Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yes, it can be done better

Pardon this last-minute rant on the superiority of the French approach to the social contract. Those of you whose flesh crawls when I start to talk about politics should probably skip this one.

No, I mean it. It's not worth the irritation, as this one isn't even particularly funny. Just look at the pretty food picture, and enjoy today's other post, the heartwarming one. We'll all be happier that way.

OK, now we're down to the socialists, liberals and independents still reading. With no further ado, here is my list of things that France does way better:

1.) Travel. The whole time we were building all those big fancy cars, the French were putting in high speed rail. The trains arrive on time. They are clean and shiny and super-fast. They aren't exactly cheap, but that seems worth it when you're going 200 miles an hour through gorgeous scenery. Who cares if you have to drive a silly little two-door Twingo around town, if you can travel the long distances in comfort and style?

2.) Shipping. To get our stuff mailed over here via Fed-Ex cost an ungodly amount of money, and took pretty much forever. Customs hassled us like crazy so that we could be reunited with our winter coats, extra hats and American Girl dolls.

Here, we bought about ten nicely-constructed little boxes, each one about 40 euros. We filled each one of them up with seven kilos of our stuff, and then just dropped them off at the post office, where the woman at the desk was super nice to us. (Did you hear that, Park Slopers? Nice postal workers?) The boxes arrived yesterday at Bill's parents' house, about five days later, zero hassle. I heart La Poste.

3.) Basic Medical Care. Here, the doctors see you as soon as you call, they give you a referral right away, and you see the next medical specialist soon after, until they figure out what's wrong with you. An E.R. visit cost us sixty bucks, and resulted in an accurate diagnosis and a speedy solution to the presenting problem, served up with total professionalism.

If you get a test done, you get a letter with the test results delivered to your house the next day.

Look, if I'm going to contract some horribly rare disease, I would rather be able to be treated by the super-geniuses at some incredible teaching hospital in the center of Manhattan. But it's not like most of America's sick people get anything like that level of rarefied treatment.

So, for the basic stuff we're all more likely to suffer, how great is it not to have to fight with the doctor's secretary over whether they accept BlueCare Plus or CrossHeart Freedom Plan Extra?

Show up, see a doctor, get medicine from the smart and adorable pharmacist, and feel better. Go back to living your life.

4.) Local, fresh food that actually tastes like something. And is frequently served with butter sauce.

5.) Fresh spring water pouring out of fountains centrally located in every town. Back home, we have two choices: gross water fountains or bottled water. Here, you just cup your hands and gulp. Hooray for the Romans and their ancient aqueducts, and hooray for the French for knowing a good thing when they drink it.

6.) Nuclear power. Somewhere back there in time, the U.S. took a wrong turn on the way we power up. We cut off the tops of mountains in West Virginia and pulverize them to extract coal, then fill in the valleys with the remaining bits of chopped up rock.

And now, we've got an oil slick the size of Kansas spreading into the open ocean, and no particularly bright ideas for how to make it stop spilling.

Only history will show which of us made the better choice. But so far, France's history of nuclear safety seems to kick the ass of our search for more and more dead dinosaur carbon.

7.) A real social contract. Look, I don't relish the idea of giving half of my paycheck to the government. That's money I could be using to buy Cheetos and Coke (oh, and paying to health insurance companies.) But if I were paying high taxes with the idea that that money would be used for things to make my life and the lives of my fellow citizens more pleasant, secure, and fulfilling, I don't think I would complain all that much.

On the flip side, it would be easy to argue that part of the reason France can spend its citizen's money this way is that it doesn't have to spend such a huge percentage on its military. For some awful reason, the U.S. has ended up as the N.Y.P.D. for the entire planet, charged with protecting and serving all of Western Europe. But, I guess, good for them for figuring out how to sponge off the military largesse we seem so eager to provide.

OK, rant officially over. No matter where you live, dear reader, you can now go back to enjoying the things your own country does best, and complaining about the things that really could be done a whole lot better.


  1. I love both posts, Launa. Both of them.

    Your friendship and travel lessons are worth learning right here at home. And if more of us took the time to ponder their truths before we hit the runway, transitioning into new cultures, even for only ten days, would be much easier. Our eyes and hearts would be far wider and more open than we tend to keep them.

    And as for the list of things France does better: thank you for sharing them with us and for reminding us that there are countries out there that really are better and more efficient at many, many things than the US of A. No apology necessary; it wasn't a rant. It was simply a list of observable and measurable truths you have learned in your nine months overseas.

  2. France or Sweden. The only two places I would rather live than my current locale (Canada). I don't mind paying taxes. Weird I know, but true. Taxes put money where is is needed the most. Which makes life better FOR ALL OF US. Thanks again!