Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who's laughing now

Credit crunch, what credit crunch? The French have every right to feel smug at the moment. For the last decade our Gallic friends have looked enviously on as the Brits have been glutinously ramming debt onto our store and credit cards, and drowning ourselves in mortgage debt.

Meanwhile the sluggish French economy underperformed the rest of the world.
Credit cards as such do not exist in France - everything has to be paid off at the end of the month and the moment a Frenchman gets overdrawn at his bank, a letter drops through the post box telling him his account will be closed if matters aren’t remedied immediately, and that he will then be placed on the list of bad debtors at the Banc de France and never allowed to open an account again. Hardly a recipe for financial risk taking and innovation, with the result that the French are one of the most parsimonious nations around.

Saving is still in vogue, and despite producing some of the best and most expensive wine in the world, poor old Jean Pierre doesn’t have the choice of glugging back the premier cru and worrying about it 10 years later, instead the average French man drinks wine dispensed from petrol pumps in the local cave-cooperative. It might rot his gut and give him a fearsome headache in the morning, but at least he’s got money in the bank.

And so who’s laughing now? Certainly not the Champagne swilling, adrenalin obsessed, gambling junkies of the city of London. Only this week I had an email from a friend in the square mile fearing for his job. His plans for the future were about as creative as the sub-prime securitisations that got us all into this mess. He wants to come to France for a year and - wait for it….- work in a poulet-roti van.

Once he has learnt the trade his idea is to return to London and set up a rotisserie business, presumably hoping that the credit crunch is still biting, and that the filet mignon munching, caviar spreading, Margaux necking multitude have suddenly developed plainer habits and can think of nothing better than a quiet evening at home with my friend’s version of a KFC bargain bucket.

I told some of the locals in the bar, and wide smiles crept over their faces. Smug, the French, never!