Well, you could say, he ought to have known.
Almost 60 years ago, General Charles de Gaulle loftily dismissed his fellow Frenchmen in the following withering terms: "The French will only be united under the threat of danger. Nobody can simply bring together a country that has 265 kinds of cheese."
But what of contemporary times? Amid the chaos, hubris and volatile atmosphere of countrywide protests at the changes to retirement age in France by the Government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, a statement by a French national news magazine last week bore an especial relevance.
L'Express, echoing de Gaulle's words from nearly 60 years earlier, said simply, "Why France is impossible to reform."
The answer to that question can be traced all the way back to de Gaulle's time and even earlier than that.
Unlike in other countries of the European Union, such as economically ravaged Ireland and Spain, a sense of realism refuses to invade the national debate in France. In times of austerity, bad medicine must be administered and taken. But the French do not see it like that.
The sight of students, ordinary workers and many others in the streets of the major French cities these past few weeks, angrily protesting at Sarkozy's proposed pension reforms, has caused astonishment around Europe. In Britain, for example, the retirement age is being raised to 66 and may go as high as 68 in the years to come.
But the French are incandescent at Sarkozy's decision to raise the age from 60 to 62 for them. The fact that the world is deep in the grip of the worst economic recession since the 1930s is of no apparent interest to Frenchmen. A sacred cow is being slaughtered and there has been a rush to the barricades.
The French Government is unwilling to compromise. And it is this factor that may have been particularly inflammatory as far as the French are concerned.
For this is a country where compromise and concessions by employers have become an established way of life. At a bi-weekly rugby newspaper based in Toulouse a friend of mine once told me a story that left me stunned.
Younger than myself and in a less senior position (I was on four weeks at the time), I had asked him how many weeks' holiday a year he received. He smiled. "A lot."
"What is a lot," I countered. "Er, 14," he said, all but shuffling in embarrassment. In other words, getting on for a third of the year.
The reason was that, over several years, the unions approached the company and demanded wage rises. Soon it became clear the company could not pay more and stay in business. The books were opened to the union negotiators to prove the point. "Okay," said the unions, "we will negotiate extra days of holiday in lieu of money."
This became accepted practice to the extent that a 50-year-old reporter was enjoying 14 weeks' holiday every year.
A state-employed midwife gets nine weeks' basic holiday. Thus it is that days off and holidays, not to mention early retirement and huge benefits for life among all employees in this country, are having an atomic effect upon the French economy.
Sarkozy knows that it cannot continue but there is hardly a single worker in France willing to accept reality and agree with him.
The reason is that so many private employees and so many governments down the years have cravenly capitulated in the face of union threats of strikes. It has become standard practice to threaten, then to strike and then see the bosses give in.
Francois Mitterand's socialist Government inevitably retreated; even the right-wing Governments of Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac surrendered in the face of the unions' fury.
In the case of Chirac, a particularly unpopular piece of legislation even made it on to the statute books before being withdrawn. So why should the unions not believe Sarkozy will capitulate?
But Sarkozy's Government may not do so this time for the reason that it probably cannot afford to. Notwithstanding Sarkozy's ludicrous and ruinous daily flower bill for the Elysee Palace of €750 ($1380), an Elton John-esque obscenity, France cannot meet the huge future costs of its social-security commitments without demanding that employees work until they are 62.
With more national strikes called by the unions for yesterday and another next week, this story may continue to run and run. Unions' belief in the eventual sight of a cowed President backing off is probably justified.
But whether it will happen this time remains to be seen.
* Peter Bills is a writer for Independent News and Media
Well, you could say, he ought to have known.