Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Intrigue of "The Big Sleep"

Thanks to Riana over at These Days in French Life, I came across this fascinating op-ed piece from The New York Times... I have to say, this really got me thinking... And I know we live in an entirely different day and age, of course, and that we are meant to supposedly "move forward" in our approach to modern life, but who's to say that sometimes that act of moving forward might not -- or cannot -- involve a few elements of stepping back in time as well? Or learning from our ancestors and their slower approach to life in order to better preserve the world we live in? And perhaps we could learn to better appreciate our families, all those we love, by detaching ourselves just a bit more from all the material things that tie us to today's society?

I haven't put Riana's lessons to good use yet in my own daily activities, not nearly as much as I'd like, and I fully admit to succumbing to big-city temptations far more often than I should these days... (Yeah, I like some of the finer things too, I won't deny that!) But all that she has accomplished in her Slow Year has really inspired me in my own approach to life, and I will be putting these aspirations into action more and more with time. On that note, I really have conflicting feelings about Sarkozy's approach to certain elements of French society, and how things should change... I've always been a bit "on-the-fence" about my political leanings, and I've never spoken out about them here on my blog, perhaps out of fear of confrontation or disagreement (I've always hated arguments, although I know that French society is basically built on the beauty of debate!). And there are in fact some elements of Sarkozy's proposals that, in theory, make sense and seem to -- perhaps (do you sense my hesitatation here?) -- point us in the right direction. But why is it drummed into us from an early age, in today's society, to work, work, work -- hard and long -- to make more money so that we can, in fact, "be happy"? I know that in today's world we obviously all need to make money, to make a living, to get by, to survive -- but why does this have to be at the cost of our own personal happiness and fulfillment? Why does money have to be ultimately equated with our happiness? More and more I'm questioning this concept, realizing that my own happiness comes from the simplest of things. I'm already tired of the rat race at 33, and I don't even have a particularly stressful job! I'm tired of running after the "almighty dollar" -- or Euro in my case -- I want my happiness and fulfillment to come from those simple things. I know, I know -- you're all going to sigh and say, "You poor thing, but unfortunately, my dear, that's just not the way the world works!" And I guess you'd probably be right...

Or would you? I still have a problem with it. I just don't think I'm wired that way.

And don't get me wrong: I know there's nothing wrong with working hard, being ambitious, accomplishing incredible things. I just don't think I was necessarily cut out to be one of those people. I admire those who do set goals, who make so much happen, who get ahead and make great names for themselves. And I'm certainly not criticizing them. I think it would be great if there could be a better balance of both these kinds of people in the world... And I certainly don't expect anything to be handed to me on a plate, without any effort -- I of course realize that working hard brings great reward as well. But what's so wrong with spending more time with our families instead of working all the time, having in fact different values? Isn't that what a work-life balance is all about? Can we ever escape from this race?

My boyfriend has long said that he agrees with a lot of Sarkozy's principles, but I just don't know if this "work more to earn more" concept really applies to us -- that's the irony of this whole thing! I see how hard he has worked for years in a thankless job that has exhausted him and made him wonder about his own future. But at the same time, his philosophical side has allowed him to find happiness in the smallest, simplest of things, most notably the time he spends with his family and on vacation, away from the craziness of urban city life. It's a contradiction in action: obviously we have to work in that big city to be able to benefit from the comforts of the vacation away, but isn't there a better way of reconciling the two? And I just don't know if I necessarily want to "work more to earn more" myself as I get older... I believe I want more time to treasure the precious, valuable things in life, things that sometimes slip through our fingers faster than we all realize. When my boyfriend's mother passed away less than two years ago, that fact came into focus much sooner than any of us expected -- his father had worked very hard for many years to provide for his family, and after retiring, he planned on spending more time with the ones he loves, doing other things that he loves as well. But then he lost, far too soon, the one person who meant the most to him in the world... These are the curve balls that life throws at us sometimes, but it still makes me question our way of life.

I know that we all must struggle with these questions, and that in a way you may find these reflections of mine fairly clichéd and idealistic -- unrealistic to say the least. And I don't even know if there's a real "point" to my ramblings here today... Except to say that the "stop to smell the roses" approach is one of the main reasons why I fell in love with France! It was what made me feel comfortable here so many years ago, what made me feel at home. I have never really been able to put my finger on it exactly, never been able to describe to my family what kept me here. But I really think that this sense of wonder, this appreciation of the beauty of things around us without feeling compelled to have more at all times, finding happiness with less -- this is one of the primary things that keeps me here.

And to be honest, I'm sometimes a bit frightened that all of that is going to change, and faster than we realize -- far too fast for our own good. I feel lucky to have been able to experience some wonderful things in this country over the last 5-10 years, and very blessed in many ways. And of course I know that France is in need of reform, of improvements on many levels -- but what country isn't? My greatest fear is that this country may become a place that I no longer recognize, a place that it was never meant to be. Do we really want France to turn into another form of America? Please don't misunderstand me: I'm proud of my roots and my heritage, as well as the freedom and democracy that my native country represents, but I call France my home today for a reason. Wouldn't transforming France entirely ruin everything that we have come to know and love about it?

Sorry for this rambling tangent... It was just inspired by the article, and for once I really had to get my thoughts out there.

20 comments:

sognatrice said...

I completely agree with you and you've verbalized this way better than I could. I don't see what's so wrong with having fewer toys but more time.

I'm off to read that NY Times piece now; sounds interesting.

sognatrice said...

Ah, I forgot to add--come on over to my place for an exciting contest...and a great recipe for Ricotta Pound Cake to boot ;)

amy said...

I agree with you, Alice -- there are many wonderful things about America, but our commitment to bone-grinding capitalism isn't one of them. The French shouldn't be so quick to distance themselves from the attributes that made this country great -- idealism, independent thought, and the joy of simple pleasures.

L said...

I know what you mean about politics and working. France really takes to heart the "work to live, not live to work" ethic, and it's a shame America doesn't more. I think the States doesn't have enough safety nets for people and expects everyone should be willing and able to work 60 hour weeks (anything less and you've "chosen" to be poor or uninsured). But sometimes France seems to go too far in the other direction. When I first heard about the 35 hour work week I was in my first econ class and I thought "Well, that won't work mathematically". Now that I've worked in the US and in France, I think it's a great idea. I love having an afternoon off once a week, but I still know deep down that it's probably not really a good policy. As far as ambition and drive and all that, I'd rather think of it in the terms of people who made a big career change or worked they way up in responsibility, whether that meant earning more money and working more hours or not. French people don't decide to become a teacher or open a restaurant after 20 years doing something else, which is a shame to me. Maybe that's what should be encouraged: not working more to earn more, but changing and doing different things.

The Late Bloomer said...

Hey there Sognatrice! Thanks for your input -- I hope you found the piece interesting too... I need to catch up on your latest posts as well, so I'll be sure to stop by and check out the recipe and your news!

Amy -- yes, exactly! I don't know, sometimes I don't have enough confidence in myself to convey these feelings clearly, but this time around I just had to write them down somewhere. It's often a bit scattered, but these are thoughts I tend to have on a regular basis about France and why I couldn't see myself moving back to the U.S. today.

And L, I see exactly what you're saying, and I agree with you on that last point: people definitely DON'T get the opportunity or the support here to change fields and try something new as much as they do back in the States. So that definitely is a drawback... After working hard for years and years, it's super-difficult to change sectors, or even to do so if you've been forced out of your job. It's something that often worries me... But I'm hoping that eventually that might change for the better. I'm not sure if I necessarily agree with the 35-hour work week, but I don't see any wrong in doing regular 40-or so weeks and not feeling guilty about not doing massive amounts of overtime -- I tend to like to devote more of my free time to the things and people I love. I know I'm not cut out for devoting all of my energy and worries to whether I've gotten my job just right on a constant basis... Maybe that might change one day, I don't know -- but I'd much rather devote my attentions to things closer to home.

badaude said...

It's so interesting you just posted about your 'on-the-fence' attitude to Sarkozy when - hey - I've just been doing exactly the same thing! I think the last few weeks have been quite interesting for francophiles brought up with Anglo values...
xbadaude

Anonymous said...

As an American living in the US, but someone who has also lived in France, I have to agree with you. You put into words what I feel about France. I love the US, but over the past 10 or so years the competition to work more, earn more, keep up is eroding almost everything enjoyable about life.

Milie said...

Hello Alice,
I'm French now living overseas since last year. I didn't vote for Sarkozy, and I'm worried of the changes he wants to set up.
Of course I'm not in the best position to see how his policy has begun to affect people and society, even if I read Le Monde.fr every day and I keep in touch with family and friends. I don't see how people would be able to work more to earn more if their companies do not have more needs. I'm not sure that so many firms would let people work more and pay them more! I guess this option of working more is only available for a few people.
I also guess it's hard for people to stay motivated at work, when you know that your President has had a 140% payrise 6 months after being elected, not for having reduced public debts, no, but for the sake of having the same salary standard as the other European PM! Quel culot et quelle honte !
Anyway, I share your point of view about life: some people may be happy thanks to work, other thanks to friends, activities, travels, personal development. Life is all about spending happy moments on earth, whatever the way you choose! You're not alone Alice, I'm also part of those people who don't want to die at 50 because of too much stress!
Take care and have a lovely w-e ;-0
Bises de Sydney

The Late Bloomer said...

Hey Badaude! Love your illustrations, thanks for popping in to share your thoughts as well... I'm going to have to check out your latest post. Like I already mentioned, I'm certainly not the most articulate when it comes to explaining my point of view, and I do tend to be very indecisive, but I'm just frightened of what the latest "changes" are really going to do for this country, and how they will affect us all in the long run. When I try to talk about this with my boy, he tends to overpower me with his strong opinions! So I hold back and tend to keep to myself for the most part...

Anonymous and Milie, it's great to have your point of view as well! I'm going to be visiting my family back in the U.S. over the New Year, and as happy as I always am to see everyone, I tend to dread the heavy consumerism that I know I will encounter while back in the States... Of course, I can't claim not to fall for the temptation myself -- I'm not nearly as well-behaved as I'd like to be! -- but it does always overwhelm me something awful and remind me why I want to head back to France in the end, and why I like to call this place my home today.

Milie, I'll have to check out your blog -- it looks really interesting! I have some friends Down Under myself, including an old pal I went to school with in Paris over 12 years ago now... We've kept in touch all this time and it's always nice to have news from him. Plus a recent friend and colleague who has moved back home to her native country -- hi dear Claire! :-)

badaude said...

Nothing wrong with being indecisive. Check out the Wikipedia entry on 'Negative Capability'. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_Capability
xbadaude
www.badaude.typepad.com

Anonymous said...

Hello dear ex-colleague and still friend! Actually, I think in Australia the work-life balance is pretty good: there is definitely not the stress of Europe or the USA. I agree with Amy's description of capitalism - it's bone-grinding and soul-destroying and it seems to be getting worse.
I have my own dreams of one day leading a bucolic existence, away from the stress of sprawl and skyscrapers. Australia, for all that it "works" very well, is notable for its skyscrapers and sprawl: it's not just beaches here.

Parisian Cowboy said...

Mademoiselle Late Bloomer,

This is a short "message promotionnel" to let you know I've changed the URL of my blog.... it is now :

http://parisiancowboy.blogspot.com

Hugs,

PC

Gabrielle said...

Great post!

I think if you WANT to work more to earn more then you shouldn't be penalized. But I think your idea of staying out of the rat race is a good one. I basically halved my income by coming here but I'm doing a job I believe in and I do "the world" on my terms. Which means if I don't feel like being out in it, I'm not.

La Page Française said...

Gosh, Alice, you wonderfully put into words some things I have been trying to say for a long time but couldn’t' quite verbalize either. I completely agree with you about the rat race and find it a terrible shame that so many people seem intent on reforming some of the things that I have always found so civilized about living and working in France. Having been in the working world in both countries, I have always been so impressed with so many of France's working policies which seem so much more humane than America's eighty-hour work weeks. I'm just like you, I think it's a wonderful thing to have ambition and to work hard, but for me personally, my job is not my life. I don't want to "work more to earn more". If earning less means more time spent with my loved ones, well, so be it. It's not like I'm going to starve (no danger of that, especially with the holidays coming up).

I don't want France to turn into another America (and I'm not being unpatriotic here either, I'm merely talking about the attitude toward working life and leisure life) and it pains me when I often talk to French people, especially ones I work with, who agree with all of Sarkozy's reforms. I don't think they can visualize what they would be missing out on. I mean, like you said, it's not that I don't think that we all have to move forward, and yeah, maybe some reforms may be necessary. But it's a slippery slope, and I do worry about the country going too much in what I think is the wrong direction.

Thanks for your very articulate and insightful views in this post, and the link to the article, I am happy to see there are others who feel this way too.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the work of Serge Latouche ?

http://mondediplo.com/2006/01/13degrowth?var_recherche=Serge+Latouche

Linda said...

I think many people feel as you do-that France may be heading in the wrong direction. There are lots of things wrong with France, but I sure do like the pace of life here better.

Poppy Fields said...

I agree with Linda, I don't want France to change into a mini America. I like the pace of life and the french way...just as there are things I like about and seek out in America...

joy suzanne said...

:sigh:

I've had conversations with Sarkozy-supporters and found myself saying things like "be careful what you wish for" and "I don't even think you can imagine what you'd be giving up"...

My best friend in the US is an engineer and 80 hour weeks are what's to be expected. 80 HOURS, French people!! Come on! Et c'est normale!

Thanks for articulating all this. It's a topic that comes up in conversation regularly, but something that I never feel like writing about.

The Late Bloomer said...

I really appreciate everyone's input and point of view on this, as well as giving me your feedback and supportive comments! I know that being on the fence isn't always the easiest place to be; then again, some may think it's a bit of a copout... And that it reflects the unwillingness to take a particular stance in one direction or another. I know how I feel about a lot of things, but I've just always been on the suspicious end when it comes to politics... So that's what influences me and my leanings, at this point and as much so in the past.

Badaude, thanks again for stopping by -- I'm inspired by the talent in your drawings and in your writing.

Claire, hi there! Thanks for stopping by again. I hope all is going well for you Down Under and that you're settling in comfortably, bit by bit. You are often in my thoughts!

Gabrielle, how wonderful that you are doing a job that you truly believe in -- I do envy you that! And what a blessing. Of course, I'm sure you have worked hard to establish that for yourself, so I admire you for working in that direction. And I tell myself every day that I can reach that goal as well -- someday, I hope!

Page Française, thanks again for your wonderful words of support! It means a lot to me... Articulate, I'm not so sure about -- but maybe sometimes I manage to get the words right!

Anonymous, thank you for that link... And no, I admit that I didn't know Serge Latouche, so I found that piece very interesting. I certainly don't read Le Monde as much as I should, but I've always found it difficult to keep up with all the newspapers and actualité -- it's one of my weak points!

Linda & Meredith -- I hear you on the pace of life here! I think that's what I love the most as well, in spite of the bad attitudes I sometimes encounter. We really should realize more and more what great things we have in our lives, and how lucky we are, in many ways... I'm trying to remind myself of that more and more!

Joy S. -- yes, these are topics that I tend to avoid myself, but every once in a while something hits a nerve, and I just have to get it all out. It's pretty rare that I do that in a public forum, but like I said -- when inspiration strikes, why not?!

One of my very closest friends in the U.S. is a psychiatrist, and she is extremely devoted to her profession -- and yet she still finds time for herself, her family and her friends. I admire her hard work, her passion and drive, and I'm so proud to call her my friend. I know I could learn a lot from her as well, and the funny thing is, as different as we both are, we still manage to share so much every time we get together! (which, if I'm lucky, we get to do about once a year...)

jchevais said...

I think that when "we" think of France, we think of the rural side of it. Paris is not the same thing. You have to admit it. Engineers, Lawyers, Bankers... they all work those crazy hours NOW... Sarkozy has nothing to do with that, so why say that if that happens, it's his fault?

Those people knew what they were getting into when they did their studies...

I do not think that there should be a restriction on 35 hour work week. Did you know that most customer services people (shop people, cashiers, etc.) work split hours in this country and that it's completely legal? They work half their day in the morning and the other half in the evening with a lunch break of a few hours in between. That started when the 35 hour work week came about and companies split the shifts so that the customer service people would only cover their busiest hours...

What happens if you had to commute an hour to get to work? What do you do with all that time? That's the sort of thing that has to stop.