The whole world has now heard of Calais, an otherwise monotonous, pigeon-skied patch of northern France afflicted with the geographical misfortune of being the closest point along the coastline to the white cliffs of Dover across the English Channel. Calais has become France’s shame. We have watched with mounting consternation television news reports showing crowded and fetid campments — the “Calais jungle” — where migrants are so desperate to reach the UK that many have committed reckless and violent acts, from storming the Eurotunnel and occupying ferry boats to violently clashing with French police. To some observers, the migrants are dangerous hordes whose motives are uncertain; to others, they are refugees fleeing distant wars and crying out for help. Critics of France’s treatment of the refugees lament that the great French republic, once the cradle of the Enlightenment, has turned its back on

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  Napoleon famously remarked that England is a “nation of shopkeepers”. It was, of course, not meant as a compliment. After nearly three decades in the Fifth Republic, I have formulated a rejoinder to that Napoleonic put-down: France is a “nation of shoplifters”. By shoplifters I don’t mean the French are compulsive kleptomaniacs who pilfer and thieve in their local shops. I mean that in France there is general acceptance of rule-breaking – from petty incivilities to calculated crimes – that is perpetrated cynically, guiltlessly, and frequently with impunity. I like to say that the French have good manners and bad behaviour. Crime prevention in France can best be summed up as “penny wise, pound foolish”. There are thousands of micro rules to interdict just about every impulse in French society, but the most shocking crimes like bank heists and

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