Why I Stayed in France
I confess, I screwed up in Wednesday’s “Nouvellettre®.” “Capsule” is not a masculine word. It’s a feminine word. That’s how bad my French is, even after 25+ years.
When we had an opportunity to move back to the States in 1997, one of the reasons we decided to stay in France was the lack of language learning in the lower grades in the schools. Erica was entering middle school and second languages weren’t offered until high school. She was already fluent in French, English of course, and studying Spanish here in France. Moving back meant she’d lose that valuable education.
In a recent email dialogue with one of my sisters, I made that statement, that the lack of language education in the U.S. was ONE of the reasons we stayed. She responded with, “THAT’S the reason you don’t want to move back?”
To which I replied, “I wanted my child to have as much as she could in life. There was a very long list of reasons I will never want to live in the U.S. again.”
That sparked my thinking about that list, as I’ve never really compiled it. At the time, the list wasn’t as long as it is now. We had only lived in France three years, but there were already clear advantages to living in France. No doubt, I could provide my child with a much better education free of charge, while getting the same level of education Stateside would have cost about $15,000 annually (in 1997), money I didn’t have or would need to work hard to earn. When I visited the schools, there were metal detectors at the entrances to screen every child entering. That was off-putting to say the least. Did I really want my child to feel so unsafe or for me to feel my child’s safety was at risk?
The schools were not within walking distance and public transportation was out of the question. That meant I’d be chauffeuring or carpooling her to and from school, and that meant my life was going to be all about that schedule and living in a car. None of it seemed appealing in the least. Just owning and operating a car would have been another huge expense and hassle. After three years of being car-free and carefree, the idea of living life in a car again was frightening.
A car is freedom in the U.S., but a ball-and-chain in Paris where public transportation is exemplary. AAA has been tracking vehicle ownership costs for decades. In 2016, owning and operating an average sedan costs $8,558 per year, which is equal to $713 per month or 57 cents per mile. In Paris, the annual Navigo Métro unlimited pass for Paris and the entire Île-de-France region, using all of the public transport networks (except Orlyval) costs 63.30€ per month, or 760€ a year ($829). That’s a big savings and allows for lots of cab or Uber rides when I want to splurge a little.
It’s not just the money, either — a car is a huge responsibility and on top of that, it’s dangerous. Nearly 1.25 million people are killed in car crashes each year, globally. On average, that’s 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. Automotive crashes rank as the 9th leading cause of death and account for 2.2% of all deaths globally. (Source: thewanderingrv.com/car-accident-statistics/) Another plus for public transportation is that when you park a car, you have to go back to retrieve it, so you go from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point A again. With public transportation, you can continue in any direction you want without stopping and you never have to go in reverse (except eventually to home!).
Great healthcare had already out-plussed the U.S. even after only three years in France. I wasn’t on the French social security plan yet at the time, but our private health insurance was one-third of the cost of what it was in the U.S. and every doctor appointment, every drug cost a lot less, too. It was shocking and thrilling. The care was better, too, because it wasn’t driven by profit. The doctors actually advised based on your best health, not their pocketbooks. They took time with you because they weren’t trying to move as many patients as possible through their doors to cover the high costs of their malpractice insurance and other expenses the French physicians don’t have.
If you don’t believe me, see the report on France24.com from Aug 30, 2019, “Is French healthcare the best in the world?” With Covid-19, the U.S. isn’t managing the pandemic very well. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the U.S. has 5,029 cases per 1 million people, compared to France’s 2,159 and the worldwide figure of 683 per 1 million. Almost 100,000 people in the U.S have died of the virus, compared to France’s 28,332. The curve in France is way down, while in the U.S. it’s still at the top. So, where do I feel safer from the virus and healthier? You guessed it: France.
Then, there’s simply the quality of life. How much time have you got? Quality of life is different for everyone, but my personal interest in art and culture was more satisfying in France. According to Paul Hodgins in an article last summer in the Voice of OC, “France has a huge cultural heritage to maintain — its museums alone draw more than 20 million people per year. The French Ministry of Culture had a budget of $3.2 billion (2.9 billion euros) in 2016 — about 1 percent of the national budget. Culture is linked to the country’s strong tourism industry, which represents seven percent of France’s GDP.”
By comparison, “The Great Recession” [in the U.S.] led to a sharp decrease in cultural funding nationally. In 2011, the number reached a record low of 0.28 percent of the government’s non-military budget. Local government spending on the arts dropped 21 percent from 2008 to 2013; private funding declined by almost nine percent. Those numbers haven’t bounced back significantly. In the 2019 budget, $155 million was allocated to the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities. The population of the U.S. is about 327 million, so that’s about 47.4 cents per person, only part of which goes to the NEA.”
To give you an idea how low an opinion the U.S. has of the importance of art and culture, Germany spends $20 per person, Finland spends $95 per person and Australia spends $300 per person! And I’m thankful for being surrounded by so much art, both public and private, to keep my creative soul alive.
Then, there’s the cuisine! I know I have nothing to prove here. Anyone who has traveled to France knows one dines here better…and healthier. The U.S. is one of the 26+ countries growing GMO crops, while France is one of the dozens of nations that prohibit the cultivation of GMO crops. (Source: gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/) Science News claims that “An analysis of agricultural pesticide regulations reveals that the United States widely uses several chemicals that are banned or being phased out in the European Union, Brazil and China — three of the world’s other leading pesticide users.” So, where would you rather eat?
Lastly, there’s the politics. It’s the never-ending battle between extreme capitalism vs extreme socialism, neither of which work for the good of the people (in my opinion). Both countries, the U.S. and France, have mixed systems that combine capitalism and socialism, but in different degrees. The U.S. favors the capitalist idea, whereas France favors the socialist idea. And yes, there are lots of times I will disagree with one side over the other, depending on the issue. Personally I am forever seeking the proper balance so that one side isn’t weighing down the scales over the other. Neither country is successful in doing that, but one thing for sure, the playing field in France is whole lot more level. (For an interesting perspective, read this piece.)
In a comparative study of the two countries’ middle income groups by France Stratégie, “Middle Class: Half of Americans, Two-Thirds of the French,” over the past four decades the American middle class has declined by no less than 18%. France has a larger middle class and smaller high and low class than the U.S. But it’s not just that, the low and middle class in France have a much wider safety net, thanks to their robust social security system, employment, and retirement benefits.
I could go on and on. Yep, the list is very long for why I stayed in France and why I’ll likely be here for the rest of my life. Besides, I just plain like it, and isn’t that good enough?
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(Grilled Sardines by Patty Sadauskas)
P.S. If you receive this newsletter in time, don’t miss today’s webinar with Kim Bingham: FINDING AND FINANCING YOUR FRENCH PROPERTY. Put aside one hour of your time to learn what you need to know to make your dream to invest in France come true. Kim and Adrian will make brief presentations and then allow for a Q & A when you can ask whatever you like to learn even more.