.
As we drove along the highways and tiny country roads, we discovered them to be in pristine condition, well marked and looked after. The countryside not littered with advertising signage, and is completely void of anything that tries to sell anything at all. The tiniest of towns still offer lots of cultural activities, fine dining and the freshest of food products. The sense of community is strong and support for the local producers of fine products is evident by virtue of the people who applaud them and make use of them.
Everywhere we went we found warm, friendly and generous people who were open to us as foreigners in their land and proud to show off their accomplishments. They took us by the hand and helped us every inch of the way. We felt like we were part of a bigger family — a camaraderie of those who appreciate beauty and a richness of life.
I am not suggesting that this does not exist elsewhere. I’m certain that it does, but without question, it exists here in France. For all the bureaucratic hurdles, for all the cultural challenges, for all the incongruities that could make one’s head spin, there is still a quality of life that seems to be one of the most civilized on the planet. Even my daughter, with her youth of not quite 25 years, remarked about the high level of esthetics and desire for the finer things in life the French seek with a passion and how that seems to put this civilization far ahead of others.”