Category Archives: Society

A French-German friendship ?

As a French-German student, I have been experiencing some interesting differences of moral values and point of views. During four years, we (the students) have been told about French-German friendship, the historical base of this relationship and how positive all this has been during 50 years. Nonetheless I would put this affirmation of friendship in perspective from a critical point of view : first within both societies, then from a political and finally from an economical point of view.

Even if German and French are not seen as a hostile horde of aggressive enemies within the populations anymore, neither are they seen as friends. The percentage of pupils who choose German or French as first foreign language to learn at school at the age of 11 is very tiny. This choice is often motivated because, as German is harder to learn, the best pupils are put together in the best German-speaking classes.
Although people know the same American musicians, the national artists are almost unknown on the other side of the border. There is a very good reason for it : there is no common public sphere and no common medias. Even though Arte is a bi national TV channel, its content is mainly focused on culture and it is not really a mass media, which could bring both populations closer.
In both countries, normal citizens can give the name of one or two politicians of the other countries (at best). Negative nicknames such as the “boches”, “teutons”, and so on for the French and “Franzacken” for the German still remain within the populations.Typical cliche of a german
Of course, not all French and German people dislike each other : German like the way French people live and especially how French people enjoy life. There is a typical German saying to describe this pleasant situation : “to live like God in France”. French people, on the other hand, admire the German organization and their economical power. But most of these statements are stereotypes, indeed, French and German people simply do not really know each other.

Since the signature of the Elysée’s treaty in 1963, both countries tried to maintain the myth of a French-German friendship. Though the couples de Gaulle/Adenauer, Schmidt/Giscard d’Estaing, Kohl/Mitterand, have brought the political elites closer, the majority of the French and German populations are indifferent to each other. Even ministers are not able to speak each other’s language. The last high-ranked French minister of the education who could, was Luc Ferry in 2002. Angela Merkel can speak Russian because she comes from the former German Democratic Republic, but not French : hence, where can both populations find examples of a strong friendship ?
Furthermore, the political cooperation between both countries is not as intensive as expected. In fact, both countries have often the same policy and stand together on consensual subjects (the nuclear program of Iran for example) . Nevertheless, inside the EU, France makes sure that Germany does not take too much power . There is a flavor of mistrust in this political relationship, which absolutely does not match with a friendship.

Typical cliche of French peopleFrance and Germany are both the most important economic partner to each other. Nevertheless, the trust in this partnership on both side of the border is reduced. For instance, the French Government openly backed the merger of the French pharmaceutical group Sanofi-Sythelabo with Aventis (which was already a Franco-German company) in order to create a “national champion”, which could compete internationally with giants of the sector. On the contrary, when Alsthom (a train manufacturer) faced severe financial problems, the French economy minister Sarkozy prevented Siemens from buying it and urged banks to grant loans. Nowadays medias talk about this operation as a success how Alsthom has been “saved” by the French government. The question is : saved from what ? From more european integration ? If a big Indian company, for instance, wants to buy Alsthom : can Alsthom resist alone or will the government back it again, this time with even more protectionist measures ?
I think this position is not responsible in the long term. The more European companies stand together and merge with each other, the more the will be able to challenge international giants.

The next example of a (mostly) bi national cooperation is Airbus. By the way, it is funny to see how French people are persuaded that Airbus is a French company, forgetting the thousands of jobs in Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.
This company is currently facing severe financial difficulties and it is interesting to see how both French and German governments get involved in a strict internal problems. In my opinion, not the Prime Minister but the executive director has to announce job cuts. The politicians must garantee that Airbus strictly remains European, because aircrafts are not a normal business. But the rest is a matter of business and not of politics.

To conclude this economic part, I would say that German and French companies (and sometimes involving governments) are quite rough with each other, forgetting that if they would play together and fair, without even thinking about any friendship, they could compete internationally.

We have two choices : either governments must find the means in order to bring both countries closer.

* They have to support the teaching of French or German in their countries, and could create common mass medias (radios and TV channels).
* On a political level, they must stop to mistrust each other and try to build an European unity.
* Then from an economical point of view, governments should not get involved in companies’ policies.

Or instead of using the word friendship, choosing the word partnership, which suits much better to this relationship and hope that the European Union will continue its unification without a strong Paris/Berlin axis…

Teaching foreign languages in France

Foreigners often make fun of French people for their poor language skills: they are seen as unable to speak any other language than their own.
Even if solutions were proposed in the past, like learning English in primary schools, French people regularly complain about the English level of their fellow countrymen. In this global world, English-speaking students have obviously more chances to find a job than the others. Nevertheless, English (and knowledge of languages in general) remains at the bottom of the French Education system priorities.

First of all, there is a clear problem regarding to the contents of language courses in France. Pupils must learn grammar for years but they are not taught how to give an oral speech ! Moreover, teachers speak, answer and communicate only in French during the class: the teenagers only listen to audio tapes, which is far from being attractive!
The problem comes from the pupils too. They are ashamed of speaking with the right accent: they are absolutely not used to it. When they are asked a question, they answer it without even trying to improve their pronunciation at all (what the teacher does not require anyway). This feeling of shame is not to be related to any anti-Anglo-Saxon (especially anti-American) feeling within the French society, but rather to a mistrust regarding the English language and to the lost pride of French. Indeed, our language can no longer compete with English on an international point of view.

The successive French governments have been claiming to be fighting for the protection of the French language, which contains more and more English words. The Toubon law for instance, imposed French as the official language in French companies. Any advertisement on television or in the newspapers containing foreign words must be translated. However, this law had very little effect and new English words are still being inserted into the French language day after day. And the wide-spread and Anglo-Saxon Internet vocabulary will not help to reverse this situation!
It would be nonsense to try to “save” the French language and to prevent English words inclusions, as if France were a Gallic village, surrounded by nasty Romans!! The German language is full of French words imported during the XIXth century and German people do not have the feeling to speak French at all. Scandinavians are known to be excellent English-speaking people, and yet neither Swedish nor Danish are dying languages. Why should it be otherwise in France?
English-speaking people are blamed in France for not speaking any other language as well but unlike French people, everyone can understand them, in China, India, Germany and so on…

There could be some simple methods to improve the English level in general: teachers must only communicate in English with their pupils, so that they appropriate this language. Then many more movies and programs should be broadcasted in original version in theaters and on television and all interviews or talks of famous foreign people on the daily news should be subtitled and not synchronized. The impact on the general population could be huge if they got used to listening to English programs.

French politicians dare to make such decisions. In the first place, this could look like a the defeat of the French versus English. But people could take great advantage of it and on the long run, such decisions would turn into a success.