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The World Champions of Misery

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We spent the weekend filming another House Hunters International episode (our 13th!) — this time with an American woman with her mother as her ‘sidekick’ whose dream has been to own a “pied-à-terre” in Paris.

Throughout the filming of the three apartments, with every visit, both mother and daughter loved everything they saw in all three apartments. Nothing but positive words came out of their mouths. At one point, I even asked them, “Is there anything you don’t like?”

This is in direct contrast to an episode we filmed in Nice not long ago (which hasn’t yet aired) where the young French woman sidekick had nothing but negative things to say about every apartment! In that filming, at one point, I even asked, “Is there anything you like?”

The difference between our American positive outlook and the French negative outlook became acute, although we live with this cultural difference daily. It could be the one most major cultural clash that ultimately affects an American in Paris’ ability to settle in comfortably to a lifestyle in France.

This filming’s ‘contributor,’ Karin Storlien, reminded me of a news story from 2011 when France was proclaimed the “world champion of misery” by the World Health Organization…”as the most likely to suffer from a ‘major depressive episode’ in their lifetimes.” The study was conducted by the State University of New York at Stony Brook and some 90,000 people were surveyed. France topped the world ranking and we learned that the French down more anti-depressants than any other nationality. The countries with the least depression were China with 6.5% and Japan with 6.6%. (See the actual report)

It strikes me funny the nation famed for it’s 35-hour work week, 30 days of paid vacation and 10 paid public holidays aren’t happier. Some online comments suggested that the French were “too intellectual for their own good, that they are born cynical, or even that they don’t take enough recreational drugs to get them through the day!”

I have a personal take on it, of course. It all starts the moment the French are born, not that they are born with it!

I watched my daughter go through the French educational system which is rigorous and demanding. The primary school week consisted of 24 hours of classes and junior high and high school class hours are even longer. There are no or little recreational sports activities to break up the heavy academics. Teaching methods use humiliation and intimidation as a way of encouraging academic excellence (instead of our ‘gold star’ method of encouragement). In fact, “Peter Gumbel, a British expat who teaches at Sciences Po, France’s elite Institute of Political Studies, lambasted the French education system for humiliating children, neglecting teamwork, character-building, and positive reinforcement, and fostering pervasive low self-confidence.”

Gumbel wrote: “There were obvious symptoms [witnessed in my two daughters]: tummy aches and other signs of stress, an unhealthy phobia about making mistakes and flashes of self-doubt. ‘I’m hopeless at math,’ my eldest daughter declared one day. ‘No, you’re not, you just need to work at it harder,’ was my reply. ‘No, daddy, you don’t understand anything. I’m hopeless.'”

No question, my daughter’s childhood in France was 180 degrees from her free-spirited childhood Stateside, where knowledge was taught by teachers sometimes called by their first names using creative methodology, open free discussion of ideas and the American idea that ‘you can be anybody you want to be’ — even the President of the United States. The optimism of looking forward to the future seems to make us a much happier lot.

When you walk down the streets of Paris, the Americans are obvious by one strong trait alone — their smiles. The lines in their faces are permanently uplifted and smiling, while the French faces have a permanent scowl. One of my neighbors who I “Bonjour Madame” each time we cross paths, usually at the mailboxes, comments almost every time, “Madame, vous êtes très souriante!” (“You are very smiley!”)…while we wouldn’t think anything of it.

And what do I have to be unhappy about? I live in the most beautiful city in the world, have great cuisine to eat at every meal, have inexpensive and wonderful health care and a zillion American friends who are all “très souriant,” too. It’s no wonder that mother and daughter loved everything they saw in all three apartments. What do they have to complain about?

Let’s ask the French. They’ll find something, I’m sure!

A la prochaine…

adrian smilingAdrian Leeds

Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC


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21-3-13rueChanoinesse forPSP.S. If you’re looking for a great investment property in the heart of Paris, we have the inside scoop on a two-bedroom apartment next to Notre Dame that is an ongoing legal rental property for sale including all the furnishings along with future booked rentals to the tune of many thousands of euros. This one is a non-risk, sure-to-make-you-happy property for years to come as a great place in which to grow your investment and a truly enjoyable home to call your own at “Kilometer Zero” in the City of Light. For more information, email [email protected]


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