French are named as the world champs of pessimism

2011-01-07 15:10

The French live in one of the richest and safest countries in the world, yet they are global champions of pessimism, fearful of the future and longing for the past, according to a survey published this week.

“The French are afraid. They feel the present is less good than the past and that the future will be worse than the present and that their children’s lives will be harder than their own,” said commentator Dominique Moisi.

“There is a morosity; a real phenomenon of clinical depression,” said Moisi, the author of the 2009 book, Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope are Reshaping the World.

Moisi was sceptical about the BVA-Gallup poll published last Monday which suggested that the French were more pessimistic than the people of Afghanistan or Iraq, who live amid high levels of violence every day, but he conceded that it had some substance.

He and other commentators said several factors were to blame.

France’s comparatively generous welfare state was no longer perceived as sufficiently protective in the face of the ongoing economic crisis in France, they said.

“The French behave towards the state like teenagers with their parents. On the one hand they rebel, but on the other they want ever more protection,” said Moisi.

French pessimism is nothing new. The French are Europe’s biggest consumers of anti-depressants.

Their gloomy tendencies have been made worse by rising unemployment and a tense social milieu which in recent months has seen millions take to the streets to protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ultimately successful bid to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

“You can feel that people are psychologically exhausted,” said Jean-Paul Delevoye, the French national ombudsman, whose job it is to investigate complaints by private persons against the government.

He said the middle class was most affected by pessimism.

They saw their jobs as becoming less and less secure and feared their quality of life would be eroded.

“The French are sensualists, epicureans... and we are seeing a discrepancy between the little individual joys and the collective malaise,” said Delevoye.

France was less badly hit by the economic crisis than its neighbours, but was nonetheless struggling to recover.

“Even if the recession in 2009 was much less severe than in Germany, we have not come out of it as strongly as Germany,” said Jerome Creel of the French Economic Observatory.

Many French now viewed the European Union, which was rocked by massive bail-outs for Greece and Ireland last year, less as a force for positive change in France than as a source of difficulties.

Frederic Allemand, a specialist in European economic governance issues, said the disillusion stemmed from the “inability of Europe to improve its growth prospects”.

The BVA-Gallup poll described the French as “the world champions of pessimism”.

It found that 61% of French thought 2011 would bring economic difficulties, compared to an average of 28% of people in the 53 countries surveyed.

Sixty-seven percent believed unemployment would rise again this year – a more pessimistic view than in any other country except Britain (74%) and Pakistan (72%).

Thirty-seven percent of French people polled said this year would be worse than last year, making them considerably less optimistic than Afghans (14%) or Iraqis (12%). 

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