What my French family thinks of FIRE

My French dad, along with my side of his family living in France, could have written a book on FIRE. Now, they don’t know nearly as much about investing as JLCollins (whose amazing stock series is a must read) and they may not be  aware of the 4% rule, but they are experts at enjoying the ‘journey’ of life which leads to retirement. If I had to sum up a French person‘s life philosophy it would go something like this : “Life is crap, we are all going to die, but… we should definitely drink some good champagne along the way.” The French are easily the most pessimistic people I have ever spent time with, but paradoxically, the most fun to be with. They did coin the term joie de vie after all! 

I feel I am well qualified to prognosticate about the French as I am a French national and grew up partly in France. I have visited my family overseas every summer over the past four decades I have lived in the US. My dad still lives in France, as does my step-mom and a ton of cousins, aunts and uncles. This idea of enjoying life and including others in the party is evident every time I visit. 

When my step mother fills me in on the news of family members, her happiest recollections are from the times she has thrown a surprise party for a friend, had a misadventures on a ski trip with a group of coworkers, or reveled in the simple pleasures of vacationing with her grandkids at a nearby beach. And although my family has their share of heartache, as much as anywhere else in the world, these challenges are glossed over, brushed away with the wave of a hand and a ‘C’est la vie’, followed by ‘On va tous bientôt mourir, après tout! Dit donc – óu est le champagne?’  (‘Such is life – we are all going to die soon anyway. Now where is that bottle of champagne!?’ )

A certain a pessimism runs throughout our conversations, but there always seems to be something to look forward to – a home-cooked meal, or the excitement of the neighbors coming over for ‘L’apero’ (the famous before-dinner-drink shared with family and friends as often as possible). Little mention is made of work promotions or material acquisitions. Much time is spent discussing past and future vacation plans, always to locations exotic to me. When I think about it, though, these far flung places are usually within a 2-hour flight from Paris, and involve activities such as camping and hiking. The French are on a FIRE journey without even knowing it!

Now, if you forced me today to choose between my American and French citizenship, it wouldn’t be a tough choice. I would choose America – the country where I have spent the majority of my life and whose optimism and generous spirit I participate in and value. But… could we just have a little bit more champagne for the journey?

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