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VIVE LA FRANCE!

The Secret Life of France - Lucy Wadham

As a confirmed Francophile, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK, from which I learned so much more about the cultural mores of France.

Wadham herself had been married to a Frenchman for close to 20 years, with whom she had 4 children (all of them educated in the French educational system), and, though divorced, continues to live and work in France. While shedding insight into French attitudes toward religion, politics, education, race, relationships, history (France continues to be very conflicted about its wartime behavior under the German Occupation), the French language, the law, and the nation itself, she intersperses the book with some of her own experiences with her French family and friends, which also gives the book the feel of a diary and an anthropological case study. Further, Wadham's contrasts of French attitudes with comparable Anglo Saxon cultural norms and practices (as exemplified by Britain and America) I found both startling and intriguing.

(I have twice visited Paris, and though my French is very far from fluent, I had not met with any outward shows of derision or contempt from any Parisians I encountered during my daily pereginations in the city.)


For the reader of this review, I'd like to cite 2 passages from the book, which may give you food for thought ---


"Television is [for the British] ... a medium naturally given to the worship of reality. In line with our love of reality and our taste for the comic over the tragic, the British are excellent watchers and makers of television. The French, on the other hand, with their love of grand ideas and their contempt for reality, make execrable television. Hours of French airtime are devoted to the spectacle of people (anybody will do) sitting around discussing ideas. There is none of the British mistrust of 'talking heads'. Talking heads are seen as a good thing in France, and the louder they talk the better."

"It is strange to me to watch my own children struggling, for the first time, with the very facets of their own culture that I found so infuriating when I first arrived twenty-three years ago. While they were growing up, I was blind to my own influence upon them. They seemed to me so wonderfully French that I would never have guessed that their Englishness would one day come and bite me on the bottom. Now that they're getting ready to leave for England, I find myself buried so deeply in this culture that I doubt I can ever escape it. France has swallowed me up, but not my children.

"My relationship with France began with my relationship with Laurent. When the marriage ended, I assumed that my link to France would lessen in intensity. I was no longer speaking French all hours of the day, dreaming in French, arguing in French, loving in French. I thought I was no longer bound to this place. My children were grown up, so I could now choose: England or France. And then I discovered that I didn't want to leave. I know France now and in knowing her, I love her. Like the long-suffering spouse who realises, after all those years, that in spite of everything, there is no one in the world she would rather be with. I adore and despise this country in equal measure."