A stagnant economy, political parties embroiled in various scandals, a humiliated president — it seems those are the only facets of France the world’s been talking about recently.
And while no one can say France isn't going through tough times, the recent turmoil has overshadowed a few things. So The Local went in search of what still inspires the French people about their country.
For some it’s kind of a long list.
“No need for gloom, there are still things to be thankful for,” Loïc Barbier, a 24-year-old drama student told The Local on Monday.
“French cinema is among the best in the world. I particularly like director François Ozon,” he said. “We have an amazing country, one of the only places in the world where you can find beautiful beaches, mountains, and a nice countryside, all close to each other.
“We have great food as well. When I lived abroad, I really missed eating cheese. That and ‘gratin dauphinois’. I could kill for ‘gratin dauphinois.’ If you need another reason, just take a look at the works of our brilliant authors” he added, holding up the copy of “Voyage to the End of the Night” by French author Céline he was reading.
‘Quality of life’
His feelings about France’s “cultural exception” were echoed by Ludivine, who declined to give her full name.
“I am proud of French history, of our architecture, our gastronomy, and our landscapes,” the 34-year-old bank employee said. “There are a lot of things I disapprove of about France, but I think we are really lucky to have such a nice place to live, such a nice quality of life”.
Of course not everyone agrees, including Ludivine’s friend, who was sitting with her on Monday.
“I’m a good French citizen, I love France, but apart from what Ludivine says, I can’t say we have much going on for us,” 52-year-old shop worker Lisa, who declined to give her full name, said.
She recognizes however, that French people still have a strong sense of solidarity, “except for Parisians, we French generally support and help each other. Maybe we can be proud of that”.
‘Plenty of help’
That solidarity, which has taken the form of the country’s comprehensive social welfare system, is also a source of pride.
For Antoine Lefèvre, 30, a hotel receptionist, living in France is “just like heaven”.
“I lived in London for five years” he said. “There I truly realized how lucky I was back in France. You can do nothing, and get social benefits in return!” he said. “In London, I worked a lot, I discovered what it meant to get things done, but I’m much happier here, as I get more help”.
It’s a system the French are lucky to have while other countries have scaled back endlessly on social spending in the past decades.
“We are lucky because we have a good welfare system that still works well. We also have universal values to be proud of,” Chrystelle, a 40-year-old office worker, who didn’t give her full name. “After all, we live in the country of human rights, of democracy, even though this is not specific to France.”
And even though the country’s education system seems to catch all sorts of criticism, Chrystelle thinks it's great because “it is free and accessible to all. France is a country in which people can climb up the social ladder and change their lives, thanks to school”.
It’s the brain power that system produces which 46-year-old computer engineer Benoit Baradat believes sets France apart.
“We have a lot of intellectual resources, we have prestigious universities. We have an education system which works and which integrates people,” he said.
He added: “We are a tolerant nation, open to different cultures, with a generous welfare system which avoids widening the gap between social classes, like that could happen in the United States, where the middle class is slowly disappearing”.
And he walked away, Baradat, struck by one more point of pride turned and said: “Best of all, we have a lot of young people, with a lot of potential and I think that they are a reason to be hopeful”.
By Léa Surugue