"We Americans worry about the the big things, like the future of civilization,
and the French don't. They figure they can't do anything about it so they
concentrate on having a good life today. They want the next loaf of bread to
be the best, the wine to be good, the conversation good. They love good things:
a perfect fish stew is a joy to them, but so is a fresh pear, or an old book.
They fashion a civilized life out of what's at hand. Civilization doesn't come
easy for an American. For one thing, we want to tear it all down and start all
over all the time. We're fatally ambitious people. And we work far too much.
This is the American tragedy: we work harder than our pioneer ancestors did
and see less return for our labour and have to work even harder to stay even.
Somehow, a hundred years after the slaves were freed, the American corporation
has managed to bring it all back. The bottom line has become everything, the
unions that spoke up for the employees are broken, and the victim is the
American family and the American child. Family life in America, compared to
Europe, is starved and frantic and laced with injury and bitterness. We're
pushing, pushing, pushing to make our kids happy and we don't have time to
show them how to live. In France, I see grownups enjoying their life, and
children watching and learning, and in America, I see parents too exhausted
from work to do much with their kids except give them expensive toys and sit
and study them and feel guilty. That wasn't so true thirty years ago, and you
could change it by introducing a National Vacation Law, like they have in
Europe: five paid weeks a year, for everybody, even the unemployed, as a
tribute to the family."
Radio Romance, Garrison Keillor