Friday, 7 December 2007

The French are generous... or not.

I usually ride my bike to work but one of the benefits of taking the metro instead is being able to read the free newspapers and catching up on French news as opposed to the New York Times.

This morning, there was an article about French and donations with the coming of Telethon 2007 – an annual event in France where stars man (woman?) the phones to collect money for rare, genetic diseases (Inspired perhaps by the beloved Jerry Lewis' MDA telethon?). So on the occasion of the annual telethon, there was a survey about the French and donations. To quote the article, “the French are generous…no, some French are generous.” According to the survey, only 1 in 4 French households make donations to not for profit associations with an average of 75€ a year. The article does say there’s a rise in donating, but that people mostly donate to research and after catastrophic events but that, “les gens restent insensibles aux causes profondes, comme les operations de developpement des pays pauvres.” (people remain insensitive to deep causes, like operations in developing countries). You can see the complete article here.

As you may remember from my very humbling attempt to collect donations for cancer research, I don’t find this surprising...perhaps appalling? I come from a family who regularly donates time and money to various causes. Hell, I even donated about a hundred litres of breast milk! As a kid, I tutored in ESL at the public library, helped my mother cook for the homeless and collected money for causes from medical research to environmental causes whenever the opportunity presented itself at school. And you know what? People donated!

I suppose this is just another marker of cultural difference. I don’t know how many Americans make donations on a regular basis, but donating sure seems to be more of American culture than French, as I have learned the hard way.

This year's Telethon, which seemed to begin earlier in the week with yellow clad people in the streets selling M and Ms for medical research will be on France2 aired from Chateau de Vincennes and will feature various stars asking the French public to call a "36" number (kind of like a 1 800 number but not free) to make donations. A big event for this year is the donations on-line and by mobile phone (sometimes this country is just so slow to get on the technology boat). Well I sure hope that Liane Foley has better luck than I did and, despite my negative view on donating in France, I am glad that the media can bring people's generosity out even if only once a year.


Deb said...

It seems like everywhere you go in the US, someone is asking for donations. Not that I mind at all (I've donated to various organizations), what I DO mind are the scams. I've heard on the news when charities ended up being someone's way of collecting extra cash. Sometimes you just don't know where your money is going.

There have been a handful of times when I have entered an Auchan or Carrefour shopping center and have been approached by people asking for donations for Africa or AIDS. And I donated when I had money on me. But some of them were a bit too insistent. There's asking and then there's harassing!

BUT....I have and will continue to give to charities. The con charities are few and far between. And it's such a good feeling to know that you might be making a difference in someone else's life.

I really admire what you have done for cancer research. My father had leukemia, I had a grandfather who died of prostate cancer, another who had lung cancer, and a grandmother who had uterine cancer. You are definitely helping a good cause!!!!!!!

Elisabeth said...

Definitely a cultural thing here, I think. The French expect the government to take care of things such as medical research and helping those in need - they already give tons of their income to the government, so that, in part, it can attend to those causes. So, giving to charity comes on top of that.

My French brother told me an interesting anecdote the other day. a few years back, he and his wife decided to donate money to Emmaus (l'Abbe Pierre's organization.) He sent a check a bit before Xmas. By February, the check had not yet been cashed, and he wanted a receipt for his taxes, so he called the organization. It took him a few phone calls to discover that it was total mayhem. The check was at some "center" in Marseilles, and was never cashed until June or so. So, yeah, those in need better not be in a hurry for relief...

I give to a few causes here in the U.S., but I am sure that, due a cultural bias, I am probably not as generous as many of my fellow Americans.

Reb said...

Deb, there are so many scams out there. Even the big charities...I know that's one reason people in France don't give. They don't trust the charities.

Elisabeth, thanks for the insight. It's interesting to see it from the opposite angle. And the lack of organization really doesn't surprise all!

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