Inside a French person beats the heart of a closet philosopher and a rural paysan longing for village life. Here’s a guide to French character.
Intellectually and spiritually, the average French citizen still identifies very much with the land, romanticising rural and village life to a wholly improbable degree. Inside every Bordeaux businessman, Parisian restaurateur or Grenoble academic still beats the heart of a genuine paysan.
Protecting a way of life
To these displaced urban French, the burly farmer – gunning down the local squirrels, fattening geese for their foie gras and counting every cob of corn in their fields – can be forgiven because of all he does to protect a way of life that they abandoned long ago.
Even as the sophisticates fume at the wheels of their Peugeots and Renaults in traffic jams caused by agricultural industrial action (the throwing up of barricades of old tractors, rioting, lobbing stones at the police), they feel deep empathy and spiritual communion with the perpetrators, among whom could well be their grandfathers.
Sixty-four million philosophers
From this rural base, the French have stormed the intellectual high ground. It is the passion for matters of the intellect that makes them natural philosophers. They are a people that eat, drink and breathe philosophy. There is not a farmer, fisherman, waiter, car-worker, shop assistant or housewife who isn’t a closet Descartes or Diderot, a Saint-Simon or Sartre.
The reason for this is that the French are brain-driven. They worship ideas and those who generate them, even if the ideas are only in vogue for the briefest periods. A French man or woman will hold up a piece of nifty reasoning with the same pride that another might feel when displaying an Impressionist painting, a Fabergé egg or a Sèvres vase.