Thursday, April 26, 2007

Yep, that's living in Europe

Yes, oh yes. This is about it in a nutshell.
While many of the other Europeans seemed to adjust to life in Draguignan with relatively few complaints, many of the English speaking assistants continued to ask each other the same question: why does nothing here work? The bank, the government, the school system, all seemed to be part of a general conspiracy to make our lives as complicated and difficult as possible, and yet the other assistants working at my school (Italian and Spanish) seemed both better able to cope with, and more able to get results from, the reluctant bureaucracies plaguing our daily lives. Many of the things we got worked up about (having to wait a month for a checking account) didn’t seem to phase them: we obviously had radically different expectations about how things should work.

In the South of France, most establishments, including banks, supermarkets, and doctor’s offices are closed for two or three hours during lunch, don’t open at all on Sunday, and often take off Mondays as well. During public holidays (which are frequent) nothing is open except the hospital and one emergency pharmacy. (The exception to this pattern is the schools, which are open all week, including Saturday morning). For those of us coming from such capitalistic countries as the US, this seems illogical and downright lazy. Practicality and efficiency are not valued in France the same way they are in the United States or the UK; having time to spend with one’s family, or relaxing in a café, seems to be more important than putting in a full day’s work. The French don’t see their lifestyle as lazy or incompetent, however. They see it more as an exchange of efficiency for a more agreeable way of life. One French student explained it thus: if you want to work long hours and make money you can go someplace like England (thanks to EU arrangements). If you want to relax and make less money, you can stay in France.
All I need now is something like that describing Japan.

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