The Mood in France: Low Spirits Reach Record Highs

What’s Making the French So Sullen?

July 23, 2013By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
Paris Update Why Are the- French Sad
Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.

It’s official: the French are dour. I’m sure that some readers have suspected this for years, but now even The New York Times says so. According to an editorial by Maureen Dowd, published on July 7 and instantly e-mailed to every American who lives here, a cloud of pandemic pessimism has descended upon France, cloaking the country in a smog of despair that an extra glass of wine does little to dissipate. It’s taking at least three or four.

This thesis is backed by two alarming statistics:

1) In a BVA-Gallup poll from 2011, French people were rated as being more pessimistic about the future than Iraqis and Afghans. (Ahh, if only we could be invaded by U.S.-led foreign forces, so that we, too, could look forward hopefully to their departure.)

2) A happiness study conducted by Sorbonne Professor Claudia Senik concluded that living in France reduces the probability of being happy by 20 percent, primarily due to “unyielding judgments about talent” and a “locked labor market.” (Well, that’s just ridiculous — anyone ungifted enough to come up with such figures should be out of a job.)

The causes of all this disheartenment, according to Dowd and the people she talked to, include widening social gaps, economic stagnation, high taxes, grief over the country’s lost international status, “thinking too much” and something called “existential estrangement.” Presumably, those last two go hand in hand.

The effects include higher rates of chronic complaining, antidepressant consumption and suicide. Presumably in that order.

And then those factors lead in turn to wider social gaps, a more stagnant economy, greater grief over the country’s lost status and even stranger existential estrangement. But, thanks to the suicide rate, less thinking.

Oh, and higher taxes. Probably: when President François Hollande delivered his traditional Bastille Day address, as reported by RFI, he mentioned the issue of pessimism and tried to cheer us all up by emphasizing some faint indications of renewed economic growth. And then dashed any glimmer of hope by adding that he “could not rule out tax increases to help balance the budget.”

A special note to President Hollande:

RFI says that you have “the lowest approval rating of any French head of state in history.” If this is literally true, I’ve got some bad news. Frank, old friend, when your popularity is lower than that of a guy who got his whole family chopped into unequal parts on the national meat slicer, you got yourself a problem. And that “tax increases” thing isn’t going to help.

In any case, I suspect that both Dowd and Hollande are overlooking a key factor. Yes, the French are plagued by a pervading sense of dissatisfaction, daunting societal challenges and a bleak economic outlook. But let’s not ignore another major difficulty: could it be that the French are despondent due to the lack of snail slime to rub all over their faces?

If so, that’s one problem that will soon be solved. In a Reuters article dated July 17, a certain Louis-Marie Guedon announced his intention to harvest and market snail mucous as a skincare agent. Guedon is a snail farmer — or raiser, or breeder or whatever the hell you call them (I’m guessing not “wrangler”) — in the western French town of Champagnolles, where he is fortunate enough to have easy access to large quantities of their slime. Ah, wait, let me rephrase that: where he has easy access to large quantities of their slime.

According to Guedon, this viscous, gluey ooze contains exceptionally high concentrations of collagen, glycolic acid, antibiotics and other substances prized as ingredients in top-end beauty creams. Plus, being neither continent nor considerate, the little critters secrete the stuff 24/7, at least until they’re boiled, broiled and plated with parsley and garlic butter.

And while we’re on the subject of eating what are essentially worms with luggage racks…

A special note to the solid-fuel propulsion specialist who invented snail tongs:

What in the name of dieu were you thinking? Why is this one sole utensil designed so that using it requires me to struggle with every fiber of my being to override every intuition in my brain and exert no pressure on it whatsoever, but somehow without dropping it? In what alternate reality game is the spring action of your tongs superior to the gripping power of my own five fingers? Is this the actual root cause of the French malaise?

Sorry — I’m thinking too much. So before I’m overcome with existential estrangement, let’s get back to Monsieur Guedon, who has developed a technique for harvesting his charges’ precious phlegm on an industrial scale. He refused to reveal the details in the interview, no doubt much to the journalist’s relief, but claims that he will soon be able to supply the goo by the ton and that premium skincare brands are already slithering a path to his door.

Personally, if I were the procurement manager for, say, Sisley, and someone offered me a truckload of gastropod glop, I think my response would be, “You know what else contains a high concentration of collagen? Collagen! Which we’ve already got, so I think I’ll pass. And possibly pass out.”

But I have to admire the guy’s go-getter attitude. Using snail snot to lubricate the wheels of the economy is a noble ambition. In fact, inspired by his example, I have decided to do my bit to turn that French moue upside down (it’ll still be circular, but it’s the best I can do) by suspending my usual policy of carping about the trifling annoyances of life in France and ending this article with:

The C’est Ironique Top Ten Reasons Why the French Should Snap Out of It and Just Be Happy fer Cripes Sake

10) They live in a country with a temperate climate, fertile topsoil, beautiful terrain covering the gamut from snow-capped mountains to fine-sand beaches, medium population density and no natural disasters. Not to get all Earth Day here, but that in itself ought to make anyone at least moderately content, if not ecstatic.

9) They have the finest architecture in the world. The main reason for this is that in most French houses and apartments, the “bathroom” is literally a bathroom, furnished only with tub, sink, medicine chest and towel rack. The toilet is in a separate space, so you never have to “hold it” when a houseguest decides to take a nice, long, soothing bubble bath five minutes after you finish your fifth beer. This is actually one of the reasons I moved here in the first place.

8) They have, hands down and by an unassailable margin, the world’s best wine, cheese and bread, and their cuisine represents one of the world’s four great gastronomic traditions (the other three being Chinese cuisine, Italian cuisine and oral sex).

7) Adults can read comic books in public and no one finds it shamefully puerile. I said “happy,” not “proud.”

6) No bugs. No one in Paris and hardly anyone anywhere else in the country (or at least the 67.3 percent of it that I have seen) has window screens. Why? Simply because the housefly, mosquito, moth and colossal loathsome hairy flying beetle population is so low there’s no particular need for them.

A special note to French people who don’t find this a compelling reason to be happy:

Go spend a summer in northern Minnesota and then get back to me.

5) No phone formalities. When you call an office, school, government bureau, tattoo removal clinic or any other non-private institution in any other civilized country, the person who picks up the phone immediately identifies the place you are calling and, in most cases, themselves. For example: “Sarkozy Bait and Bail Bonds, this is Carla! How can I help you?”

But in France many receptionists just mutter, “Hullo?” And then when you ask, “Ah, is this the Ministry of Communication?” or whatever, they take an audible deep breath and devote most of it to sighing before finally unleashing a world-weary “Ouiiiiiiiiiii.” Actually this is not a reason to be happy, it’s yet another trifling annoyance. So sue me.

4) No royal scandals. It’s impossible to find nude photos on the Internet of any pasty-skinned red-haired French princes. Or any kind of French princes at all, because there’s no royal family. Think about that, Britain. You too, Spain.

3) The other day my barber told me that I have remarkably little gray hair for someone my age. I realize that this is only a boost for my own personal happiness, but I’m hoping that it will prove infectious.

2) The fact that supermarket customers have to bag their own groceries while simultaneously juggling their wallets, change or credit cards to complete the payment process, doing it all as fast as possible because the next person’s purchases are already being rung up and dumped into the same inexplicably tiny counter space, requires an average of 11 joules per week of extra mental and physical exertion that, accumulated over the years, extends life expectancy by an estimated seven minutes. Make the most of them.

1) And, best of all, no other country in the world has easier access to greater quantities of snail slime. I agree with Guedon — revolting and abhorrent as it might be, it’s just the thing to get the sluggish economy back on track. And make everyone start feeling more optimistic, cheerful and confident. Now that’s what I call gross national happiness.

A special note to friend and reader Rick Baer: thank you for instantly e-mailing me the Maureen Dowd editorial from The New York Times. It really cheered me up!


Reader Barney Kirchhoff writes: “If it makes any difference in the sea of snail slime, Maureen Dowd does not write editorials for The New York Times. She write columns. Her opinions are her own, not those of the NYT or IHT.”


© 2013 Paris Update


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