Comparing the size of new American homes to those in France, Spain, and Britain

As the size of the average new American home dropped in recent years and then increased again in 2011, it is helpful to keep in mind how American homes compare to those in Europe:

By the way, even if American homes do shrink slightly, they’ll still be much bigger than homes abroad. A 2009 survey from Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment found that the average new home built in the United States has twice the floor space of those built in France and Spain and is three times as large as the average new British home.Am

To put this in perspective, this means that the average new home in Britain is roughly 800 square feet and new homes in France and Spain are about 1,200 square feet. Is this what American exceptionalism looks like these days?

This reminds me of watching House Hunters International on HGTV. When you have an American looking to purchase a home in Europe, they often say they need space though the square footage or acreage is rarely quantified. In contrast, Europeans on the show seem to expect that European homes will be smaller and are willing to deal with it. You can often see quite a difference in expectations: Americans expect more personal space and distance between them and neighbors. This is not necessarily because Americans are unfriendly; one recent survey put the United States at the fifth most friendly country. Perhaps it could be tied to how much stuff Americans expect to have. Regardless, more Americans appear to relish the idea of having private space within the home in ways that is not possible or not wanted in other cultures.

 

French suburbs moving away from mainstream French culture

The American suburbs are pretty unique compared to suburbs in other countries. For example, a new study shows that residents in French suburbs are moving away from mainstream French culture:

Local communities in France’s immigrant suburbs increasingly organize themselves on Islamic lines rather than following the values of the secular republic, according to a major new sociological study.

Respected political scientist Gilles Kepel, a specialist in the Muslim world, led a team of researchers in a year-long project in Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, two Paris suburbs that exploded in riots in 2005.

The resulting study ? “Suburbs of the Republic” ? found that religious institutions and practices are increasingly displacing those of the state and the French Republic, which has a strong secular tradition.

Families from the districts, which are mainly populated by immigrants from north and west Africa and their descendants, regularly attend mosque, fast during Ramadan and boycott school meals that are not “halal.”

American culture is dominated by suburban themes and values while this study suggests the suburbs of France are the alienated portion of society. The study also looked into why the alienation is present, particularly following the 2005 riots:

While the resentment in the poor suburbs has social roots, essentially the residents’ virtual exclusion from a tight jobs market, the rioters expressed frustration in a vocabulary “borrowed from Islam’s semantic register.”

Islamic values are replacing those of a republic which failed to deliver on its promise of “equality”, and the residents of the suburbs increasingly do not see themselves as French, the researchers said.

American culture has some similar issues: we talk about equal opportunities, which is something different than “equality” in the French sense – compare “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Of course, this doesn’t exactly happen: the American system is set up so that certain groups have fewer opportunities over time. The disconnect between official rhetoric and the actual situation on the ground tends to lead to problems at some point.

So which country will effectively tackle these issues first: the French dealing with immigrants in the suburbs or the United States with poor inner-city neighborhoods? Does either country have the political will to truly tackle the root problems rather than simply treating the symptoms?

Sarkozy joins growing chorus of Western European leaders who have said multiculturalism has failed

In a recent interview, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said multiculturalism has failed in his country:

“My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure,” he said in a television interview when asked about the policy which advocates that host societies welcome and foster distinct cultural and religious immigrant groups.

“Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want… a society where communities coexist side by side.

“If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France,” the right-wing president said.

“The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women… freedom for little girls to go to school,” he said.

“We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him,” Sarkozy said in the TFI channel show.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard and Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar have also recently said multicultural policies have not successfully integrated immigrants.

Based on what Sarkozy said in this interview, it sounds like he either has a different definition of multiculturalism or a different end goal. A contrast to multiculturalism would be assimilation where newcomers to a country (or any group) should quickly or eventually adopt the customs and values of the country they have entered. Sarkozy is suggesting that because some immigrants have not done this, multiculturalism has failed. But Sarkozy seems to be explaining how assimilation has failed. The Oxford English Dictionary defines multiculturalism thusly: “the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported.” In this sense, a long-running policy of multiculturalism ends up changing the larger culture to some degree. It sounds like Sarkozy (and some of these other leaders) are not as interested in this. Can French or English or German culture change and incorporate elements of cultures from immigrants living within their borders?

These comments from various leaders seem to have been motivated in part by growing Muslim populations in these nations.

It is also interesting to note that there is not a whole lot of public discussion about this in the United States. Some of this may be more below the surface, particularly when issues like immigration arise (though this has been overwhelmed by economic concerns). Can you imagine an American political leader of any party making a statement like these Western European leaders have?

Symbolic punishment? Fraudulent French trader ordered to pay $6.7 billion

The economic crisis has raised interesting questions about who is responsible. In the United States, much blame has been placed on the large financial institutions, investment firms and banks, who played a role (though others have also argued that the government and consumers share the blame).

But in the courts, blame could be assigned to any of these parties. In a recent decision in France, a trader who worked for France’s second largest bank was ordered to pay the bank $6.7 billion in damages for fradulent activity linked to the economic crisis. Here is a quick summary of the case’s outcome:

The court rejected defense arguments that the 33-year-old trader was a scapegoat for a financial system gone haywire with greed and the pursuit of profit at any cost — a decision sure to take some pressure off the beleaguered banking system overall.

By ordering a tough sentence for a lone trader, the ruling marked a startling departure from the general atmosphere of hostility and suspicion about big banks in an era of financial turmoil. It was a huge victory for Kerviel’s former employer Societe Generale SA, France’s second-biggest bank, which long had a reputation for cutting-edge financial engineering and has put in place tougher risk controls since the scandal broke in 2008.

Kerviel maintained that the bank and his bosses tolerated his massive risk-taking as long as it made money — a claim the bank strongly denied.

The story goes on to say that both sides, the trader and the bank, admitted to mistakes along the way. But the court ruling suggests that the trader was the culpable party.

The assignment of blame after large traumatic events is a fascinating phenomenon to observe. Who is eventually seen as the responsible party can depend on a number of factors including national culture, time in history, court cases, public opinion, and other particularities. Whoever becomes the scapegoat can often become the symbol of the traumatic incident, forever linking that person or party to phenomenon that are often quite complex.

World War I reparation payments from Germany to end soon

From the dustbins of history, CNN reports that Germany will on Sunday (October 3) make its last reparations payment from World War I. Here is a brief history of the payments:

The initial tally in 1919, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, was 96,000 tons of gold but was slashed by 40 to 60 percent (sources vary) a few years later. The debt was crippling, just as French Premier Georges Clemenceau intended.

Germany went bankrupt in the 1920s, Der Spiegel explained, and issued bonds between 1924 and 1930 to pay off the towering debt laid on it by the Allied powers in 1919’s Treaty of Versailles…

Germany discontinued reparations in 1931 because of the global financial crisis, and Hitler declined to resume them when he took the nation’s helm in 1933, Der Spiegel reported.

After reaching an accord in London in 1953, West Germany paid off the principal on its bonds but was allowed to wait until Germany unified to pay about 125 million euros ($171 million) in interest it accrued on its foreign debt between 1945 and 1952, the magazine said.

In 1990, Germany began paying off that interest in annual installments, the last of which will be distributed Sunday.

I had no idea that these payments were still being made. I don’t know the answer to this: are reparation payments between nations still a common method for helping to rectifying the wrongs of war?

It is also a reminder of the major consequences of World War I, a war that gets a lot less attention in the United States due to a smaller US role and a majority of the fighting taking place away from American shores.