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%). 

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.