The French economy

Sometimes I wonder how it keeps afloat. I really can’t fathom it sometimes. Yes, it is a major industrialized nation with one of the largest economies, but when the rubber meets the road, when you are living on the ground here, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The French economy operates on an ingrained culture of Sunday closures (and usually Monday for independent shops) and 2-hour (minimum) lunch breaks. That’s just the starting point though. Then you also have to contend with the vacation closures and the exceptional closures. Many independent shops and restaurants close down completely for 2 weeks every year for vacation (sometimes up to a month, and sometimes twice a year or more). Then there are also frequent “fermeture exceptionnelle,” which is when a business closes to the public because they have to take inventory, prepare for a sale, or employees just don’t feel like being there for the day. The French do not do overtime or bring in extra staff when they are preparing for a big sale or are taking stock — they just close the store to their customers during normal business hours.

Sure, European culture is known for embracing the separation of work time and family/free time. But the reality of the French version of this is that every time you go out to get something done — to pick up the dry cleaning, to buy a baguette, to find that critical part at the hardware store, to go for a swim at the local pool — you invariably are prevented from accomplishing your goal in an efficient manner, if you can accomplish it at all. How many hours are wasted and how many dollars are lost in France because of this? These numbers must be huge, there is no way around it.

Crazy (by American standards at least) inefficiencies are not just confined to store hours. Even when you do have the attention of a shop owner, when you have managed to make contact with a business with which you want to exchange money for certain goods or services, it is sometimes next to impossible to make an economic transaction happen. For example, there is this custom order hand-crafted purse I have been trying to purchase for months now, but for whatever reason, it has been next to impossible at every step. The shop is far from where I live, but I have already been there twice in person and I have had a lengthy email exchange with the owner. I have money and I want to exchange it for something this person makes as their profession. Should be relatively straight forward, right? But this is France, so instead it is drawn out by ignored communications, unanswered questions, and little concern for expediency. Even now, in this particular situation, the purse is made, I’ve sent my address, promises were made to ship it, and I’ve asked the question about payment more than once — and I still have no purse. We’ve had similar experiences with other transactions. Recently we took our car to a new mechanic for some repairs and maintenance, and even though we were there in person on multiple occasions, with credit card in hand, the owner of the shop said he would send us the bill by mail in a few weeks. The lack of interest in taking consumers money at the first possible instance is unbelievable sometimes. I’ve also noticed that non-profit organizations putting on paid events or activities are also reticent deposit checks in a timely manner. For example, one time our alpine club waited 6 months to deposit our membership fee check.

So, I guess what I am saying is that the French seem really uninterested in accumulating money, and this causes a lot of wasted time, wasted energy, and even wasted money. These things all together create wasted potential in the French economy. Can you imagine what it could be, if only the French were more interested in making money? Or if they put the 24% of 15- to 24-year-olds who are unemployed into the labor force by expanding store hours or hiring temporary staff for busy periods or vacation periods? But alas, the French seem to like things just how they are, so for now I guess the French economy will continue to ramble along as it always has.

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