France lives in a time-bubble

NANDINI VAIDYANATHAN gives us an account of her experiences in France and why she feels the country is not moving forward

Recently, we went on a month-long road trip in France. In my next few columns, there will be that French flavor and I expect the reader’s indulgence. Today’s story is what we experienced on the day we were flying back home from Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris.
We were flying on a reputed carrier. Our onward experience from Delhi to Paris had been exceptionally pleasant, but immigration at CDG was a nightmare. But that incident is for another column. As always, we reached airport quite early. We quite anticipated that our carrier may not have a permanently assigned counter. Since we were early, there were a number of other carriers assigned to our counter. We waited patiently although that was a big ask. There were not enough seats and the place was definitely not designed to handle that kind of a crowd. And mind you, this was in the afternoon when flight traffic is low.
When our checking-in process started, our nightmare began. Firstly, there was no staff of the carrier we were flying. Everyone was French; and insisted on speaking only in French. For us, this wasn’t much of a deal-breaker because my partner is French and we were traveling together.
We were traveling business class; yet, an intern was assigned to check us in. He was taking an inordinately long time and it took me a moment to internalise the reason: he was looking at a software manual and keying in data! I don’t know if it was his very first day on the job, but calling him inept was being too kind!
We had five pieces of luggage against four that is allowed in business class. I was asked to go to another counter and pay 175 euros for excess baggage. At that counter, there was a young lady and when I tried to pay on my card, she told me they accept only cash. Imagine this nightmare. CDG does not have an ATM. There are no ATMs around the airport. And of course, they don’t use digital wallet! So if I did not have cash, I would have missed the flight. Twenty minutes after paying cash, I still did not have receipt. Reason? Computer is very slow! She kept banging the computer on its head, much the same way we used to bang our TVs in the good old days of Doordarshan, thirty years ago! Finally the receipt was printed; I came back to the check-in counter, handed it over and made our way to immigration.
There were two queues. One was for economy and the other was for business class. In the first queue, there were approximately 2000 very anxious-looking people. In the second there were about 600 bored and antsy people. And neither queue moved. Reason? For this entire crowd of 2600 odd people, there was only one counter open! When I spoke to one of the airport managers, he shrugged saying, we have been asking for manpower (cops) to man the counter since 1 pm. No one has come!
I was very certain we would miss the flight. When there were about 100 people ahead of us in the queue, the second counter opened. We managed to board the flight by the skin of our teeth!
I asked the crew on the flight why the counter was not manned by one of their team members. She said the French government stipulates localisation of jobs. Even if the numbers are grossly inadequate and unskilled!
As we were flying back home, I couldn’t help wondering about the dying institutions of Europe and the European economy itself. We do not realise how good we have it in India. Our airports are the swankiest and we have a booming digital economy. Our demographic dividend is fuelling technology-aided growth of the kind you don’t see in the so called first world countries.
A road trip through India gives you a glimpse of the investments in infrastructure, industry and commerce. What we saw in France on our road trip is an economy that is dying, a people, who, for so long have been pampered by their governments that they have forgotten to own their lives. And the apathy it has generated in the warp and woof of the whole economy is actually tragic because their sense of entitlement overshadows their right to live life the way they should.
I heard a story that made my jaw drop. Apparently a parent filed an application with his local administration that his children go to the local school where other children go to the newly opened McDonald’s on weekends; and since he cannot afford that, his children are traumatised. Therefore he appealed that the local administration gives him money to take his children to McD. If this isn’t bad enough, what is worse is, the local administration sent a Happy Meal coupon!
I will wrap this column up with another experience we had, up close and personal. My partner’s mother is 90 years old and lives alone. She wanted the bath-tub removed in her bathroom as she finds it difficult to get in and out.
The local contractor was called and he gave a quote. The quote said, if the job was confirmed that very day, (2nd April 2023), work would commence sometime in November, 2023. Second the cost of removing the bathtub and relaying the floor tiles would be 6000 euros. Reason? Since you are an old woman, you can claim up to 3000 euros from the government!!
No wonder the French exchequer is running dry and the pension age has been increased from 62 to 64!!

The columnist is co-founder of bakery and restaurant business ( with her French Michelin-star chef life partner. Email:

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