Author Oscar Reynard and his French wife have lived mainly in the UK, but over forty years have spent long periods in France on business and at their second home. Last year they spent nearly six months at their house in the Lot while Oscar finished a satirical novel set among the phenomena of French life.
Brits living in France see themselves as ex-pats. The French see them as immigrants, though they are generally held to be harmless, that is they are unlikely to carry out armed attacks on locals, but have an equally lethal tendency to drive on the wrong side of the road. There are nearly 60,000 British property owners in France and they have invested heavily in rural property improvements and they redistribute their wealth throughout the local economies so they tend to be tolerated.
Those who have owned property in France will know that it is a beautiful country burdened by a Byzantine and costly centralised administration with 5.4 million people working for in the public sector for governments whom they fight to justify their positions. Debate about the economy and job creation is virulent, but facing the fact that small business creates low level jobs and keeps people fed, is not something that keeps the administration’s finger off the trigger of the tax gun. (Tirer dans sa patte is the French equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot and successive French governments have and still are spraying taxes in all directions, thus steering more businesses towards ruin or to the black economy)
Beyond the France seen by tourists, there is a fragile republic where strong political forces ranging from the savage revolutionaries of the extreme left and extreme right bellow at each other but communicate poorly with an electorate that distrusts all political parties and could easily be seduced by a clever quick fix artist, as meanwhile, in the public and private sectors mutual profiteering is steering a course towards mutual extermination.
My experience of having dealt with and socialised with local politicians of ‘the radical left’, is that they are some of the nicest, most generous and honest people I know. However, they live in a culture of corruption and their talents must be applied to working the complex system in any way they can for the benefit of their communities and some are tempted to fill their own pockets with public money.
One mayor who was asked by the public accounts auditor why his commune of 450 souls had spent €40,000 on entertaining, (mainly on foie gras and champagne) replied that his people had very good appetites.
You can read more about how a French family steers its own individual course through a corrupt culture in Oscar Reynard’s novel A Clean Pair of Hands, available from most bookshops and on-line sellers.