French Family Values

Since moving to the UK I’ve had the opportunity to get over the Channel to France, and also to get to know some French people including one of Au Pairs, some customers at our business and more recently one of my employees. And the more I see France, and the more I get to know the French, the more I like them.

Not the French elites, the Strauss-Kahns, and the de Villepins and the rest who are perhaps some of the most corrupt and unpleasant people in the world, nor their bought-and-paid-for hangers-on, but ordinary Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, and traditional French society. Sure they do things differently from us, and their beliefs and traditions aren’t ours, but on the whole they seem to get a lot of very important things right much of the time, things that we’ve lost in Canada, and the UK.

Consider this blogpost by Anna Raccoon (who happens to live in France):

…Thus it is unthinkable to the French that you should have the ‘individual right’ to leave your wealth to whomever you please – of course it should stay within the family, it should go to your children, it is to your family that your first duty lies.

This has caused many an ulcer and fed a fair few obese lawyers as the ex-patriot community wriggle and squirm in their efforts to disinherit the son they haven’t spoken to for many a year…

The moment you have children here, they have an interest in the family home, an interest which is protected by law. You cannot put it at risk without their permission, or a lengthy process by which a Guardian is appointed to consider the advisability of that which you plan if your children are too young to speak up for themselves.

That is why the French are quite happy to rent when they go off as youngsters to the big cities to work; one day they will return to the family commune and take their share of the family home. Sometimes big homes are divided into two or three to accommodate all the inheritances, sometimes they are sold and the money used to build a smaller home within the commune.

However, the quid pro quo is that since the family home is their inheritance they have a responsibility towards it and those who continue to live in it. A responsibility which is protected by law.

If the roof over your elderly Mother’s head is leaking – it is your job to fix it. If your Mother needs someone to cook for her every day, it is your job to do so, or pay for someone to do so. If you are not able to afford it, or perhaps have vowed never to speak to your Mother again (unusual here, as you will see) then the Mairie will fix her roof, or provide her meals, or a place in the local care home – but they will take a lien on the house whilst she lives in it. Your inheritance will be whatever is left….. your parents cared for you, now it is your turn to care for them. It is only the rarest of cases where there is neither the equity in the inheritance, nor the ability of the children to provide, where the state must step in and shoulder the burden.

There are care homes here, I shall probably end up in one myself one day, no children to spoon gruel down my throat; my beneficiaries will be asked whether they wish to pay for it themselves, to care for me themselves, or lose that portion of their inheritance that it ultimately costs. Their choice.

What doesn’t happen here is that the elderly end up in a care home because their youngsters are too busy paying off a mortgage on an expensive ‘home-as-investment’, whilst simultaneously investing in Jimmy Choo shoes – ‘because you’re worth it’ – and whining because the NHS ‘promised cradle to grave care’ and ‘how dare the government expect any contribution from their inheritance’ simply because Mum’s roof leaked and she couldn’t manage at home any longer.

I’m a big believer in our Anglo heritage of indvidual rights and liberties. However, I’ll also happily admit to recognizing that “No man is an island…” and all that and as such I think that we have responsibilities and obligations to each other. The genius of the French method as outlined above, is that it aligns peoples’ legal responsibilities with their natural instincts, and encourages to them to look after those closest to them, rather than allowing them to pass the burden over to some nanny-state government program to deal with.

Libertarians won’t like it, but somewhere Edmund Burke (he of the “little platoons”) will be smiling.