The response of the French people to the massacre in Paris was a dignified show of silent strength. Few could have failed to be moved by the powerful images broadcast around the world of people holding cards with three simple words ‘Je Suis Charlie’, or in a spontaneous gesture, raise the mightiest weapon of all, the pen.

It was a true vision.

It was solidarity.

It was the people coming together as one silent yet deafening voice.

The murders were not a victory for the perpetrators, they had failed to an unprecedented degree – the coming together said everything; you make us stronger!

But do we, the British, truly understand the meaning of solidarity? The evidence would seem to support the contrary idea.

My first experience of French solidarity was after I had been living in France over a year. The ex-pats here were pretty much trying to make my life a misery. It was not unexpected, not by me at least, but then I’ve had a lot of experience of dealing with the Brits. Cutting a long story short, they aren’t really very nice to each other.

But the French did help me, yet they were curious about one thing – ‘why is there no solidarity between the British?’ I was flummoxed at the question, quite taken by surprise.

They went on to say it is noticed that although many ex-pats were, so to speak, in the same boat – an ‘Englishman Abroad’ and all that – they would take advantage of each other or attack each other, rather than help each other.

‘Why is that?’ they asked, ‘why is it not “my soup is your soup” as they say in France?’

I had no answer. None. I’d seen how the majority of Brits behaved who I came across and it was no doubt little short of appalling. Yet I had no real answer as to why. Sad to say such behaviour had become an accepted norm.

It was only this year and completely by accident that I started to understand the British attitude or lack of it, toward solidarity – and much of it seems founded in law.

Many people have heard of the Good Samaritan Law, the parable of ‘do unto others’, and in law it is a process that any legal system should underpin, and to greater or lesser degrees, abide by – but it isn’t actually a law at all, it’s a legal and moral concept.

Throughout Europe law is based on two legal systems: The English Common Law and the Napoleonic Code.
Yet the English common law is built upon decisions made by courts and continually refined. However the area of civil law where the Good Samaritan Law would become applicable, is rarely touched upon in relating to moral codes. In fact it is a general rule of thumb that most lawyers never touch upon this subject and the law does not impose penalties on individuals who commit ‘pure omissions’. In other words no one person has a ‘duty of care’ to assist another in need. Not only that but if a person does decide to help another in need and the victim is further injured, then the ‘Samaritan’ can be held liable.

The only time you will hear of Duty of Care in the UK is when a professional is performing a service and can be in breach of that duty, but on a one-to-one individual basis it simply does not exist.

Yet France, under the Napoleonic Code, does enact the parable as a law. Not directly under that terminology but under a Duty to Rescue. This doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself into a roaring river to rescue someone, but it does mean you have to get assistance, and you could be prosecuted for failing to do so.

The laws of course are more complex and detailed, but it gave me some insight into the culture of the French and the meaning of solidarity. It may just be an underpinning – one small cog in a much bigger wheel – but the premise is there and it is fed generation to generation: You stick together, you help each other. You may not always agree but when the chips are down you stand shoulder to shoulder.

This is a world away from the British attitude of ‘none of my business’ or ‘I don’t want to get involved’. In France they are brought up to help each other, to stand by one another even if it doesn’t benefit the individual personally. In Britain we have no such underpinning, it is down to personal choice, and in truth our laws may punish those who do aid another.

How different might our UK culture be if our society were underpinned by the Good Samaritan Law?
Is it that which upholds solidarity in France? I have no real evidence. But I, like the rest of the world, know what I saw – the strength of silence standing shoulder to shoulder.

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