U.S. CEO calls French wine-drinking slackers

When French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg wrote to Maurice Taylor, asking him to invest in a failing Goodyear tire plant in Northern France, the Titan Tire CEO could have just said, "no." But that's not really his style:

"I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but only works three hours," Taylor said in the letter, dated February 8 and obtained by French business daily Les Echos.

"They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!"[...]

"Titan is going to buy a Chinese tyre company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour wage and ship all the tyres France needs. You can keep the so-called workers."

Taylor followed up in an interview with the AFP:

"I just came back from Australia and I met there young Frenchmen and women and young Spanish men and women who have moved there because they can get jobs down there and they're excited to build something," he said.

"That's why in France pretty soon everybody will be sitting down in cafes sipping a glass of wine but they won't be making any money."

After it was obtained by the media, the letter provoked outrage in France and Montenbourg responded with an angry letter promising to "inspect your tyre imports with a redoubled zeal."

Obviously Taylor, a one-time longshot candidate for the GOP nomination for president and author of Kill All the Lawyers and Other Ways to Fix the Government,  was being hyperbolic. But is there any truth to the critique? 

Kind of. French workers work the fourth fewest hours per year in the OECD, according to the organization's statistics. Only the Norwegians, Germans and Dutch work less. On the other hand, if working long hours was all it took to drive the economy, Greece -- and no. 4 in the OECD -- would be an industrial dynamo.

On the OECD's labor productivity rankings, France comes in a respectable 7th after Norway, Luxembourg, Ireland, the U.S., Netherlands, and Belgium. So it seems they are getting something done in between those bottles of bourdeaux. Australia comes in 13th.  




The State Department wants you to be afraid of everything

If you are an American living abroad in an unstable country, it's not unusual for the local U.S. embassy to send you updates about the security situation. The advice is pretty basic, and largely useless -- be aware of your surroundings, avoid large protests, consider delaying travel. Yesterday, however, the State Department took a different tack: It warned Americans that terrorists could be lurking behind any corner. At any time. Across the globe.

"Current information suggests that al-Qaida...continue[s] to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East," the State Department wrote yesterday in a "Worldwide Caution" alert.

So, be careful when traveling -- well, anywhere, basically. But perhaps the U.S. government could at least tell its citizens where they will be most at risk? Here's what the State Department says about that: Targets could include "high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays."

Now, you probably shouldn't be traveling anywhere if this sort of advice is news to you. But let's assume there's a novice explorer out there who stumbles across this State Department warning and takes it to heart. What will he see as the primary threats that he will face as he embarks on his journey?

In Europe, the first thing he reads is: "Current information suggests that al-Qaida...continue[s] to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. and Western interests." In Africa, al Qaeda is also the first threat -- after that, pirates. In South and Central Asia, al Qaeda again. And in the Middle East, you guessed it, al Qaeda.

This isn't just overly broad to the point of being useless, it's actually a wildly distorted account of the threats Americans face abroad. Take Egypt, the country I call home. There is no shortage of radicalism here: The head of al Qaeda, a product of Cairo's most virulent strain of Islamist extremism, grew up a few neighborhoods over. And yet, a foreigner is far more likely to be hurt or killed in the city's insane traffic, mugged by a thief, or caught up in the running clashes between protesters and police. Fear of roving al Qaeda terrorists doesn't enter the picture.

So be careful out there, travelers. Just not for the reasons they tell you. 

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