Optimism, a Gâteau of 111 Ingredients

Tired of doom and gloom, fed up with the glass-half-empty brigade, cheer-up La France has plenty of reasons to be happy, in fact 111 significant ones if l’Express is right.

Vive l’optimiste 111 times over

(Read more online French News here)

Why exactly the writers selected 111 reasons we are not told but in its special 12-page cover story, a summer issue of France’s top selling weekly sets out joyful, serious, quirky, deserving, little-known, famous, proud, worthy, extraordinary, sporting, cultural, entrepreneurial, artistic, scientific and praiseworthy reasons why the French and everyone else living here, can be optimistic about France. Indeed the 27-strong team of contributors who wrote the piece urge readers to take great heart and view the 21st century as the French spring.

The cover story is partially a cri de coeur against the depressing world view the magazine had earlier reported after a major survey by Fondapol in January 2011 found that French youth were the most pessimistic in the world bar none, more so even than the Greeks!

That rang alarm bells, the magazine says, doom and gloom is a cancer rotting the French soul. Today says l’Express, the French are disagreeably pessimistic, hiding their apathy under a mantle of fatalism and wallowing in palliatives when what they truly need, is a good kick in the posterior to get them back on track.

Following a brief survey of the dense and worthy works of writers and intellectuals who have analysed the French ‘condition’ to within an inch of its life, the magazine exhorts its readers to snap out of it and spread a contagious message of optimism along lines urged by the think-positive–guru Thierry Saussez. He is the author of a just-published essay on optimism Manifeste Pour L’optimisme and one of France’s leading institutional and policy communicators).

The writers lead off their Ode to Optimism thus: “We’ve chosen 111 reasons to believe in France, some are joyously futile, others are serious and sound. But the real number of reasons is 66 million (the population of France) because behind every citizen lies a talent, a richness, a force, a reason for optimism about the country […] according to the writer and humourist Tristan Bernard the height of optimism, is to make one’s way into a top-class restaurant anticipating that in the large platter of oysters you proceed to order, you will find a pearl with which you will then be able to settle the bill.”

So read on for the ingredients l’Express has uncovered for the recipe it calls French Optimism.

Here is un morçeau de gâteau, a taster, in no particular order: France is the European champion in the fertility stakes; the country ranks fourth among the most desirable places to live; the Cannes Film Festival is alive, well, thriving and a showcase for the country’s booming film industry; the Louvre attracts more visitors than the British museum and will soon open ‘branches’ in the Middle East; haute couture goes from strength to strength; cheese exports are especially ripe; the TGV is 30 years old and a major export; France is world number one destination for tourists while its forests are some of the best managed and preserved in Europe.

The article’s smile-and-be-content roll-call continues in full upbeat mode, as this randomly chosen selection of some of the highlights shows:

  • an ICN opinion poll says one in five of English people questioned admits a wish to have been born in France while a third of all the under-50s in the sample “expressed the same impossible dream”.
  • In April last year the American magazine Time included the economist Esther Duflo on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2008 Foreign policy had called her one of the world’s 100 leading intellectuals. Esther Duflo joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology aged 29 as a lecturer in developmental economy and her research into the fight against poverty has put her on track for a future Nobel peace prize.
  • French cheese is ever more widely sought after. In the 8 years to 2010 French cheese exports rose by more than 125,000 tonnes to 639,500 tonnes and earned 2.6 billion euros. Emerging countries love it. According to the national milk producers association (CNIEL Centre National Interprofessionnel de l’Economie Laitière) French cheese consumption in Mexico is up 16.7% and 5% in Iran.
  • French is the only language where the number of speakers could treble over the next 30 years provided France manages to retain its cultural and educational influence in Africa.
  • France has the 2nd largest maritime reserve in the world, an important asset given that greatest source of future wealth for lies under the sea. France’s exclusive economic zone counting overseas French territories (the Dom Tom) covers 11 million km² practically as important as that of the United States. Its source of marine algae rich in vitamins and minerals represent one of the major food sources for the rest of the century and should ensure France remains one of world’s major food suppliers.
  • France’s spirits and beverages sector is smiling. Sales of French wine have risen 25% in the US and 79% in China since 2008. France earned €565 million from wine exports in 2010. Meanwhile Gray Goose the top of the range French vodka saw sales improve by 14% in 2010 and the French distilled vodka is said to be the favourite tipple of Brad Pitt and Madonna among others.
  • The violin prodigy David Castro-Balbi, 17, is a rising international performer following the award of a grand prix in the Colorado Young Artists Competition and top prize in the first Mirecourt international violin competition.
  • Eight of the best 50 restaurants in the world are French as classified by a British magazine – Restaurant.
  • The French enjoy one of the most developed transportation networks in the world with 29,273 kms of rail track and 11,000 km of high speed motorway.
  • French forests are amongst the best protected in the world a sign of very high quality guardianship, considerable technical competence and a vast capacity for long-term planning.
  • Life expectancy increases three months each year while that of healthy life expectancy rises four months each year thanks to a high-performing public health system.
  • Pleasure around the world remains expressed as a concept in French: luxe, bon appétit, savoir-faire, joie de vivre, vie en rose.
  • The couturier Jean Paul Gaultier has just launched Kokirico (cock-a-doodle-do) his latest deodorant for men: “A cry from the heart for a parfum proudly associated with our national symbol – the French cock,” he said.
  • Asked the question “are you too addicted to the taste of fast food to be able to give it up?” 81% of French polled said no, while 63% of Canadians, 55% of Brits and 54% of Americans all said yes, a snippet released by the BBC.
  • L’Oreal, world number one in cosmetics for the past 25 years is among many National Champions of which the French can be proud. Others include EDF, Vinci, BNP Paribas, Total, Veolia Environnement, Vivendi, Areva, Danone, GDF-Suez, LVMH, Accor, Air Liquide, Michelin, Publicis, Alstholm, Sodexho, Carrefour, AXA , Sanofi –Aventis , Vallourec and Lafarge. Fortune magazine ranked 39 French groups among the global Top 500 in 2010.
  • France is beautiful, wealthy, and welcoming and is the premier tourist destination in the world with 18,000,000 visitors a year. The number of bed nights sold — 35.9 million — rose 5.5% in the 12 months to end 2010. By 2020 France is expected to be the largest tourism revenue earner in the world. Our capital is seen by many as the most beautiful city in the world, we have 37 protected UNESCO world heritage sites ranking fourth behind China, Spain and Italy.
  • The number of Internet subscribers in France continues to rise sustained by triple play offers (phone, TV and broadband) sold at just €29.99 a month, one of the lowest tariffs in Europe.
  • According to research by UBS Bank the French are the most productive workers in the world – 25.10 US dollars per person/hour
  • Every second of every year 125 portions of La Vache que Rit cheese are consumed somewhere in the world. Since 1921 the small cheese triangle created at Lons-le-Saunier has conquered the planet particularly the US where the recommendations of a professional cardiologist in 2004 saw consumption of the cheese triangles rocket. France’s Bel Group has since trebled production at its US plant.
  • The world shaves thanks to France. With 3.2 million outlets in 160 countries BIC, the French disposable razor maker has prospered since 1945. Apart from razors it also sells BIC pens and cigarette lighters.
  • Internet enterprises have created a 1.15 million jobs in France over the past 15 years, 700,000 as direct employment in the sector according to research by McKinsey the financial services firm.
  • David Guetta with his 21 million Facebook friends is the only DJ to have created a style, label, and a brand to raise a storm across the globe. The composer fills stadiums in Mexico and elsewhere while five of his six latest records topped the British pop charts last year, a success never before achieved by a Frenchman.
    David Guetta

    David Guetta – Image via Wikipedia

Staying with the recipe  the magazine Capital recently compared cost of living over the 20 years to 2011. “Whatever people think,” the magazine concluded: “our country is richer, and doing much better today than two decades ago … contrary to popular belief, France has benefitted from globalisation. Take purchasing power for example, to pay for a movie in 1991, it took 1 hour 30 minutes of working at the net minimum wage. Today it takes just one hour. To acquire a small car  two decades ago, it took 15 months of work, today it is 11 months. Costs of computers, TVs , air travel  have all dropped,  so living standards improved, not because wages today are proportionately better, but because prices of goods and services has fallen. The exceptions are gasoline and real estate both of which are much less accessible than twenty years ago”.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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