The growing number of beggars, homeless and refugees on Paris’s Champs-Élysées street and in other posh areas is causing tensions and political divisions in France, which is a country with a colonial past and polarized history. The French economy is under pressure, too. Some blame former President Nicolas Sarkozy for the current situation. Sarkozy was an architect of the Libyan invasion and was responsible for mayhem in Libya following the murder of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011.
The current Socialist government of President François Hollande faces the brunt of Sarkozy’s actions and polices. The French public, now, blames the Socialists for failing miserably on their promises. In the past three months, I have spoken to dozens of French residents who think President Hollande’s government has created economic and social mess in the country by allowing millions of refugees into France. The government has been raising taxes and cutting jobs. Due to this negative perception of the Socialists, the chances of Nicolas Sarkozy’s winning the next year’s presidential election are quite real.
A few kilometers from the glitter and shine of the shopping malls and expensive cafes of Champs-Élysées, many other areas in Paris are unsafe in the evening. In the last week of August there was no air-conditioning in Paris’s Metro. Inside the packed coaches it was hot and sticky. I did not notice many smiles. Signs of stress and tiredness were visible on commuters’ faces. Tempers were high, too. Armed Police were patrolling the streets of Paris as the city witnesses daily protests.
During a Summer School in London this summer, I have worked with hundreds of French people---trainers, leaders, teachers and teenage students. Most students belonged to middle and upper middle classes. They represented a shade of the French culture. There are striking differences between the French and the English. I have found that the French people are very sensitive and proud of their cultural identity. The French despise the Anglo-American onslaught on their culture and the French Way of life. Yet in France, the American connection is conspicuous in form of American names, symbols and memorials. Several metro stations, streets and buildings are named after U.S presidents and politicians. Even some hotels have American names such as ‘New York Hotel’ in Nice.
As compare to English, the French people are traditional in some ways. They are cultured and like formalities and customs. Some can be arrogant but there are a lot of polite, friendly and well-mannered people. Family is still important in France. Agriculture is a major economic activity and many French are engaged in forming and live outside big cities in small towns and villages. They grow crops and raise farm animals. Rural France is very, very beautiful. In fact we can divide France into two broad regions. Northern France is similar to other northern European countries—industrial, urban and modern. Southern France is closer to Mediterranean culture.
I was amused to observe French eating habits. For example, they don’t fancy fast food. To them lunch and dinner are special occasion. They don’t like to have their meals while standing or eat in hurry. They would rather sit together and enjoy eating their meal. When it comes to wine French have their distinctive way and manners of drinking wine. It is a scared drink and one of the biggest French exports and symbol of the French identity.
France is expensive than Britain. House rent, food and living costs are higher in France. For example, we can have full English breakfast in London or in another British town for about five Pounds but in France you will get a croissant, some butter and a small coffee for four to five Euros. And if you want a bigger breakfast in Paris you may have to pay between 10 and 15 Euros. Unemployment is rising and businesses are slow in France. However, the state looks after its citizens, particularly the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable groups. But the French colonial legacy and its current adventure in Libya are causing social, cultural and political tensions especially at a time when the economy is not doing well. The second and third generations of Afro-French and Arab-French people are unhappy and feel alienated but the French government does not seem to be addressing the causes of discontent.
The writer is the head of journalism department, Abdul Wali Khan Unversity Mardan, Pakistan. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org