Les Miserables: Gloomy French must copy English

Mar 27, 2013

Paris academic argues glum compatriots can only find happiness across Channel

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THE French are utterly miserable and the only way they can become happier is to be more like the English, argues a leading Parisian academic.

In a "bombshell" article for the French edition of the English-language news website The Local, Professor Claudia Senik, of the Paris School of Economics, says most French people aren't living La Vie en Rose. They are instead Les Miserables, the glummest people on the planet, according to an international survey carried out in 2011. The study suggested the French were more gloomy than people living in warzones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senik says the survey's results were blamed on the poor state of the French economy. But the French malaise is more deep-rooted than that, she believes. The French are miserable because they are … French. They would be much happier if they spoke English and – zut alors! - became more like the English.

Senik says there are three factors that make the French triste and their neighbours on the other side of the Channel relatively heureux.

Firstly, the excellence of France's public education system means "the majority of pupils are used to getting bad grades", she writes. "When they [the French] think about their self-worth or their value, they think about these grades, which are usually low or intermediate."

The British education system may not be as rigorous, says Senik, but several decades of liberal "pupil-centred" learning has created a generation of Britons who feel they have "beautiful minds" even if their grades aren't spectacular.

The second factor is the rise of the globalised economy. "There's something deep in French ideology that makes them dislike market-based globalisation," Senik thinks that aversion has made them poorer and more isolated, unlike the English, who have embraced the "brutality" of an all-powerful financial sector, long working hours and relaxed dismissal laws.

The final factor will have people across France choking on their baguettes: they don't speak English. "To be happier the French could do with learning more foreign languages. Being happy is not about speaking the foreign language itself but about being able to fit more easily into this globalised world, which you can do if you speak English," concludes Senik.

"Vive la différence, indeed," says the Daily Telegraph in an analysis of her article. "It is working very well for the British."

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