Eat, sleep and shop: French live the cliché

The French spend more time eating and drinking, sleeping and shopping than any other nationality, according to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report.

The OECD's annual Society at a Glance survey examines a range of indicators such as family characteristics, rates of employment, poverty and inequality, and trust and tolerance, to assess the social progress of each of its 34 member countries.

This year France's strongest assets have proved to be its citizens' ability to make the most of life's pleasures: eating, sleeping and shopping; an assessment that seems to fulfil all the clichés of France as a country of bon viveurs. They certainly know how to relax. Sleeping an average of 8.5 hours a night, the French are by far the best rested of the 34 countries in the survey.

And the extra time they spend sleeping doesn't come off the time they spend eating and drinking. According to the survey, the French spend on average just over two hours a day around the table, suggesting that, even if fast food chains have popped up across the country, good food and sociable mealtimes remain as important as ever; an idea that supports the recent classification of the French gastronomic ritual as a Unesco-protected institution.

In contrast, the US and Canada spend nearly half as much time eating and drinking, even though their obesity levels are much higher.

Despite the significant amount of time they spend enjoying their food, the French spend on average 48 minutes a day cooking, putting them just below the survey's average of 52 minutes; testimony perhaps to the importance of socialising over meals rather than concentrating solely on the food.

Finally, shopping proved to be another favourite activity among the French, who topped the result's tables once more for the amount of time they devote to this pastime.

However, the French proved less indulgent towards others than they are towards themselves. In the generosity ranking, they came well below the 39 per cent average; just 31 per cent of those surveyed said they had performed an act of kindness in the past month.

This indicator, based on "pro-social behaviour", included acts such as volunteering, but also things as a simple as giving directions to a tourist. Here the British were well ahead of the French with 57 per cent of interviewees claiming to have recently performed an act of kindness; a statistic that put the UK fifth in the "kindness" category.

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