Traveling through the French provinces, one cannot help but he impressed by the quality of life the French have managed to achieve for themselves over the past quarter of a century.
France, it must be remembered, is the country where only 10 years ago the telephone was still considered a luxury and just over half the nation's households had a bath or a shower.
Today, the French are just as much into gadgetry and material consumerism as Americans, except they are more fashion-conscious about it. Modern, transparent telephone booths can now be found in the most isolated of mountain villages, and small-town department stores are stocked with the latest Japanese mini-computers and French-made washing machines.
Even more striking is the proliferation of high quality shops, restaurants, and travel agencies not only in such pleasant Mediterranean town as Aix-en Provence, but also in the grimy, unattractive industrial centers of northern and central France.
In Lens, for example, a town near the Belgian border with more than its fair share of unemployment lines, there were no fewer than a dozen travel agencies within a two-minute walk of each other. For a country where the four-week annual vacation has become indispensable to the Frenchman's view of the world, vacations abroad are ever on the rise.
Despite whining about outrageous prices, high taxes, and inflation, the French appear determined not to abandon what still remains a traditional zest for food, wine, and song (although since the advent of television there is somewhat less song).
In the towns, people continue to find money to go to restaurants several times a week. While in the country, I was surprised to find that local farmers and workers still crowd the village aubergesm (inns), family and all, until late afternoon, the time needed to consume a prodigious six-course Sunday lunch.
More than ever, too, the French are realizing their dream to own their own homes. More than 60 percent of French families have their own apartment or house -- including secondary residences in the country where many hope to retire later.
Another interesting development is the increasing exodus of northerners to the south of France. Although decentralization is one major reason behind this, it is also the quality of life that attracts many people.