Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ah, Socialism. Or is that--what?--history?

I'm loving Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.  It's helping me recognize some aspects of French culture that I might not have been aware of before reading.  In reading just a couple of chapters, I'd like to report that I'm fairly certain that at least outside of the business place, if not within the business place, too, the French operate on P-time unless otherwise directed.  This may explain what North Americans tend to categorize as "bad service" because the French take their time.  It may explain why they work only 35 hour weeks, or why they take entire months off of work.  Because working every second of every day is unimportant, is unproductive, in the end.

But what I really want to discuss is something French businesses do that the book discusses called Les soldes or "the sales."  Twice a year, once from the middle of January to the middle of February and once from the middle of June to the middle of July, the French have their "sales."  Anything can go on sale at this point in time from clothing to furniture.  "To hold a sale outside that period, merchants have to obtain special approval from the police.  The rest of the year, smalls hops and big retailers can't so much as offer a rebate without facing the wrath of the law" (11).  Honestly, when I read this, I thought of socialism.  Of bureaucracy.  The state decides when stores have sales for goodness' sake!  But then I continued reading.

"It dates back to practices of the merchants' guilds in the Middle Ages," the book reads (11).  Um...before socialism existed.  "At that time, guilds had two functions: they settled disputes among tradesmen of one town and protected the tradesmen against competition from other towns" (11).  Such a rule explains why France still has what we call "Ma-and-Pa" shops.  Because quality and pricing is protected and managed, allowing small stores the chance at survival.  And thus, in France, sales are regulated.

It's not socialism, which is easy to accuse a country of, but not so easy to prove.  It's history.  I like this little addition in the book, "The practice of regulating sales predates the discovery of America by at least three hundred years" (11, emphasis added).  I.e. before we feared socialism, before we worshiped capitalism, before we even existed, France had a system in place to protect its business men and women, by way of guilds, regulation, and police.

And that's why its important to know history, because politics, government, and therefore culture are innately connected to it!

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