My new fascination with France isn’t the cafe lifestyle, a hot baguette, the museums or the Eiffel Tower.
It’s the day-to-day quality of life that we experienced, since my wife Yaz and I bought a home in Paris — something I did not understand before or expect.
Though frustrated with things on our shores lately, I am a proud American who didn’t get a U.S. passport until my early 30s.
My father and uncle served in World War II, playing their tiny part in helping to defeat the Nazis. As kids, we loved the tales of the French resistance, who my treasured Uncle Jack allegedly fought along with.
We were ignorant about the country
Mindless Americans, me included, on the one hand love to visit France with all its urbane beauty, its food and its wine. Francophobes, we would criticize the French “attitude,” sometimes dubbed the Calimeros in France, based on the cartoon character who wears a sad unhappy French expression.
We frowned at the labor laws and questioned the high taxes and the difficulty of starting a business there. Socialism run amok.
Of course, some of those facts are not far off, through the lens of a laissez-faire American.
However, I have learned that I don’t truly understand a place until I live there. As a visitor, I had missed the big picture about France.
It offers a unique healthy way of living with its cultural habits, values and most importantly laws that protect its citizens. Too many of our policies in the United States shield special interests, not its people.
Take the usury laws in France, which forbid sky-high interest rates on small business and people — unlike our 29 percent credit card rates in the US.
Also, people cannot carry excess credit card balances in France.
Raising your credit card limit is a badge of honor in the U.S., but merely a device by banks to hit you with higher fees and interest rates.
Those are policies that favor banks, not people.
My health care experience in France has been unmatched
High quality doctors offer low-cost, efficient services.
Appointments are easy to get with most tests taking place in the doctor’s office, conducted by the doctor. Results are immediate. My doctor looks me in the eye, not at a computer screen.
Prescription drugs are cheap and trained pharmacists have the time to pay attention to your needs. They don’t spend all day filling out prescriptions and are the first line of defense in the French healthcare system, which works well for my friends here.
One injection I take in the U.S. costs $1,700 for four doses versus $90 in France.
Legal opioids that inflict so many Americans are outlawed, as is marijuana.
Laws for the people, not for pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
Organic food is not a tricky device to raise prices in France. Most chemicals in food, popular in the U.S., have always been banned. Food costs, like most essentials, are ridiculously low, compared to the same items back home.
Privacy protection, free speech and private property rights
These are hallmarks of French values and policies.
All three are eroding in the U.S.
Labor strikes are common in France, but rarely cause the disruption that Americans seem keen on pointing out.
The political discourse is generally civil and respectful. I live next to the Parliament where there is always a protest of some sort.
This week, a group of butchers gathered across the street and affordable housing advocates protested down the block.
The police handle the public angst with decorum, and I have never witnessed them roughing up protestors.
Politics here are like a silent black and white film, compared to the psycho 3-D political blockbuster action thriller in America.
Pickpockets are common, but France is safe, not violent
I would rather lose my iPhone than my life.
Dating back to 1939, French gun laws are strict. There is no right to bear arms, and to own a gun, you need a hunting or sporting license, which needs to be routinely renewed and requires a psychological test.
Lawsuits are rare, not a way of life, like in the U.S.
Again, laws to protect people, not the gun lobby and trial lawyers.
France has strict laws preventing retail discounting to protect small shop owners.
The schools are excellent as well, and efficiently funded. In the past 20 years, France didn’t flush $1.5 trillion down the toilet, fighting two disastrous wars. Instead, it invested in its people.
Policies for the public, not military contractors.
The streets and sidewalks are clean.
The Metro is safe in Paris and most people do not talk on their speaker setting, FaceTime incessantly, shoot a slew of selfies or GPS constantly. French people talk softly on the trains out of respect for one another.
I rarely bump into anyone on a Paris sidewalk who is mindlessly texting, unless it is a tourist. You are more likely to see people reading a book or a newspaper.
You will never hear, “I am Bob, I am your server tonight,” and the waitress wouldn’t dare interrupt you while you are eating with “how is everything?”
Getting your check takes time because no one is rushing you out the door. What’s the hurry?
Paris isn’t perfect
Homelessness is becoming a larger problem but wide-scale tent cities are not strewn across Paris. Yet.
No one is racing to get things done lickety-split, though they drive like they’re in a race. Hard working, the craftsmen fixing our home take great care, but it is taking too much time. American impatience does not play well here.
Parisians do have a habit of walking very closely behind you. It’s a minor annoyance.
The process of buying a home in Paris is fodder for a follow up story later.
A taste: the 300-page paper contract was daunting. The City of Paris had the first right of refusal to purchase our home and we waited months for a wet signature.
What do the French people think of Americans?
They love our optimism, our music, our movies, our stories, our self expression, our entrepreneurial spirit and our vast frontier. They are fascinated by New York, California and Las Vegas.
Most young people dream of visiting the U.S. They understand that both France and America are very special places (though, like many Americans, they are confused about what is going on in our troubled and beloved wonderland).
But the French are rooting for us — they have not forgotten our global role in Europe throughout history. And they identify with our unmovable commitment to freedom.
I just turned 70 and celebrated my birthday in Paris with 50 friends and family members. My only goal in life now is to enjoy it to the fullest before the Grim Reaper appears.
I think I can fend him off longer in France than in the U,S. For now.
Footnote: I am taking French lessons. My goal is one new word a year. Bonjour!