France as a balance between order and chaos

One of the biggest attractions of France for me is that it sits on a nice balance-point between the ordered Anglo-Saxon/Germanic northern Europe and the chaotic Latin south. I have often said I find the UK sterile and over-regulated, and recently complained about the Germans micro-managing people’s lives. On the other hand, I don’t miss the utter chaos of Africa much, nor the lesser-chaos of Russia and Asia. I’ve never lived in Italy, Portugal, or Spain but from what I’ve heard and seen on visits the laid-back Latin culture can be infuriating at times, especially to those from northern Europe. I still remember the remarks of my German mate when he attempted to hire a car in Italy on his honeymoon: he wasn’t impressed.

Of course, the balance point between order and chaos depends very much on where you’re from originally. I have a Venezuelan mate who thinks the Barcelona-Taragona region of Spain is about as ordered as he wants it, whereas a Norwegian might find it bordering on anarchy. For this Brit, France is right in the middle, and indeed the European transition from order to chaos appears to happen across France. Lille is more Belgian than French, and people from there think Marseilles might as well be in Africa. In France you can keep heading south until you find the mix of order and chaos that is perfect for you.

Paris is Paris and hardly representative of France, but it still holds a nice balance. That said, when you need to deal with the local prefecture you dearly wish the Germans or Dutch were in charge because it feels like you’re in southern Italy. Even the French complain bitterly about the levels of service they receive in a prefecture. I’ve not spent much time in the south of France, but I’d probably find the Mediterranean way of life annoying after a while, despite the weather. Annecy seems to hold a very attractive mix of Swiss efficiency with a large dollop of French creativity thrown in, making it highly liveable but not as dull as Geneva (is anywhere?). A Swiss standard of living with French restaurants is pretty good on most measures, but people from southern Europe might find it too boring.

France’s diverse geography is probably its biggest asset, but the cultural change as you go from north to south is another. It’s often overlooked amid talk of weather, wine, and food but it probably explains why France is so highly regarded as a place to live and visit: village by village you can fine tune your preferences until you find somewhere you like.

Note that I said live and visit, not work. Working in France is another matter entirely, one which falls quite some way from any balance-point that a Brit would find desirable. On this I shall make no remarks.

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6 thoughts on “France as a balance between order and chaos

  1. “village by village you can fine tune your preferences until you find somewhere you like.”

    Hadn’t thought of it like that.

  2. I still remember the remarks of my German mate when he attempted to hire a car in Italy on his honeymoon: he wasn’t impressed.

    Are Germans ever impressed by anything that is not done exactly as they would expect it to be done in Germany? Even when they go on holidays to another country with, you would think, an understanding that things might be different there?

    I suppose all nationalities are like that to some extent but, for some reason, I find the Germans particularly hard to take in that regard.

  3. All of France is a bit shit. It’s either the forest or the banlieus going up in flames. Take your pick.

  4. A trend in southern Spanish seaside towns is to confiscate beach towels, chairs etc that have been set out in the early morning and not occupied until hours later. Either that or lie in wait to administer a juicy fine. Turns out most of the offenders are German.

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