The TV images of the Tour de France show an idyllic country, but behind the gloss is a nation where fears of decline are prompting people to vote for the far right. A trip along the route of the world's most famous cycling race reveals the deep uncertainty ailing the French.
There is a new word in the French language: La mannschaft. It's the term used to define everything that is enviable on the opposite bank of the Rhine River -- in other words, Germany's success. It's a success that is the product of the collective and is free of any of the egocentrics, self-deluded, bling-bling divas and "general director presidents," as the heads of French companies are called, that can make France so stuffy.
A week ago Monday, on Bastille Day, newspapers across France sighed that it wouldn't hurt if the country were a bit more like la mannschaft. Instead, unemployment is twice as high as it is in Germany, growth and investments have fallen far and former President Nicolas Sarkozy was recently detained for questioning by police at dawn. La mannschaft is the polar opposite of the other word currently in fashion in France: le malaise. A deep gloom appears to have taken hold in France. A recent survey showed that two-thirds of the French are "pessimistic" about their country's future.