Is it easy to talk to French people about money? Do France’s richest citizens discuss their wealth publicly? Isn’t it fair to say that their attitude to money is just one of the many french stereotypes?
It’s true that French people tend not to be forthcoming when it comes to how much they earn, and that open displays of affluence can be perceived badly. France is often also seen as a country which likes to tax the rich, and although this reputation is starting to change, we’ve all heard of artists or athletes who have moved abroad to avoid paying too much.
Like every language, the native tongue of Molière has lots of informal or french slang words for the general concept of money. Fric, oseille, blé, pognon and thune are all informal terms widely used by French people to denote cash.
There are also a few French expressions relating to money, for example a person who spends money without thinking about it is known as a flambeur, or a ‘big spender’. A very rich person is referred to familiarly as someone who is plein(e) aux as or ‘stinking rich’ (literally ‘full of aces’), while someone with no money is described as being dans la dèche or ‘broke’.
Finally, a person who is mean with their money is said to have oursins dans les poches (‘urchins in their pockets’, urchins being the black, spiky seafood often encountered in the restaurants of Antibes). The equivalent expression in Italian describes a person with ‘short arms’, while in Poland those who don’t like spending money are said to have ‘a snake in their pocket’!
Taboos around money are perhaps explained by the influences of Christianity, in which material wealth is often seen as the antithesis of spiritual wealth. It’s also worth remembering that France has inherited the mentality of a rural people who avoided talking about money in order not to inspire envy. Since they kept all their savings at home, they stood to lose everything in the event of a robbery.
To sum up, French people don’t really share the liberal, capitalist vision, but that doesn’t mean that they are not preoccupied by money – it’s simply that redistribution and equality are values which are important to them. Never forget that the French Revolution, one of the french symbols, aimed to eliminate social inequality and abolish privilege.