The route for protest marches in Paris runs along our boulevard. The cycle of French life is that, every few years, the government tries to make everyone work longer, until a popular uprising kills the plan. With Emmanuel Macron wanting to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, the uprising has resumed. The other day I squeezed out of our building, past the Communist party stand in front of our door, on to the street packed with marchers, and scanned the banners: “Giving one’s life to the boss, no!”
I used to take the standard Anglo-Saxon view that the French should get with reality. French 62-year-olds can now expect to live to 85, creating what’s close to the longest average retirement in global history. Work until 65, and you’ll still have 20 years for boules, I always thought. But my life here has been a series of realisations that on the biggest issues — the Iraq war, nuclear power, cheese — the French tend to be right. I’ve changed my mind about pensions. The French have led the world in creating a glorious new lifestage: the first golden decade of retirement. Their system remains just about affordable. Everyone else ought to learn from them.