Nous sommes des moutons (not in a biblical way)

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:58 pm

A few things became immediately clear upon returning to the US after a brief stay in France, all of which lead to the faulting of one, admittedly imprecise, cause:

  1. While waiting for one suitcase at baggage pickup at O’Hare, our possessions were stepped on or run over no less than five times. This occurred with me standing next to the bags. People backed into bags while tugging luggage carts (some of them saying “Can you believe that we get free luggage carts?”). Another ran over my bag, knocking it over and subsequently running over my jacket, while rushing to be somewhere else (again with a free luggage cart), and others made visual contact with of our bags but lacked the physical ability to avoid them while attempting to either:

    1. Jump over them
    2. Walk around them.

    This came in stark contrast to the conduct of people only 10 days previous at the Roissy baggage claim. There, people calmly stood in one place and waited for their bags to come to them, something that conveyor belts, strangely, accomplish with relative ease.

  2. Nearly all food of any given classification is better in France that its counterpart in the United States. Food at take-away shops, food at restaurants, and food at sidewalk cafés can be assumed to be better than the majority of counterparts in the US. Residents don’t return to eat bad food, and tourism in France is very seasonal. The result is better food everywhere. This is especially apparent with bread at restaurants. Even cheap pre-made sandwiches at Paul (a French chain) are made with better bread than can be found in most any place in the States.
  3. Driving in the US, especially in the Midwest, is both slower and more dangerous than driving in France. Given that many of the roads in use in France have existed for over one-thousand years (and are, thus, quite narrow), this may seem surprising. Several factors contribute to this:
    • The most apparent cause is the decision-making deficiency that most drivers in the US appear to suffer from. This comes in stark contrast to French drivers who regularly make eye contact and gesture (not rudely) to give right of way in ambiguous situations. Along with this, French drivers demonstrate resolve in action and acceptance of traffic. French drivers are apt to move into a space with their vehicle if it is available, and other drivers are likely ready to accommodate them. Somehow, the realization that ramming into a car that has changed into your lane will not help anyone travel more quickly has been lost entirely on “me first” Americans.

    • Given the difficulty of navigation on France’s older roadways, French drivers devote far more attention to the road than do drivers in the US. Roads are narrower, curvier, and more diverse of surface. A sense of courtesy also contributes to attentiveness for other drivers’ safety. The nature of the local vehicles contributes to this alertness, as explained in the next point.
    • French cars are small, as gas prices are high (more than double what they are in the US) and roads are narrow. There are large cars on roadways in France, but they are in the small minority. Small cars give less of a sense of coddling security than do five-ton SUVs, which leads drivers to think of their own safety when considering roadway acrobatics.
    • Speed limits are reasonable in France. Rather than establishing speed limits that restrict travel to speeds that the Department of Transportation considers to be less than the natural speed for a given roadway, limits in France are actually set to the maximum speed that one should travel on a given roadway. Granted the government in France can’t leverage taxation-through-ticketing as is done in the US, but far less motivation to do this exists in a country in which local governments are not forced to operate almost entirely on independently acquired funds. These speed limits of 130km/h (80mph) on roadways that, in the US, would be restricted to 55mph lead to a pair of pleasant driver behaviors:

      1. Driving below the speed limit is not viewed as a crime punishable by vigilante-imposed justice in France.
      2. Regardless of the speed at which drivers may be traveling in France, if a quicker vehicle approaches from the rear while a driver is in the left lane of a two-lane roadway, the slower driver will make a sincere effort to move to the right lane as quickly as possible.

      Both of these points speak to the lack of territoriality apparent in French drivers, a very important trait.

    • On the road, French drivers have no sense of acrimonious narcissism, whereas many US drivers are concerned not only with their own short-sighted interests but also with the territorial interests of pure spite and malice. This can be regularly experienced in the US while attempting to change lanes, as drivers in destination lanes will “close the gap” to prevent the driver intending to change lanes from doing so.

These behaviors, were they to be explained by only one cause, might be determined by relating the general nature of the US citizenry to that of sheep.

  • Sheep wander, apparently aimlessly, bearing blank stares as they move in random searches for things that would come to them more quickly and easily were they to just continue doing what they were doing in the first place, even if they were merely sitting still. This aimlessness likely stems from a lack of forethought.
  • Sheep are quite willing to eat most anything put before them that is not obviously foul. Sheep also eat more than they require with very little regard for the quality of the food presented to them. That is to say, regardless of the quality of food provided to them, sheep are rarely self-regulating.
  • When herded, sheep dart nervously, run into one another, and grow unreasonably anxious. Farmers have, over time, learned to take advantage of this trait for group-based control of sheep.
  • Sheep struggle for territorial dominance, despite a typically futile disposition. In short, they fight without reason.
  • Sheep are dumb.

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