France has its fair share of problems, certainly: ghettoes filled with unassimilated immigrants, a declining educational system, hideous modern architecture and more. But Dalrymple says that, all in all, its advantages over Britain are decisive. One example:
The attention to detail in shops is another painful contrast with Britain (for a Briton, that is). A florist in France gives the impression of being a specialist in flowers, not of someone who sells flowers faute de mieux or merely as a sideline. He or she wraps the blooms with an aesthetic consideration for the flowers themselves, with matching coloured tissue, for example. This raises the price, no doubt, but also the quality; and this constant concentration on detail raises the level of the florist’s, or his employee’s, practical intelligence. This is also true of the sale of fruit, fish, meat, cheese, bread, pâtisserie, etc. And all this adds to the enjoyment of life, though like any virtue it can go too far and become mere pettiness.
I gave this to a Frenchman for a comprehension exercise.
He agreed about the service in shops.
He said, ‘Our drains? What about your beautiful hedgerows?’ He said that maybe intelligent young people work for the government somewhere towards the top, but the ones the ordinary person has to deal with are deadbeats.