January 29, 2023

"Yes, the French are... lazy. It’s just not in the way we lazily think."

I'm reading "Are French People Just Lazy?" by the historian Robert Zaretsky (NYT).
Consider Michel de Montaigne, who in 1571, fed up with his job as a magistrate in the city of Bordeaux, quit at the age of 38. Retreating to his library, he inscribed his reason on the wall of his study. 
“Weary of the servitude of the courts,” Mr. Montaigne declared, “I am determined to retire in order to spend what little remains of my life, now more than half run out … consecrated to my freedom, tranquillity, and leisure.... I do nothing without gaiety.”...  
[I]n 2016, when demonstrators occupied public places across France to oppose the labor reforms proposed by the then-Socialist government[, o]ne of their demands was the creation of a universal basic income. This would, in effect, subsidize laziness — or, more accurately, a certain kind of laziness. 
While la paresse is a common word for laziness in French, so too is l’oisiveté. Deriving from the Latin otium, it means focused calm or even spiritual elevation, so very different from negotium, the sort of work that gets in life’s way. 
A few months ago, Sandrine Rousseau, a prominent member of the French Green Party, caused a stir when she called for a worker’s right to laziness.....

The article uses the term "the French" — 4 times. It never uses "French people," the term used in the headline.

I'm noticing this because over on Facebook, my son John posted this: 

I wonder if the headline writer got the first message but not the second. It seems that the first position AP took was that there's a problem with putting "the" in front of a name that refers to a group even when you want to group them together and speak of them as a group.

It's hard to explain why, but remember when Dave Chappelle said (talking about Kanye West):
"Early in my career, I learned there are two words you should never say together. Those words are...'the'..." — long pause — "and 'Jews.'"

Similarly, it's better to say "black people" than "blacks," and you really don't want to say "the blacks."

But apparently, some people got offended getting told not to say "the French." What's going on there?

In any case, the headline writer and the column writer are at odds. Is it "French people" or "the French"? I think the column writer, Zaretsky, chose "the French" because he really wanted to say there is something in the national character, and this is not a place where he wanted to celebrate the diversity of individuals. He wanted to stress the commonality. The word he uses for that commonality — "laziness" — is deliberately alarming. And the headline writer just had to soften it, to step on the intriguing quality of the assertion. 

Maybe the headline writer also softened it by using a question — "Are French People Just Lazy?" I picked out Zeretsky's quote "Yes, the French are... lazy."

Of course, he goes on to describe that "laziness" in a positive way. Clever? Perhaps. 

But this is a cleverness you can do in the NYT with French people — and even "the French" — but do not try that with black people or, God forbid, "the blacks." 


Gahrie said...

The French embassy has already signaled its opposition to this nonsense.

Old and slow said...

In response to the kerfuffle about "the French" used by AP, the French embassy tweeted that they were changing their name to "The Embassy of Frenchness"


Sorry if I am the 50'th person to post this...

Ice Nine said...

I would never say "the Blacks." I always go with "you people."

Mike Sylwester said...

I think you can say "the People of Color", but you can't say "the colored people".

Likewise, you can say "the enslaved people", but you can't say "the slaves".


Or, maybe you're supposed to remove the word "the" from all those expressions.

I'm still trying to learn the (?) new rules.

JaimeRoberto said...

Part of me thinks that the person who wrote the tweet thought the admonition against "the" was absurd, so he added "the French" to highlight the absurdity. A bit of resistance.

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John henry said...

"All progress is made by a lazy person looking for an easier way" - Lazarus Long

What's wrong with being lazy?

I make a pretty good living teaching my manufacturing clients and their employees to be lazy. That is, finding easier ways to do their job and finding and eliminating unnecessary work.

More here www.changeover.com/lazy.html

John Henry

madAsHell said...

I just learned that can’t buy booze on Sunday in Paris. So, there’s that!

rcocean said...

This article - which I assume is a defense of "The French" - is so absurd. Its a defense against two cherished beliefs of our power elite.

First, hatred of those Goddamn Lazy workers. Why do they need a decent retirement? They need to keep on working till 70, so Hedge fund managers can earn an extra 1 percent on their investment. Second, attacking the "the french", those "Surrender monkeys" who will never be forgiven for not supporting our Neo-Con foreign policy on every single issue.

who do the NYT"s readers hate more, the white middle/working class, the French, the Germans or the Russians?

Big Mike said...

About twenty or twenty-five years ago now I had the sheer privilege of working with a young genius who had just returned from France, where he had been hired to help get a high tech startup off the ground. Things he told me about his experience:

- By law, no one can work more than 35 hours per week. When those crazy Americans insisted on working longer hours — being used to 80+ hour work weeks in high tech startups stateside — gendarmes actually came into their workplace and threatened the engineers with arrest if they did not leave immediately. No, there was no way to connect to the development servers remotely.

- The company was forced to hire a president who knew nothing about technology, or even business, but who was politically well-connected. Money that could have purchased additional servers and workstations, and/or more software developers went to paying him and setting up a plush office, with staff, in Paris (the project was being implemented hundreds of miles away (Lyon IIRC, or perhaps Nice).

So in the end the project failed. And of course it was all the fault of those stinking Americans.

Dave Begley said...

For a time the phrase “you people” set certain people off. I could never figure out why.


Lewis Wetzel said...

I've known a few few Frenchmen. They were far from lazy.
But the Spaniards? Those are some lazy bastards.

John henry said...

Suppose a white family surname "Black" moves in with me. Can I refer to them as the Black's?

Suppose they are black?

Suppose I'm Larry David?

In Puerto Rico negro/Negra (there is no negrx) is used like Hon in Baltimore. Usually when speaking Spanish but occasionally mixed with English.

Is it OK to call ms Black "Negra"? As in "oye, Negra, can you make me a medianoche" (sandwich)

Oy, vey. It gets so confusing at times.

John Henry

stlcdr said...

Mike Sylwester said...

I'm still trying to learn the (?) new rules.

1/29/23, 10:01 AM

Or, ‘The New Rules’.

Brought to you by a benevolent Big Brother.

rhhardin said...

Malevolence and denigration are the two chief characteristics of the French mind. - Philippe Sollers

Sebastian said...

"This would, in effect, subsidize laziness"

Not sure if it's OT to comment on the issue rather than the more important words, but:

The French already subsidize laziness, as do "the Americans." They probably have the biggest welfare state. The issue for bloated welfare systems is not laziness as such, but the carefully cultivated desire to be lazy at other people's expense. As people live longer and have fewer children, and as debts piles up, something's got to give, even in France.

Tom T. said...

Back in a simpler time, when Trump appeared on SNL, he started riffing with cast members during his monologue and somehow ended up asserting, "the Blacks love me." Leslie Jones busted up laughing.

RideSpaceMountain said...



"Jesus of Nazareth, King of THE JEWS"

Oh snap! OMG Romans you are in so much trouble! I'm telling. AP is gonna be all up in your otium drinking all your posca over this LMAO!

Narr said...

Bonaparte made himself Emperor of the French, not of France. Good enough for me.

Then again, the Corsicans . . .

wildswan said...

I've been told to say "the black community" in preference to "the blacks" and I mostly abide by this. But this has caused me to notice that one doesn't say "the white community" in a description of voters, for example, because "the white community" is divided into two parties plus the independents plus several religions which affect voting choices, plus a desire to be seen as individuals. And I notice that people are writing sentences with phrases like this: "and so the whites, the Blacks and the browns." So I take it that we may be evolving toward a new set of standards or we may be devolving into a chaotic series of ever-changing standards adhered to by Our Betters in their career-driven, starling-mumuration patterns while being gradually but inexorably ignored by everyone else. We get to go back to speaking our native language and reading its literature. Viva Dead White Males.


Breezy said...

Huh…. I thought the French didn’t like the fact they were grouped with the poor, the mentally ill and the disabled in that AP tweet. Silly me.

Wince said...

It seems that the first position AP took was that there's a problem with putting "the" in front of a name that refers to a group even when you want to group them together and speak of them as a group.

But can you say, for instance, "thee French people"?

Pronounced the same, but the difference is "the" others the group, "thee" addresses the group.

(Like they/their, the singular/plural distinction can be erased in the name of political correctness.)

Yancey Ward said...

News organizations for the idio.....er......people with idiocy should no longer be referred to as The AP.

Original Mike said...

Will The Woke ever realize how silly they are?

walter said...

Curious grouping in that AP tweet.
But hey..is it nicer to say "French people are lazy"?

Joe Smith said...

Don't even get me started on the black french Jews...they're the worst.

Basic universal income is a dream of American lefties too.

Anything to subsidize sitting on your ass all day while complaining about white folks or the patriarchy.

n.n said...

Lazy as in laissez-faire?

robother said...

Les Francaise sont interdits, ou "les Francaise" est interdit? Aussi, Le Rouge et le Noir.

n.n said...

I think you can say "the People of Color", but you can't say "the colored people".

While the latter is a reference to a low information attribute, the former is a judgment and label in a color bloc as in diversity [dogma] (e.g. racism, sexism, ageism).

Yancey Ward said...

Original Mike asked:

"Will The Woke ever realize how silly they are?"

Do silly people ever realize they are silly?

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim in vermont said...

It's "Ze French" anyway.

MacMacConnell said...

Anyone here ever known an AP reporter? I have the are all lefties. Have drinks with them and they will tell you the truth.

Nirga was what blacks in Missippi were call in the 1950s or nigra folk. Negro was sure sign of a yankee.

robother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

It is not people of color it is peoples of color.

Aggie said...

When I was working in West Africa, our staff house was a stone's throw from the French Foreign Legion outpost. I drove by it every day, and I can tell you, they were some hard nosed bastards when they put their mind to it. Every once so often, there would be unrest, signaled by tires burning in the street and the local cops harassing drivers at checkpoints, and the Legion would organize a 'practice' low-level airdrop over at the regional airport. Whereupon, things would quiet right down again. I was happy to have them as neighbors.

Also, I once drilled a deepwater exploration well off West Africa using a French rig: The food was terrific, wine and beer with meals, and those guys worked hard - just, a little different in their ways of doing things, some of which appeared a little ridiculous at first, but....they worked. Not a lazy bone among them.

Earnest Prole said...

The only person I’ve ever heard speak of “the blacks” is Donald Trump.

gilbar said...

John henry said...
"All progress is made by a lazy person looking for an easier way" - Lazarus Long

I've known and Loved that statement, since i 1st read in in the 1980's..
BUT! I've recently decided that while it's not untrue.. It IS incomplete. A more better statement is:
All progress is made by a lazy person looking for an easier way.. To Make Money.
None of this changes the lazy person part. A non lazy person, will just work more hours to make more money. A lazy person (a SMART lazy person) can come up with a way to do More Work, in Less Time.. Thus: Profit!

BUT! Come up with an easier way, to make money; and you will SELL it to others.
I just finished a whole book on this; The Most Powerful Idea in the World, by William Rosen.
It SEEMS to be a history of steam power, and the British Industrial Revolution (and, it yes).
But according to Rosen, the most powerful idea in the world wasn't
Coal Mining
or steam engines
or condensers (James Watt)
or high pressure steam
or the science of Thermodynamics
or steel
or Any of that..
According to Rosen, the most powerful idea in the world; was English Patent Law.

In England, you could get RICH by coming up with a good idea. Which is WHY the industrial revolution was The English Industrial Revolution. The French, like the Chinese, didn't have patent laws that would allow this (accord to Rosen).

hawkeyedjb said...

@tim in Vermont, I chuckled at the ashtray story. I was once seated in a Paris Cafe at a table that had an ashtray on it. When I asked if there was a no-smoking section, the waiter picked up the ashtray. Voila! I became the no-smoking section.

MadTownGuy said...


YoungHegelian said...

The movements in 19th C Europe that began with an emphasis on the dignity of labor became, in a short time by historical standards, dedicated to the dignity of goofing off. See, for example, this.

rcocean said...

Its amazing how 'muricans always see everything finacial in a dumb black/white manner. Yeah, everyone who wants to retire at 62 is "lazy". People who retire at 64, however, are NOT lazy. I think some Losertarians/Republicans would love to go back to the old days with no social security, no medicare, and no welfare.

Let 'em cake.

The funniest experience I once had as a young man, fresh out of college, was listening to Defense Contractor executives rail against those "damn lazy welfare queens" or quote the wonders of the free market and Ayn Rand.

State/Local/Federal Government spends at 40 percent of the GNP, so its hard to find someone who isn't "Living off someone else's tax dollars".

rhhardin said...

According to Rosen, the most powerful idea in the world; was English Patent Law.

Michele Boldrin on intellectual property law, that it does little but slow down progress with rent-seeking. Econtalk podcast.

Gahrie said...

For a time the phrase “you people” set certain people off. I could never figure out why.

It's explicit otherizing.

(You're explicitly describing a group that excludes yourself)

John henry said...


Agree with you that English and American patent law played a big part.

In the case of the steam engine, we all know Watt and more power to him! (from him?)

But without Matthew Boulton who figured out how to manufacture and commercialize the steam engine, it might be just a lab curiosity today.

Watt is enshrined in the basic unit of energy. Few people know who Boulton was.

Or, for that matter, Newcomen who invented a successful, albeit inefficient, steam engine 50 years before watt.

The Rosen book sounds interesting and I'll search it out.

John Henry

tim in vermont said...

I deleted the ash tray story because I think I have posted it before, maybe twice. I am slowly turning into my uncle Bill. But the part about the French not being lazy is absolutely true, in my experience.

John henry said...

I looked for the Rosen book and found I read it 3 years ago.

Gonna have another look.

John Henry

Saint Croix said...

oh that damn AP style book!

The AP style book has sent their unbiased opinions to every journalist in America that the words "pro-life" are never to be used in any article about the pro-life movement.

How sensitive!

How sweet!

Of course the AP style book has never sent out their opinion on whether photographs of aborted babies should ever be published in a newspaper, a magazine, or on network television.

They don't have to!

Why upset people?

More sweet lies, please!

Here is the NPR trying to defend their rhetoric.

Jamie said...

The only person I’ve ever heard speak of “the blacks” is Donald Trump.

I just heard Shelby Steele use that term on YouTube today (I mean, he didn't say it today, but I heard it today). Does it matter that he's black? He would say that it doesn't, I'm sure...

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

It took me a while to locate this, but here it is, from Yes, Prime Minister:

[This is just before Party Chairman Jim Hacker becomes PM. He's talking on TV with Ludovic Kennedy:]

HACKER: But what I will say is that I see this as a time for healing. A time to stress what we agree about, not what we disagree about. We need to see the good things in our opponents, not to keep looking for their faults. There's good in everyone, you know, Ludo.

KENNEDY: Except the French.

HACKER: Except the Fre . . . No, even the French.

Bunkypotatohead said...

20% of the French aren't even French.
They have their own problems with the blacks...same as we do.

Balfegor said...

"The Blacks" isn't standard in English, as a reference to Black people as a whole. I suppose I can see how someone could get himself wound up about "the" somehow being dehumanising in English, but "the French" (like "the English" or "the Dutch") is standard in English.
Contrast with, well, the contrast between "Germans" and "the Germans" or "Americans" and "the Americans," where the plain adjective is normal, and use of "the" is a bit marked and does tend to have a slight negative cast. On the other hand, saying "French people" or "Dutch people" really calls them out, and as a result sounds a lot more negative than just "the French" or "the Dutch." Like saying "those people." So AP can adopt whatever newspeak nonsense they like -- there's a lot of deeply silly affectations like this -- but I don't think it conveys quite what they are hoping.

Earnest Prole said...

I just heard Shelby Steele use that term on YouTube today (I mean, he didn't say it today, but I heard it today). Does it matter that he's black? He would say that it doesn't, I'm sure...

There’s a quick way to learn “the blacks” are free to say things others are not: Google “rex kramer danger seeker”

Critter said...

Ann Althouse said: "but do not try that with black people or, God forbid, "the blacks."

Ann, why are you not guilty of racism by treating blacks by a different standard from the French simply based on their race?

iowan2 said...

Not sure if the the French are lazy, or just conditioned to rise to the bare minimum.

Had a customer, farmer, that was hosting a French student. The Student was in the US for a year, working toward his Agronomy degree at ISU. He got an internship at Pioneer Seed and needed a bed close to a Pioneer research facility. This Farmer was a Pioneer Dealer and offered to take the young man into his family.

In practice, the young man was not especially, focused on going into work daily, or when he did get motivated to go, never on time. Usually not showing up until late morning.

This lead the farmer to ask the French Student if he wasn't concerned about getting a bad review from Pioneer and affecting his GPA and future job prospects with a less then adequate review of his internship?
The Student said his income was guaranteed by his STEM degree. Over achieving was not rewarded, and a prestige position was outside his connections. Connections is where promotions come from. Merit rewards are rare in the French(EU?) culture.