• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'Speaking English would make French less glum'

Ben McPartland · 25 Mar 2013, 15:10

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.)"

Story continues below…

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
'I feel no guilt': French boss defends €2.5m salary hike
"I earn this much". Peugeot Citroen boss Carlos Tavares defends his salary. Photo: AFP

The boss of French car giant Peugeot says he feels no guilt over his €2.5million salary rise and the criticism is all part of his pay packet.

Nine must-see landmarks in Paris you may have missed
Photo: AFP

You've seen the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral. So what next?

Cap on EU roaming charges set to kick in
Photo: zoetnet/Flickr

EU mobile users will soon be calling from Alicante to Zagreb at lower prices.

UK pair charged with funding Paris attacks suspect
Photo: Police

Two UK nationals have been charged with handing over to cash to a suspect in the Paris terror attacks.

Paris makes love-lock bridge even more love-lock proof
Photo: Michel Gauret/No Love Locks

Good luck attaching a love lock now.

France gets tough on Muslim footballers praying on pitch
Archive photo of Muslims praying on a sports pitch in France. Photo: AFP

Authorities in the Riviera city of Nice are cracking down on Muslims praying on their football pitches, arguing it is against France's Republican principles.

What's on in France: Ten great things to do in May
Photo: AFP

Events to keep you entertained as summer approaches.

Labour reform protests
Who are the masked rioters causing havoc in France?
Photos: AFP

Who's smashing up shops, banks, and bus stops - and attacking the French police force?

Defending 'monsters': Meet Abdeslam's French lawyer
Frank Berton, lawyer to suspected Paris terror attacker Salah Abdeslam. Photo: AFP

Even terrorists need a lawyer. And the Frenchman defending Salah Abdeslam says he hesitated to take the job.

Dozens more held after violent clashes in Paris
Photos: AFP

Another 24 people were arrested in Paris overnight, following a day of protests that left two dozen police officers injured.

Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
Society
Protesters clash with police over France's new labour laws
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
French dangerously 'unprepared' for future natural disasters
Is it really safe to come to France for Euro 2016?
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
National
Salah Abdeslam: Pot-smoking 'little moron' is finally back in Paris
Society
PICTURES: Snow falls in Paris... at the end of April?
Rail strike: Passengers in France face major disruption
Cats in a cafe?!? Nine of the quirkiest things you can see in Paris
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
VIDEO: The moment a Paris suicide bomber blew himself up
National
Why there's another rail strike in France and why there will be more
National
Winter is coming (back). Why is France so cold right now?
National
WWI's Anzac Day heroes honoured in northern France service
Lifestyle
VIDEO: Did you know all these stars spoke great French?
Culture
How did the French end up with their 'crazy' numbers?
Politics
Why this man could become the next president of France
Society
VIDEO: Jewellers in southern France raided by... swarm of bees
Culture
Did you know the strange origins of these six French curse words?
Why are more and more people dying on French roads?
National
VIDEO: Mass street brawl erupts at Paris migrant camp
Culture
Film 'Chocolat' highlights taboo of race problem in French cinema
Society
British people have been urged to come to France... and to get naked
Culture
15 reasons Clermont-Ferrand is the best place in France
National
Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
Culture
Steven Spielberg and Jodie Foster top star-studded Cannes cast
2,778
jobs available