How to Get What We Want: What Americans can Learn from the French

Protesters bang pots and pans at the site of a televised address held by President Macron, hoping to drown out his words. (Photo Credit: The San Diego Union Tribune)

PARIS, France – France is synonymous with relaxed living and happy, well fed people; probably because that’s exactly what life in France is like. The French seem to work little and play hard, an idea that is enforced by the fact that France is consistently listed as one of the top 25 happiest countries in the world with their outstanding quality of life. The average life expectancy in France is 82 years, but the life expectancy In the United States is 77 years and we’re all burned out. So, what are we doing wrong, and how can we live like the French? 

The thing is, at this point, France is also synonymous with protests – lots of protests. Recently, on Tuesday, March 7th, over one million protesters crowded the streets of France, leaving deserted schools, inactive trains, and empty stores in their wake. This was their sixth day of protest over the two months prior, with each amassing hundreds of millions of protesters. The cause of the commotion? France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, announced plans to raise the country’s retirement age a whopping 2 years, from 62 to 64. He was met with major opposition and, according to the New York Times, livid citizens vowed to “bring France to a standstill.”

For a long while, it did not look like the French government would retract Mr. Macron’s plans. Following their extreme dislike, their National Assembly, lower house of Parliament, upper house, and Senate lawmakers discussed the proposed bill; and they hoped it would be passed by the end of March. 

Still, the French carried on; banding together, they lit trash fires, waved flags, and more recently, revived a traditional form of protest called the “casserolade,” in which the public bangs pots and pans together to create cacophonic sound. 

Despite the fact that on April 14th the French Constitutional Council approved Macron’s plan to slowly raise the country’s retirement age to 64 by 2030, these protests are a wonderful example of French stubbornness. The moment any idea is raised that may at all make living slightly inconvenient, the French band together with a frightening passion. And usually their work pays off as the French have an incomparable level of work-life balance. Here are a few of the benefits that the French enjoy:

1. Two words: universal healthcare

2. French law requires a minimum of 5 weeks paid vacation for workers

3. Paid maternity leave for up to or even exceeding a year, and paid paternity leave

4. Generous unemployment benefits in the event of layoffs

5. Government pension

6. Unlimited sick days (within reason, after a few days you must provide a doctor’s note

7. College tuition ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars

8. French commuters get a commuting allowance to cover the cost of travel

9. You legally do not have to work on a Sunday as it is considered a day of rest, and office workers are legally prohibited from going to work on a sunday

10. The Right to Disconnect law: if a person is away from the office they reserve the right to not answer texts, calls, or emails from their employer, and can’t get in any trouble if they don’t. Most french workers follow this law (very) strictly

11. (This one’s crazy) French law not only asserts that employees should not eat lunch at their desks, but employers must provide some form of restaurant or food options at midday

Clearly, us Americans are doing something horribly wrong. While the French were busy protesting a retirement increase of two years, the U.S has changed the age at which an individual can retire and receive Social Security benefits from 62 to 67 (to increase over a 20 year period) – an increase of 5 years. Even though, in this case, the French are losing, they’re still winning.

Protests in early March. (Photo Credit: PBS NewsHour)