Are the French Lazy? Or smart?

The following is a guest blog from Robby Toner.

The first thing that went through my head when I read what the CEO of Titan Tire Corporation said about the French and their work ethic was “yep, that’s exactly why the rest of the world thinks we’re such ignorant assholes.”  It’s because we are.  The thing is, it’s not even what Maurice Taylor is saying that’s the issue, it’s how he’s saying it.  He doesn’t qualify his words or make any attempt to show some type of compassion or understanding about French culture before he leads into his objective argument.  He simply tosses cultural differences aside as if his technical college never forced him to take one of those silly “arts and humanities” classes to round out their degrees.

The French aren’t interested in your arguments about work ethic and 40 hour work weeks.  They’ve been there, they know what that reality is like, and they’ve chosen a different path.  What I’d really be interested in is how much Maurice Taylor could be persuaded that the French have got this one right by spending a little time in their country and working by their rules.  I spent nine months in France teaching English to elementary children.  I didn’t work much, about 20 hours per week or so, a bit less than even the French standard (the French work week is actually 35 hours).  The mindset is different there.  They give you extra time for lunch, and people fill up the tables outside local cafes and restaurants since they have adequate time for a sit down meal.  It’s a remarkable act of community engagement that breaks up the work day.

The French believe that you should work to live, not live to work.  That doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate about what you do and make an impact in fewer hours, it just means a slightly different idea of exactly how many hours with and away your family is reasonable.  Once the entire economy is forced to obey by these rules, it levels the playing field in all domestic markets and the population enjoys extra time off.  Is this at a loss in production?  The numbers show no, and that that might be changing, but even if it does, who cares?  Why are we so obsessed with working?  Are we really meant to work ourselves into a state where our bodies no longer function ideally and then see what we’ve got left in us?  Forget that.

You can say what you want about the French, but they’re healthier, more educated, more visited, and more devoted to the things in life that really matter than we are.  I find that humbling, and I think it’s sad that our immediate reaction involves cynicism and cultural ignorance.

My favorite part is when people think that the French are doing all of these things at a huge expense to their debt ratio.  Here’s a list of the top countries’ debt to GDP ratios

… look who’s higher up than France?  AMERICA.  The French are doing more with less, their country is less in debt than ours is yet they are afforded more time off and more access to quality healthcare and services than just about any other place.

Instead of criticizing the French way of life maybe Maurice Taylor should be asking for tips on how relieve stress of his employees and maintain profitability.  This is America, though, and we don’t ask for help, we lend it.

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