August 11, 2005

a culture utterly saturated with bureaucrats


The Evening Standard published my letter to them on Tuesday, the 9th of August. The Standard is the big London evening paper that all the commuters read on their way home (Click on image to enlarge etc.).

I referred to French culture as "calcifying" and "a culture utterly saturated with bureaucrats." This is the main reason, I suspect, why blogs are so popular in France (roughly 10 times per capita as the Brits).

Though I am terribly fond of both France and the French, the young folk there seem to have fewer ways than the Yanks or Brits to express themselves. At least when it comes to being entrepreneurial. Blogs help fill the gap.

Loic, what do you think? Also, what are the chances of getting the French bloggers to try South African wine?

[AFTERTHOUGHT:] Liberty vs. Liberté. The debate continues.

Posted by hugh macleod at August 11, 2005 1:04 PM | TrackBack

How is it like that there?
Is it just a cultural thing or political or what?

Posted by: James McCarthy at August 11, 2005 2:11 PM

Interesting that you associate yourself with, rather than, say, gapingvoid.

Posted by: Brock Tice at August 11, 2005 2:41 PM

Shameless suit pimp, that's me ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at August 11, 2005 3:07 PM

It's more that I thought, with your 'personal brand' you'd be more solidly attached to gapingvoid. I can certainly see some benefits to associating with English Cut in a British paper.

Posted by: Brock Tice at August 11, 2005 3:13 PM

I could taste some Stormhoek. And so would a number of other french bloggers I know.

That said, there is some steep hill to climb when it comes to selling foreign wines in France.
The problem is mostly because they've only been marketed by big stores and the like on the basis that they were "cheaper for the same quality", or some other target-the-masses bullshit. The result is that in the french psyche, foreign wines (especially from english-speaking countries, go figure) are seen as cheap replicas instead of being worthy of a proper look and taste.

So it would be a great experiment to see how it would be if "real people" started talking about Stormhoek and its qualities; since it's the complete opposite of the way french marketing works, so far.
(Oh, and don't miss The Wine Blog. I'm sure Laure and other authors there could have some words to say; they're the only french wine blog I know of.)

Posted by: michel v at August 11, 2005 3:58 PM

You definitely would have no problem getting people to taste it over here... I'm afraid the screw-cap would be a major hurdle tough. We usually tend to associate that with cheap wine.

Posted by: Keyvan N. at August 11, 2005 7:19 PM

Down in New Zealand I still think screw caps are the province of cheap wine, though all the mid-to low-range brands do it now. It’s hard to change old perceptions, until a really major premium brand begins doing it. Screw-cap bubbly, anyone?

Posted by: Jack Yan at August 12, 2005 1:03 AM

Back to the original post, any thoughts on whether there is a correlation between stifling political cultures and the number of blogs? If Red China were more affluent (with more computers), it would likely be a good case study.

Posted by: Jack Yan at August 12, 2005 1:08 AM

Isn't Hugh's offer to Loic a bit disingenuous to say nothing of downright blog-link-pimpery? He doesn't ship the stuff to France, let alone Spain - where I have to endure vinegar dressed as wine!

Posted by: Dennis Howlett at August 12, 2005 2:14 AM

Since when were we not shipping to France? Heh.

Posted by: hugh macleod at August 12, 2005 9:11 AM

I've had a good Spanish wine from a screw top bottle. As a 'newer' wine enthusiast I think I'm more open to new ways of doing things with wine bottles. Or maybe I'm just a fool.

Posted by: Brock Tice at August 12, 2005 4:42 PM

No fool Brock - despite the snobbery, screw-caps will keep the wine better longer.

Posted by: Ric at August 12, 2005 4:50 PM

Intentional or not, looks like your sensationalism may get a large and influential group of people talking about the wine.

And with some possibility of a nice coup - French cred for Stormhoek.

Nicely done.

Posted by: Patrick Smith at August 12, 2005 7:58 PM

"Down in New Zealand I still think screw caps are the province of cheap wine, though all the mid-to low-range brands do it now. "

Ata Rangi 'aint cheap :)

Prefer screw tops myself. I've had enough of buying expensive vinegar.

Posted by: pete at August 13, 2005 11:39 AM

Excellent, 14 comments and not a single one going "hmpff, French culture is not calcified!"

Must be spot on then, fact of life, not even worth a discussion etc. ;)

Posted by: sig at August 15, 2005 9:03 AM

Hey Hugh,
Just came across this blog post about the various types of closures including screw caps. May be of interest, given the previous comments:

Posted by: Brock Tice at August 18, 2005 4:49 PM

Hi Hugh's club :-) I am sort of happy to arrive late in the discussion to see that nobody argues on the French "calcifying" culture and the bureaucrats.

The explanation is probably that everyone agrees including me ?

I agree there is not enough creation currently in our country and it extremely slow moving and changing, like a fat cow with the french being well installed in comfort.

I would not quote however the U.K. as much more creative forward looking either, it is just the same in all old Europe, we'll look more and more to China and India for that...

Except for entrepreneurship, agreed.

Now for selling South African wine, that's easy, there are more and more Int'l wines being sold in France, just go in front of the Madeleine church in a huge wine supermarket there and you'll see how many countries represented.

Posted by: Loic at August 20, 2005 7:41 PM

This post about the link between blogs and France is a little bit funny. Bureaucracy can't explain everything in France, failures or success ;-). And France has not the monopole of bureaucracy (I hope so). I think about other European countries such as Italy or Germany.

Blogs are booming in our country and to my mind there are two main explanations:

1) French people like to talk… and contest. Blogs are an easy way of expression. So they use them.

2) More than 3/4 of french blogs are hosted by one provider: Skyblog. It's a company created by one of the most popular radio for young people, Skyrock. This radio understood very soon the interest of blogs. With blogs the radio win the loyalty of young people and create a new source of earnings thanks to advertisements. Skyrock invented a new economic model and earns more and more money thanks to blogs. So a french company can be innovative ;-)

About foreign wine, french people change their mind. You can find foreign wines in a lot of supermarket. People buy it if it's better and/or cheaper than french wine. For example, importations of South African wine increased by more than 200% for the last 10 years (

Posted by: Vincent at August 20, 2005 9:40 PM


I guess you are living in France. Why don't you leave the country if it's so calcified? It seems that somehow this system is profitable for you.

Posted by: Steve at August 20, 2005 9:47 PM

Our culture is probably "calcifying" thanks to the amount of good cheese we have (that usually accompany non south african wine, btw).
All this meaning, at least, WE do have a culture - even if you have to scrape more and more to (hopefully) find it - and WE do have good cheese.

Also, saying our bureaucrats are "calcifying" is inappropriate since most of them are just neurotic:

Posted by: Thierry at August 20, 2005 9:57 PM

Probably Loïc stays in France because he does not attempt to maximize his interest function as a tribute to french bureaucrats who don't believe in liberal theories.

Posted by: Thierry at August 20, 2005 10:11 PM

You can say that France is calcified and that there is a big bureaucratie. It's true. It could be BAD for your culture and your world's view where everything is about money and anglo-saxon references. For french view, your things show that we have in France other interests than money and "performance" in anglo-saxons referees.
May be you can understand it with very good newspaper in your world; the Idler or if you can read french, you have to read books from Albert Cossery.
In France, there are people that know or remember that "working" and money are not natural and are sort of illness. As we have chance to have system that can feed us , we use it..
Please, excuse my english, i never learnt it in School, it's too money and action oriented language. As french, i prefer langage of the Glande but i say you THANKS YOU for all your jobs to earn money for occidental world and then for us too when you spend it in France ;-))

Posted by: Pierre at August 21, 2005 9:25 PM

i am so calcified that it is hard to move now!

Posted by: jm at August 22, 2005 1:38 PM

Hopeless debate. If numbers had shown UK having more blogs than France you probably would have written how retarded was France. Such comments are not very useful neither do they help any comprehension of French (or British) society.

Posted by: edgar at August 25, 2005 2:49 PM