Thursday, April 27, 2006

Viva la France! (And Ireland)

Yesterday Reuters had an article about experts pondering the "high" French birth rate--1.9 children per woman, the second highest rate in Europe. Leaving aside the sad fact that a below replacement level birthrate (replacement level in modern industrialised nations is 2.1) can be considered high in today's Europe and leaving aside my suspicion that non-assimilated Muslims may account for a lot of France's birth rate, I want to say "Hurrah for France!"

I know it's popular among many Americans to mock and criticize France and I'll admit to having repeated some French jokes since the Iraq war (before that my response to friends who repeatedly made those jokes was, "Why do you pick on France? Have you ever met any French people?"), but there are things about France that even a conservative can love. High on the list for me is that they showed some (un)commonsense and forethought back in the seventies about a potential scarcity of oil and built nuclear power plants; it's my understanding they now they make about 80% of their needed power with nuclear plants. Possibly due to more of that forethought, they've offered some incentives to child-bearing and are now less close to dying out than most other countries in Europe. Also I've heard creditable people say that, whatever their problems, the French have done a better job of keeping down the fomentation of Islamic terrorism within their country than the British have.Their cultural heritage--especially pre-twentieth century--is nothing to sneeze at, their language is beautiful (even if a French teacher and Francophile I used to know did describe it as "Latin spoken by ignorant peasants"!), and even people who don't like the French are apt to like their food.

And then too French immigrants contributed to south Louisiana culture. It's not a coincidence that the only feast descriptions I've ever been moved to read aloud to my husband were Peter Mayle's mouthwatering description of the dinner he was invited to at a neighboring farmhouse in Provence and a description of some cross-country walkers stopping for a meal in the backwoods of south Louisiana and, when the proprietors heard they weren't accustomed to that food, being given a sample of everything they had (all washed down by real Coca-Cola in a real glass bottle kept so cold it had bits of ice in it; it's Uncle Pookie's idea of heaven.)

I'm not saying I'll never repeat another "cheese-eating, surrender monkey" type joke, but I'm glad the French are having babies and wish they'd have even more.

Oh, and BTW the Irish are having the most babies. At 1.99 per woman, they're almost at replacement level--Go Irish!

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