‘Enough gloom, France is an amazing country’

The bad political and economic news has seemed endless for the past weeks in France, so The Local hit the streets in search of some balance. Here's what the French love about their country.

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.

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‘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.”

SEE ALSO: 'France is being mocked for its ridiculous president'

Intellectual resources’

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

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.