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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Cabbage and Christmas: What the French and Germans really think of each other

From baguettes to Birkenstocks, clichés on France and Germany die hard, even as the two countries celebrate 60 years since the post-war treaty establishing friendship between the two European giants after decades of rivalries and conflict.

Cabbage and Christmas: What the French and Germans really think of each other
Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

On the occasion of six decades marking the signing of the Elysée Treaty, AFP spoke to some Franco-German couples about their culture clashes on everything from food to Christmas.

Bread and cheese

The French national obsession with the baguette – recently elevated to UNESCO world heritage status – can be hard for Germans to comprehend.    

The omnipresence of the elongated bread at mealtimes is a source of consternation for Verena von Derschau, born in Germany and married to a Frenchman.

“It doesn’t even get eaten! It just ends up as crumbs by the plate,” she says.

Reader question: How many baguettes does the average French person eat per day?

By contrast, pungent cheese and other sources of French gastronomic pride can lead to a certain hauteur vis-a-vis other cuisines, with fingers pointed notably at Germany’s love of potatoes and cabbage.

François Dumas, a Parisian who lives with his German partner, winces at the idea of some Teutonic preparations such as Maultaschen, a meat-filled dumpling usually served with broth.

“I give up there!” he says.

Comfortable shoes

While Birkenstocks now belong to the same stable of luxury brands as Louis Vuitton, the cork-soled sandals – on occasion sported with socks – remain emblematic of the German love of practical clothing.

“Germans dress like sacks, always comfort first,” says Roland, a Frenchman in a bi-national couple for years.

Schools

Meanwhile, in France it is children who suffer discomfort in the country’s strict school system. “I feel sorry for them, they have such long days,” in contrast to the German pupils who often have the afternoon free, Julika Herzog says.

Technology and trains

When the family is on holiday in Germany, it is her husband’s turn to complain. “There’s nowhere you can pay with card,” François Dumas says.

“And the trains are always late,” he says, the opposite of the German efficiency many expect.

Bells and bunnies

Festivals reveal yet more differences. The relative absence of the Easter Bunny in France was a surprise to Verena von Derschau. Instead, “they have bells”, she says, puzzled by the images of a winged bell bringing goodies to children during the spring holiday.

Flying bells and a giant omelette – how the French celebrate Easter

Christmas follows a different rhythm on either side of the border, too, with the French dressing up their trees early in December, while many Germans wait until Christmas Eve.

Germans also lean towards a more sober tree decoration, says Verena von Derschau, who has banned blinking fairy lights in her household.

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MONEY

Calculator: How rich are the French?

France's national statistics agency has published new data showing just how much wealth the average French person has - and the average amount of assets might surprise you.

Calculator: How rich are the French?

National statistics agency Insee has published a new report into the patrimoine (wealth) of the French population, showing that the average person has assets (money, property, other possessions) worth €177,200.

However it’s important to note that this is patrimoine brut – gross wealth – and so doesn’t take into account any outstanding loans such as mortgages.

When we look at net wealth (the value of property with any outstanding loans/mortgages subtracted) the value falls, but perhaps not as much as you would expect – €124,800 is the average net wealth in France. 

One explanation for this could be the French inheritance system, whereby parents cannot disinherit their children so it’s common for French adults to inherit the family home, often mortgage free. Second homes are not only the preserve of the wealthy in France, many average-income families have a second home, which has often been inherited from family members. 

Throughout the country 3.2 million homes are classed as maisons sécondaires, the vast majority of them owned by French people.

The overall assets assessment doesn’t take into account income or savings – so you could have a valuable home but no money in the bank.

In 2022, the average salary in France was €39,300 per year, after taxes (or €2,340 net per month).

Just for fun, French news site BFMTV has created this wealth calculator, where you can enter your total wealth (including the value of any property you own even if it’s mortgaged, other assets like a car, any savings or shares you have) and it will tell you how many people are wealthier than you.  

For the average household, property (whether mortgaged or not) represented 62 percent of their wealth, followed by financial wealth such as savings or shares at 21 percent, business assets at 11 percent and all other assets (eg cars, household equipment, artworks) at 6 percent.

Graphic: Insee

To be in the richest 10 percent of the French you need to be worth €716,300 and to be in the top one percent you need €2.24 million. 

And wealth is heavily concentrated among the older generation – under 30s have on average assets worth €71,200 while the 50-59 age group are worth on average €401,300. 

Graphic: Insee

The land of égalité? Not quite, the poorest 50 percent of households own just eight per cent of the country’s wealth, while the richest half own 92 percent of the assets. 

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