According to the “enshrined belief system” I grew up with, says John Sturgis in The Spectator, the French are “work-shy layabouts” who never turn up on time as they’re “too busy drinking wine for breakfast”. But I’ve recently had cause to doubt this. While staying in the Languedoc a couple of weeks ago, I texted a plumber about a leaky loo. He arrived the next day 10 minutes early, did the whole job, clean-up and all, in 45 minutes, and charged only €20. “I can’t recall a plumbing job in the UK costing anything less than £200.” Could it be that not only are French workers not lazy, but that the “protectionism around their work culture” might even protect consumers against rip-off pricing?
France does other things right too. Town centres are sensitively presented, with none of the fast-food outlets you get in a historic English town like York. You can go from Calais to the Mediterranean at 85mph with no traffic jams and no litter for 1,200 miles – “and even enjoy a decent meal at a motorway service station”. Back in Britain, once you’ve survived the “50mph average speed check zone”, you have to content yourself with a Pret sandwich eaten at the desk, “because we no longer have a lunch hour, let alone two”. It’s time to admit it: “the French are better than us”.