• France's news in English
 

'Speaking English would make French less glum'

Published: 25 Mar 2013 15:10 GMT+01:00

A BVA-Gallup International survey in 2011 found that despite their relatively high standard of living, the French were the most pessimistic people in the world. So, in a country where they have a 35-hour working week, lengthy summer holidays, wholesome cuisine, great wine and a fantastic countryside, why are the French people so down on themselves?

Next month, Professor Claudia Senik from the Paris School of Economics will present a study to the Royal Economic Society in London on the reasons why, based on her study of the European Social Survey.

For this week's opinion piece, Senik tells The Local why France's own culture and education system are partly to blame for the French being less cheery than their worse-off European neighbours, and how speaking better English would help them get back their joie de vivre.

School is to blame

Professor Claudia Senik: “I think the role of the primary school system in France is partly to blame. If unhappiness is partly due to someone's mentality, then people are forming that negative mentality at an early age in primary schools.

"One theory is that the grading system in French schools is responsible. In France, students are generally graded on a scale of 0 to 10 or 0 to 20 and it’s very difficult to get high grades. This means the majority of pupils are used to getting bad grades. When they think about their self-worth or their value, they think about these grades, which are usually low or intermediate.

"This view becomes ingrained since childhood, so they become dissatisfied with themselves.

“It is well documented that, in the United States for instance, children have a much more positive view of themselves, where school is more geared towards building self-confidence. This is not the case in France. In Nordic countries, too, pupils are not graded as much and the grades are much easier to achieve.

"To improve the happiness of French people the schooling system needs changing. It is too strict, and in primary school the children will do French, History and Maths but then only one hour of drawing and two of hours of gym a week. That’s ridiculous. It needs to be more multi-dimensional.

"I was amazed at the importance of sport in the American school system, but in France you really have to be a pure intellectual if you want to be happy at school.

“There are of course positive aspects to the French education system. They are very good academically, but not necessarily for making the kids happy."

Lost grandeur of the French empire

"In life you always compare your position in reference to some benchmark, and in France this is the grandeur of the old Francophone empire and the influence that France used to have in the world.

"Painters and writers used to come to France to make a career but that’s not the case anymore. People may not always be conscious of this, but they are feeling it. It’s a feeling of decline in terms of international influence. Many countries in Europe are experiencing this decline but the French feel it more than others.

"What makes it worse is that the French also don’t really appreciate the new world, either. There’s something deep in French ideology that makes them dislike market-based globalization (supply and demand, competition, and so on.)"

The French need to learn English to be happier

"To be happier the French could do with learning more foreign languages. Of course, Anglophone countries are worse, but that doesn’t matter because everyone speaks English. Being happy is not about speaking the foreign language itself, but about being able to fit more easily into this globalized world, which you can do if you speak English.

"Travel will also help the French, because if you always stay in one country then that becomes your benchmark. Many French people would benefit from seeing what the situation is like in other countries."

Professor Claudia Senik

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French boat saves 217 people from sea off Libya
A makeshift boat filled with migrants spotted last month by an Italian Navy ship, in the Mediterranean sea near Lampedusa. Photo: Italian Navy

French boat saves 217 people from sea off Libya

A French navy ship sent to boost EU migrant patrols in the Mediterranean rescued 217 people Saturday off the coast of Libya, officials said. READ  

Charlie Hebdo says prize protesters are 'confused'
Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard(L) speaks as film critic, Jean-Baptiste Thoret, looks on. Photo: AFP

Charlie Hebdo says prize protesters are 'confused'

Two of the surviving journalists from French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo brushed off controversy over a literary award on Friday. READ  

Femen and her father ruin Le Pen's big day
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Femen and her father ruin Le Pen's big day

Bare-chested Femen activists making Nazi salutes disrupted a speech by France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen for five minutes Friday at her National Front's traditional May 1st rally in Paris. READ  

Bolivia upholds French couple's murder ruling
Convicted killer Jaime Martinez (c). Photo: Aizar Raldes/AFP

Bolivia upholds French couple's murder ruling

A Bolivian court on Thursday upheld the 30-year prison sentence of a man convicted of killing a young French couple in 2010. READ  

Migrant camps emerge in the heart of Paris
Around 80 tents are home to around 250 migrants near La Chapelle Metro station. Photo: The Local

Migrant camps emerge in the heart of Paris

In recent weeks almost 500 refugees who have made their way to France via the notorious migrant boats across the Mediterranean have set up camp at two locations in the heart of Paris. But many tell The Local they have no plans of staying in the French capital. READ  

Eight charged in France for horsemeat trafficking
Eight people have been charged in France over horsemeat trafficking.

Eight charged in France for horsemeat trafficking

French authorities have charged eight people over their alleged role in a Europe-wide horsemeat trafficking ring dismantled last weekend, a judicial source said Thursday. READ  

Central African Republic
Hollande: 'No mercy' if troops guilty of rape
French soldiers on duty in Central African Republic are met by President Hollande. Some have been accused of raping young boys. Photo: AFP

Hollande: 'No mercy' if troops guilty of rape

UPDATED: France has denied any cover-up after allegations its soldiers raped young boys in the Central African Republic. Paris has opened up a formal investigation, with President Hollande promising "no mercy" if the troops are found guilty. READ  

France hits jackpot with Qatar fighter jet deal
France has struck a deal with Qatar for 24 Rafale fighter jets. Photo: AFP

France hits jackpot with Qatar fighter jet deal

French group Dassault Aviation is poised to sign a multi-billion-euro deal with Qatar for 36 of its Rafale fighter jets, the presidency and sources said Thursday, the third foreign order this year. READ  

French teen suicide after sex video web bullying
The girl was found dead on the ground outside her apartment. Photo: AFP

French teen suicide after sex video web bullying

A 15-year-old French girl has taken her own life after an intimate film featuring her and her boyfriend was shared online, leading to her being the victim of some vicious online bullying and blackmail. READ  

JobTalk France
May 2015: The best month to work in France
File photo of sunbathers at Trocadero, Paris. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

May 2015: The best month to work in France

If you're working in France then there's no better month this year than May, when it comes to the number of public holidays at least. But as usual employers are trying to put an end to what they consider a colossal waste of time and money. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Five great outdoor bars in Paris to check out this summer
Society
French elevator protocol: Greeting, flirting and yes, even sex
National
What's on in France: Ten things to do in May
National
France goes on the defensive after UN experts say 'racism is trivialised'
Double standards? French Muslim barred from class over long skirt
Travel
Getting from CDG airport to Paris by road should now be a lot quicker
International
The French don't seem to care about the UK election and that's normal
France may produce the most wine, but who drinks the most?
National
Why do the French have such a sorry record for recycling?
7Up row could see French language enforced on all flights to Canada
Culture
Take a peek inside France's newest, but oldest tourist attraction
National
How to disguise the fact you are clearly not French
France desperately hunts for church terror plot accomplices
WARNING - When in France use first names with caution
Can France really protect 4,500 churches around the country?
So what does the world's oldest bubbly taste like?
British expats left in lurch by NHS clampdown
Tossing cigarette butts in Paris to prompt €68 fines
Culture
Cannes Film Festival reveals jury
Flamanville: France's nuclear 'calamity' that has the UK worried
Features
Forget the Mona Lisa, here's the weirdest objects you can see around Paris
For many Britons 'Waterloo' is just an Abba song or a train station
IN PICTURES: See the French ship 'Hermione' set sail again for the US
Opinion
Is it time the French scrapped tu and vous?
National
Marine Le Pen makes Time 'most influential' list
National
Sexual harassment rife on Paris trains
Cannes Film Festival line-up revealed
National
Cartoonist's book slams 'Islamophobia swindlers'
National
More French women than men lured by Isis
Society
Les Entrepreneurs: We chat with the founder of Paris Picnic
National
Edith Piaf celebrated at Parisian exhibit
National
Spain's newest export to France: Vultures
How the health reforms will change life in France
Gallery
Naked protests: The French love to take their clothes off to make a point
Travel
So why would anyone really want to live in Lille?
Opinion
Why the French should be very worried about new spying powers
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Then and now - the site of the Alps plane crash
International
Did the Pope reject France's envoy to the Vatican because he was gay?
Did a row over stolen veg lead to the murder of a British expat in France?
VIDEO: French rail chiefs SNCF furious after the Paris-Roubaix race
Sport
What the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would look like
Culture
IN PICS: Take a look inside France's new 36,000 year-old tourist site
Cyberjihad: Hacking of French TV channel was 'a step up'
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

?>