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Do you agree? American Dream overrated when compared to France

Columnist Nick Inman explores the existence of the French Dream and how it differs to its American counterpart

There is a French Dream that is not particularly glamorous and as a result is highly underrated Pic: Sv Svetlana / Shutterstock

The world, France included, is in thrall to the American Dream: the idea, promoted by Hollywood, that any one of us can be successful if we have initiative and work hard.

France, in contrast to the US, is often seen (even by its own people) as a highly-regimented country that stifles enterprise and frowns on a go-getter attitude.

It does not value rip-roaring, individual success; it despises wealth. 

Here, you are expected to accept and conform; to value egalité and fraternité as much as the liberté which, if you are shameless enough, allows you to stride out in front of everyone else.

Read more: What Americans notice when they move to France

The French Dream is highly underrated 

It is easy to forget that this wonderful and maddening country offers an alternative to the glittering lifestyle of Vegas and LA. There is also a French Dream, even if no one ever calls it that. 

It is not glamorous and as a result is highly underrated. Many of the people who are living it do not realise their good fortune, so I want to celebrate it for a moment in this column. It could be a useful paradigm for the world to aspire to.

By the French Dream, I do not mean the fantasy that draws foreigners on holiday or to buy second homes: lazy lunches in pavement cafes over one or more bottles of fine red wine, etc. 

Neither do I mean living the high life in Paris. It is more subtle than that.

The French Dream is to be found a long way from the hectic pace of the capital, in a village, town or small city of the provinces, especially south of the Massif Central where the climate is benign to sweet.

What is the French Dream?

The typical Dreamer often lives near where she (or he) was born and has her extended family around her. 

She knows an enormous amount of people in the locality and this gives her a secure identity. 

She knows how the local political and administrative systems work; she is glad that she lives in a commune with a mairie where the state presents a human face.

She has a moderately good job – teaching, say - that delivers a decent but not excessive salary. 

She does not crave promotion and knows that if she puts in the years she will end with a comfortable pension. 

There are adequate childcare facilities near where she lives to help her raise a family, and the state school provides a good free education for her children. 

She and her kin are well served by the French healthcare system.

Read more: ‘Don’t let recent protests in France detract from the positives’

Society is everything in the French Dream

The difference between the French Dream and its American counterpart is solidarity. 

It is an experience of communality not individuality, requiring the sacrifice of part of one’s liberty in the common interest.

In the French Dream, society is everything. 

What would be the point of being a millionaire if you had to live in a fortified compound with your deprived and bitter fellow citizens scrabbling for crumbs outside your gate? 

Participating in the monde associatif (charities and other voluntary organisations working for social, sporting or cultural aims) is considered part of the good life in this country. 

Taxes are paid to help the less fortunate

People living the French Dream do have problems and they do complain sometimes – and don’t they show it with innumerable strikes and demonstrations? – but often their gripes are not about their own lot but that of others.

They want the unfortunate to have what they have. 

They see taxes and social charges not as a way to finance greedy government bureaucrats but to help those who have lost out through circumstances of birth or lack of opportunity.

A dream this lifestyle may be, but many people do live it. I know several of them. 

They are not high-flyers in politics and the media. They are modest people. You will know them when you meet them.

Is the French Dream available to all? In practice, no, but it is a shared aspiration.

Circumstances of birth, geographical location, opportunities, education and ability all play their part, but all political campaigns reduce to this: to make the Dream the rule, rather than the exception.

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