Benjamin Carle is 96.9 percent made in France, right down to his underpants and socks. Unfortunately six Ikea forks, a Chinese guitar and unsourced wall paint stopped him being declared a 100 percent economic patriot, but nobody is perfect.
Carle, 26, set out last year to see if it was possible to live using only French-made products for 10 months as part of a television documentary.
The idea was triggered by French Minister for Economic Renewal Arnaud Montebourg’s call for the public to buy French to save the country’s industrial production sector.
The experiment cost Carle his smartphone, television, refrigerator (all made in China), his spectacles (Italian), his underpants (Moroccan), morning coffee (Guatemalan) and his adored David Bowie music (British).
Fortunately his long-suffering girlfriend Anais and cat Loon (both French) stuck with him.
“Politicians say all sorts of things and expect us to go along with it. I wanted to see if it was possible and feasible to do what the minister was asking us to do. To hold him to account for his words,” Carle told the Guardian over a non-French coffee in a Parisian cafe this week after finishing his documentary.
He set just three rules: eat only foods produced in France, eliminate contact with foreign-made goods and do so on 1,800 euros (US$2,500) a month (above the minimum wage of 1,430 euros to cover the extra expense of living in Paris).
The journalist was shocked to find out at the start of the experiment that only 4.5 percent of the contents of his apartment were made nationally — and that the rest would have to go, including the lightbulbs (China) and green beans (Kenya).
Left without a refrigerator (none are made in France), or nail clippers, he was forced to chill his food on the window ledge and saw at his toenails with a penknife.
His foreign-made clothes, down to his underwear, were replaced by more expensive alternatives: French-produced underpants (26 euros), socks (9 euros), polo shirt (75 euros), espadrille sandals (26 euros), but no jeans, as none are produced in France.
In the film we see Carle scouring supermarket shelves for 100 percent French-made products, learning to cook seasonal fruit and vegetables grown in France, proudly brushing his teeth with the last toothbrush made in France by a company in Picardie employing 29 people, and hand-washing his smalls until he finds the last French-made washing machine (which being top-opening will not fit under the kitchen counter).
Going out with friends was problematic — no US films, no Belgian beer, no sushi or pizza.
Unable to use his British-made bicycle or even a French car after discovering the only affordable Peugeot, Renault and Citroen models are mostly made overseas, he invested in a fug-emitting orange Mobilette.
The last things to go, albeit reluctantly, were the computer, replaced by a Qooq, a recipe tablet that connects — slowly — to the Internet, and the iPhone, swapped for an old Sagem mobile.
Carle admits the experiment was part serious and part jest.
“It’s not entirely possible or even desirable to live 100% made in France, particularly in terms of new technology. But that wasn’t the point,” Carle said.
“This wasn’t about French nationalism or patriotism. It was trying to show that we should reflect about the way we consume and make different choices, and that applies in all countries. If we want to save jobs and industries wherever we are, we might think about supporting them,” he said.