[Vmail-discuss] The U.S. Average Credit Score Is 696. What Is Yours?

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Fri, 25 Oct 2013 11:32:47 +0200

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PARIS — When people ask what I’m working on these days, I tell them about my new book, “How French People Take Out the Garbage.” It’s all about the elegant, common-sense Gallic approach to trash, which I, of course, refer to as les poubelles.

I’m joking, but who knows? The book could be a surprise success — my very own “Springtime for Hitler.” It would certainly have lots of company. A spate of new how-the-French-do-it books have recently been published or are en route, with titles like “French Women Don’t Get Facelifts,” “Mastering the Art of French Eating,” “Forever Chic” and “Ooh La La! French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day.” (Full disclosure: I’ve added some books to this genre, too.)

It’s easy enough to mock these titles. They sit at the unfortunate intersection of America’s love-hate relationship with France, and that most risible branch of American letters: self-help.

And yet, it’s no accident that there’s been a surge in self-help books whose inspiration isn’t a shrink, celebrity or C.E.O. — but another country. They’re part of a larger shift in the way Americans relate to the rest of the world. Increasingly, they are looking abroad for wisdom about all kinds of things — not just how to choose a signature fragrance.

Americans have always had an eye on other countries, of course. But we used to fixate on a particular enemy or competitor — the Soviet Union, or Japan. And mostly we were trying to beat these countries, not emulate them. In the case of the Soviet Union, we didn’t actually know much about it, which made it easier to believe that America was somehow beyond comparison.

These days, there are international league tables ranking the United States against dozens of countries, in hundreds of categories. These findings — along with the war in Iraq and the financial crisis — have chipped away at some ideas we’ve long had about ourselves. For instance, new studies of social mobility show that people in Canada and much of Western Europe now have an easier time than we do of realizing the “American dream” of becoming richer than their parents.

Another blow has come from a test called the Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, which measures how well 15-year-olds around the world can apply reading, math and science skills to real-life problems — in other words, how prepared they are for the modern workplace. The first results were published in 2000.