Ask quite a few foreigners what matters most to the French and they’re likely to say money and family. And, according to recent studies, that’s exactly right. Those are the things they relate to very closely. Where money is concerned this shows up in a reluctance to give to charitable causes. Only one in five of the French (22%) makes regular donations totalling more than €75 a year. In the latest edition of the World Giving Index (www.cafonline.org) they come out in 80th place as measured by their scale of contributions to charities – below Kosovo and Haiti.
Why so? Jacques Malet, an expert in this field, has no doubts: “They pay a lot in taxes and social charges – or they think they do – and then they see the workings of the welfare system and conclude they’ve done their duty.” He contrasts this with the American situation: “There’s less state welfare and a lighter tax burden so people feel readier to dig into their pockets to help those in need. And at some levels there are tax breaks – much less available in France – to strengthen that impulse.” Also, as we’ve noted before, the French are mean with their blood as well as their money: only 4% are blood donors and the transfusion service is permanently on the edge of crisis.
The meanness of the French is only tempered (yes, of course there are exceptions) when it comes to helping members of the family. A recent survey carried out for ING bank found that for 81% of respondents their immediate family was an absolute and overwhelming priority. As the survey commentary put it, “Even more in today’s circumstances, the world is seen as unpredictable and threatening. Resources have to go to strengthening the fortress of the family.”