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What has happened to the French joie de vivre?

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Media caption'There's an awful lot of gloom everywhere'

Everyone in Europe is feeling the economic pain. So why do opinion polls show that the French are particularly gloomy, compared with other Europeans? For The Editors, a programme which sets out to ask challenging questions, I decided to find out.

In fact, the real pain has scarcely begun in France, though like a patient going in for surgery everyone is wincing in anticipation.

Is the French gloom simply caused by the news headlines?

Is it the cumulative psychological result of an apparently weak government, an awful spring, rising prices, and a fear that things cannot remain the same?

Or does it go deeper, much deeper?

I became a Francophile in my teens, in the 1960s. It came of watching Godard and Truffaut films, Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Paul Belmondo, and admiring the language and the way of life.

In 2000 I bought a flat in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower, and my family and I spend a few days here every six weeks or so.

We have never seen our French friends and neighbours so depressed.

The city remains as delightful as ever.

The restaurants are just as good, and if they are more expensive that simply makes it easier to get tables.

The health service is probably the finest in the world. Public transport is excellent, though taxi drivers are a miserable lot.

Everyone knows that savage cuts are on their way.

After the Socialist Francois Mitterrand's famous victory in 1981, at a time when Britain under Margaret Thatcher was cutting back fiercely on government expenditure, the French instinct was always to spend more.

Hospitals, transport, culture - money was lavished and the results were sensational.

Pensions and state benefits were among the best in Europe. The streets were beautifully clean.

To come here from depressed, dirty London was to feel a cloud lifting.

Image caption Paris remains an enchanting city but restaurants are not as full as they were

Now, though, there is a price to be paid. During the current economic troubles the Germans have made their cuts, gone through the pain barrier, and come out stronger and richer.

The British, the Spanish, the Greeks are doing the same and hope to have the same results.

Not so the French. They are still standing on the edge of the pool, dipping their toes in the water and wincing. Everyone knows that the combination of a short working week, early retirement, big pensions and excellent health benefits does not add up.

But when do the cuts start?

The waiting is becoming intolerable.

I invited various friends to meet me at little eateries close to my flat, and I asked their opinions on why the atmosphere is so gloomy at present.

My neighbour, Anne-Marie Mautin, runs a quirky little shop which sells a combination of rugby memorabilia and delicacies and wine from the French south-west.

Now though L'Esprit du Sud-Ouest is threatened with closure.

"It is simply what France is going to go through," she says sadly.

Christian Constant, the television chef, runs no fewer than three restaurants in our street, all excellent.

"We are not doing badly because tourism is so good. But we know that difficult days are coming," he says.

My close friend from university days, Nicholas Snowman, has lived in France on and off for nearly 40 years.

He is an arts administrator who once ran Glyndebourne and London's South Bank, and then moved on to the Strasbourg Opera, and is a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur.

"Frankly," he says over coffee in a nice little bakery in Paris, "this country has to decide whether it is going to be the world's best-ever Club Med, with fantastic tourist attractions and culture, and will go bust, or whether it will change its entire way of running itself and survive. No wonder everyone is worried."

But when he and I had lunch at one of Christian Constant's eateries, another guest explained things in different terms.

Claudia Senik, a sociologist, recently wrote a book called The French Unhappiness Puzzle.

She maintains that France gets its gloom from its schools.

Image caption France's President Francois Hollande has little to smile about

"If you take the children of immigrants who go through the French education system, they are just as unhappy as people who were born and educated in France. But immigrants who arrive later are as happy as people in other countries," she says.

Nicholas Snowman agrees.

"The French education system does concentrate on academic results. It certainly does not encourage the growth of the whole person," he adds.

Maybe they are right.

But for me, especially when the sun is shining - though Paris does have a marginally higher rainfall than London - there is no finer place to be in the entire world.

And whenever I come here I feel the opposite of gloomy.

BBC News: The Editors features the BBC's on-air specialists asking questions which reveal deeper truths about their areas of expertise. Watch it on BBC1 on Monday 24 June at 23:20 BST or catch it later on the BBC iPlayer or on BBC World News.

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