I moved from Finland into France in the end of 2010 after Nokia announced its partnership with Microsoft. I knew that was the beginning of their downfall and thought it was a good sign I should find a new employer, and perhaps leave Finland. So I did. Choosing France wasn’t very complicated: I wanted to stay in Europe, find a warmer, lighter country. By elimination, France was my choice even though I didn’t speak French – always had wanted to learn this language.
Coming from Finland I had a lot of high expectations. Organization, efficiency, efficacy in all areas of life be it govt services, security, transportation, and most of all in the private sector. Man was I wrong! What a colossal disappointment. Many foreigners understood my frustration, but the French themselves identified with all my complaints; they just can’t do anything about it. It is incredible to me that a country that is a leader in Europe in so many aspects is still drowning in bureaucracy like that… it’s just unbelievable.
Take their tax system for example: you cannot simulate how much you will have to pay even in the last months of your fiscal year (although you can estimate roughly). Also: if you want to shorten your installments and pay in advance, you need to keep receipts of your payments because the on-line payment system is not integrated with the republic’s Tax offices, so they basically don’t know what you have paid, when, how much. It’s ridiculous.
Oh the bureaucracy! Welcome to the world where everything has to be done by letters! Yes, because of such disorganization they’re forced to keep track of things with actual paper. And when you send your letter, you also cannot forget to pay for the “delivery notice” that proves the destination received something from you. I could write about a dozen stories and examples of things that are just plain senseless. I’ll be short and just say that France is painful. It’s slow, chaotic, disorganized, and yet you have access to a pretty nice standard of living.
In France you eat like nowhere else, drink the best beverages, enjoy any kind of art form you want. You also have access to amazing sceneries, although nature is not wild but quite tamed and “civilized”. The people of France are not renowned for being the most open, friendly in the world – in fact they’re known for being arrogant. But still, I thought arrogant is not such a bad quality to work around. In theory it must be a superb country to live in.
Until today I really don’t know how to rate France because what I lived, my “personal bubble”, my experience was positive, a lesson. I don’t regret having moved to France. I discovered a new country, society, communities, made good friends, started new hobbies, etc. So in a way France allowed me those things. But at the same time, I lived so many frustrations, disappointments, that the overall feeling is like I have a dark shadow behind this great experience. I did not find that the French people are arrogant, but I found a truck-load of other things that are not good. The French are open-minded, in the sense of curiosity: they want to try new things (food, music, etc) and new ways to do things, but at the same time they have a very strict sense of identity and who they are is very important for them. They aren’t proud like the Americans. They are open to diversity – as long as it doesn’t disrespect or invade their space, freedom, individuality, their rights.
And of course, one of the most sickening details for me: there is a lot of racism and intolerance in France. You wouldn’t guess, because of their long history with immigration. I think that France has been taking it easy for too long, didn’t do it’s homework, and now have to struggle with too many problems that can quickly be linked to immigration.
The last drop of disappointment for me was something I don’t quite know how to describe – it has to do with the peoples behavior. I have never seen, met, been close to people who complain so much, so often. Things quickly escalate out of proportion and it’s not only easy but quite common to get insulted in traffic because you missed the green light for 2 seconds. You can also suffer abuse or get insulted by anybody simply because you’re “pissing them off” while trying to get your rights served. People seem to not care at all about insulting others or over-using curse words. Putain has become the English equivalent of “oh well”, or “wow”. It’s a culture of not giving a damn about your neighbor, not wanting to help others if it means going 2cm out of your way. Don’t get me wrong, there are good people in France too, it’s just that you don’t get to see it that often.