Flicking through some old photo albums today (as you do on a Sunday) I came across this picture of Christmas lights in the village of Montchauvet, on the edge of the Bocage countryside in Calvados, Normandy. For a few years we were lucky enough to live in sight of the main crossroads shown here, and go back regularly to see all our old neighbours.
As I remember the lights were standard size bulbs (they certainly look like it here) and involved minimum health & safety constraints. Certainly our next door neighbour always "borrowed" our garden for his unwaterproofed wire to the village fete lights each year, which were next door to us on the other side!
I suppose these lights are paid for by the local taxes, and we all know how much more tax they pay on the continent than in the UK. The UK has almost the lowest rate of VAT in Europe and unlike France we don't charge the full rate on clothes and food.
According to BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes, overall tax rates in the rest of Europe are generally higher than those in the UK, reflecting the higher amount politicians think voters in many countries are prepared to spend for better public services. On average, taxes and spending amount to 50% of the total output of the economy in other EU countries, compared to around 40% in the UK.
So when comparing services in Europe it's important to compare what the man/women in the street pays for them. I leave you with two fascinating albeit dated graphs: