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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mix of personal history and French history
Like many others I'm sure, I have a secret fantasy about moving to France based on my many holidays to that country over the years. Having read this book though, I'm not so sure that this is a very good idea! Starting with her courtship and marriage to a Frenchman in the 1980s, through to the present, divorced, but still living in France, Lucy Wadham explains some of...
Published on 1 Aug. 2009 by EllyBlue

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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very personal account of France
I'm surprised more reviewers haven't mentioned how very personal this book is. Wadham married a French man, leaving university halfway through to bunk off with him and ten months later had a little French baby too. I was fascinated to read between the lines of the book, actually - there is a section which implies all French upper class people like going to orgies and...
Published on 3 Aug. 2009 by emma who reads a lot


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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a slight view, 2 Aug. 2009
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This is an undemanding but by turns funny and serious book. The author's personal life is intertwined with reflections on French society - or rather bourgeois Parisian society. It's a one-sided view of an Englishwoman married into middle class French life. Hence many of her thoughts are gathered only from a narrow range. She is informative on the French language and the French love of ideas, but poor on life for working class French people.

One thing I did like about the book was the explanation of what Brits and Yanks often take to be French rudeness. A certain distant, clipped style, without saying please and thank you all the time or offering phony well-wishing, is the French way of dealing with social inequality without recourse to hypocrisy.

The French horror of hypocrisy is felt most in their attitude towards Oliver Cromwell. To us, he is the quintessential Englishman, fraught with complexities and contradictions. To the French he is a hypocrite.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What is this secret then?, 18 Oct. 2012
As a French national, I've read this book with a different perspective. Will I, at last, see a foreign writer "get it right"? Well, in some parts Lucy Wadram does indeed get it right: the writing style is pleasant and makes for easy reading, the chapters on politics and how history has shaped the country's culture feel correct to me (although this was nothing new nor secret). However, the social aspect was a big let-down: clearly the author's views are based upon her own experience and sometimes on discussions with a single person on a topic, which means a very narrow sample of the population.

Frankly, instead of "the secret life of France", this book should be called "the secret life of Parisian bourgeoisie".

When will I find an author who understands that Paris does not equal France?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Open eyed view, 23 Aug. 2009
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Positively happy (Hampshire, England) - See all my reviews
It certainly was an eye-opener with refernce to the higher echelons of France having orgies and affairs. What I particularly liked from this Brit author living in France was how the French perceive our nation of badly dressed people. Although they do hold us close to their hearts with a fondness, but is it enough that we should be perceived as the jokers of Europe, even if we are looked upon in this way with fondness? Hence the 4 stars.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Frank confessions, 13 May 2013
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Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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An interesting and engaging read where the author interweaves the biography of their own encounter with France and French culture via marriage and relocation, with the anatomisation of French culture as a whole. In a less assured writer, this could be rather arch, but the book is carefully paced and constructed and results in some informed reading and real insights. Good gift for a Francophile.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The secret life of the Paris bourgeoisie, 9 Nov. 2012
By 
Didier Sept (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret Life of France (Paperback)
Lucy Wadham has written an interesting book about France in which she examines the nation through the lens of an ex-pat Englishwoman raising a family in Paris from the late 1980s onwards. Much of the book is based on her personal experiences interspersed with the occasional chapter of history to give her arguments context. Many of her insights are valuable (and hard won) if slightly contradictory (well, this is France after all) and the book as a whole is far more serious in tone than the sub-Peter Mayle genre that Brits abroad tend to produce.

The book is not without some omissions. Many of the attitudes ascribed to `the French' are actually those of the Paris bourgeoisie of which the author was a part. Provincial attitudes don't really get a look in until right at the end when the author moves further afield. Vichy is discussed as context for French social attitudes today, as you would expect, but the pre-independence Algerian war (which led to the creation of the V Republic and reintroduced De Gaulle to politics) is not, even though its influence is still profound.

Social unrest in the banlieues is also discussed but mostly blamed on the attitude of the police. This certainly fits the La Haine (Special Edition) [DVD] [1995] view of the world and its true that the French police's history has sometimes been less than glorious; even today they have attitudes that would seem outdated elsewhere. However a reading of any of the books on the subject coming out of the French blogosphere such as the excellent Flic : Chroniques de la police ordinaire would show that the police these days are pretty much just trying to keep the lid on an element of French society created by years of poor socio-economic conditions and successive failed government policies in a range of areas.

The book, inevitably, also has a slightly dated air when discussing "Sarko" but the chapter dealing with him is still interesting, if only to highlight how short-lived the French desire for a 'rupture' with the past really was.

In summary I'd really recommend this if you are interested in modern France.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but informative and amusing enough, 20 July 2009
By 
mr_ska (London, England) - See all my reviews
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The title of the book is something of a misnomer as there doesn't appear to be anything 'secret' of any note revealed or even worth knowing here, but that's not a particularly damning sin. The book does have enough to it overall to carry your attention and both inform and amuse you from cover to cover.

It starts well, with a rush of detail about Wadham's personal life and a sprinkling of references to what life was like for her in 1980s Britain and then in France. That pace is kept up to about half way through the book and then it does appear to have lost most of the steam and begins to wind down towards the end.

As you may have guessed the book is really more about Lucy Wadham and her own life and views on her adopted country than it is about telling us anything profound or objective about France and the French. There's a fair amount of Wadham trying to set markers of her identity and status i.e. as a middle class girl who went to Oxford, but was not a square as she went off to France 'on a whim' and happily ended up in the arms of a charming middle class Frenchman. That's not to say that the book suffers from such details, but rather it lets us place our own value on the relevance and accuracy of Wadham's observations.

Overall I'm glad I read the book. It does have a fair sprinkling of humour, and did highlight some aspects of the daily life and thinking of the French both pre and post Sarkozy. So yes, it's worth picking up for a read as Wadham's literary company is certainly pleasant enough to carry you through this fairly short book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Are we really so different?, 10 Aug. 2009
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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The visible antipathy of the English towards the French is probably born of a latent jealous admiration. After all, don't they have better food? Better style? Better fashion? A more romantic language? Aren't they more intellectual? And more cultured? Don't they make better lovers?

Lucy Wadham uses the timeline of her own experiences in France as the stage for a more general exposition. I was looking forward to some kind of analysis as to what makes the French character different from the English, but for me this book fails on a number of levels.

Firstly, many of the ideas discussed fail to convince me that there is a major difference. The subject of adulterous liaisons very quickly arises, forming something of a ritornello throughout the book. You'd think from reading this that they're all at it like rabbits. Personally, although I have no statistical evidence, I remain to be convinced that the scale is any different.

The examples of Ms Wadham trying to get a refund on a book and applying for French citizenship will be entirely familiar to every Briton who has come up against "It's not company policy" or "Computer says No". That neighbours don't talk to each other - well it's the same this side of the Channel too. The direct influence of French politicians within the media with phone calls to editors to spike stories will be recognisable to anyone who reads Private Eye as being no different whatsoever to what goes on here.

The case of contrasting reactions of French and British media to Zidane's sending off in the 2006 World Cup final fails to convince. If, say, the Beckham of 2006 had kicked Ronaldo in the 'nads and got sent off I've no doubt that the British media would have seen him as the tragic hero and it would have been the French newpapers hardly capable of concealing their sniggering behind barely sympathetic comment. (The Beckham of 1998, to which Wadham alludes later in the book, somewhat bizarrely referring to him as "treading" on Simeone, was a lifetime apart, before Beckham became a national icon.)

Secondly, considering, for example, the differences between the French and British health services and schools doesn't really do much to inform us about the French character, just about their systems.

Thirdly, because it's based very much around Ms Wadham's own experiences, it is centred very much around the Parisian middle classes (albeit with some obligatory liberal-guilt hand-wringing about how beastly white French are towards African immigrants).

Fourthly, where there is an attempt to consider the character differences, it feels somewhat superficial. For example, Catholic sensuality versus Protestant Puritanism is mentioned numerous times, but not really explored in any depth. I really wanted to see more here and was severly disappointed.

Fifthly, what is not considered. It seems surprising that a such a book does not consider such things as our totally different relationships to food. Our opposing culinary approaches and attitudes create a gulf which is surely one of the top differences between us in most people's books, yet nary a word.

Where this book does have value for me is in its revealing discussion of recent French politics and history. It speaks volumes about the insularity of the British media and its obsession with a) celebrity and b) the USA - and if it can combine both, so much the better.

For instance, we think of beheadings by Islamic militants as a post-September 11th 2001 phenomenon, but France had its own problem in that regard long before in Algeria - the chainsaw beheadings of entire villages, and most sickeningly the beheading in 1996 of seven French Trappist monks kidnapped from their monastery.

Now I like to think of myself as trying to follow European events, but there is so much here that I knew nothing whatsoever about as a result of British media blindness when it comes to events over there. Shades of a famous "Not The Nine O'Clock News" sketch satirising media interest in tragedy only when there are British casualties involved (Mel Smith as a newreader reporting on plane crash; after the British dead, he lists that "the rest, in order of importance, include [various other nationalities...] and a Frenchman"). Satire, but true.

The consideration of French attitudes towards the USA and Britain, and in particular the French take on the Anglo-American relationship, I thought insightful and well worth reading. Nice to see a third party view.

In summary, essentially I feel that this book really tells us more about the British than the French.

Sadly, in the final analysis, even if the French are different, it seems that from what Ms Wadham is telling us France too is slowly succumbing to the Anglo-American twin obsessions of celebrity and money. What a shame if so.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pardon my French..., 27 Sept. 2009
By 
Flickering Ember "I need a break and I wanna ... (Once Upon A Long Ago.) - See all my reviews
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I couldn't agree more with the review given by David Bryson. My interest in France stems from me having studied the language and being described as having a near native proficiency. I've only visited the country twice myself; both on school trips; to the WW1 battlefields and a daytrip to Paris, so I have limited personal experience to draw on. I do find other cultures fascinating, especially with some of the impressions the English have of the French; I thought it would be interesting to have the perspective of an English person living in France.

I have no problem with it, but the viewpoint is a very middle class one, and the observations of course also are, so although it is relevant, interesting and (I don't doubt) true, it doesn't show a full picture of the whole of France. Nonetheless, it is a great insight into many aspects of the French psyche and the French way of life and I'd recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in the country.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Life of France, 8 Jan. 2012
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I found this book through the 12 Days of Kindle, and am very glad that I did! It is highly amusing, yet informative at the same time. I have been living in France for 4 months now, and can relate to a great deal of the book, despite me not living in Paris - a comment I have noticed in other reviews is that she focuses on Parisian life too much. I didn't agree with this, partly because how could three author focus on country life if she hadn't lived it? And also partly because I live in the south of France and found it to be a very accurate representation of the French people that I have met, so whilst it may read to some as being a study of Paris, it is also a study of France.

One small note for any kindle reader who checks the percentage finished at the bottom, I was at about 60% and was completely confused as to how there was another 40% to go, there wasn't! The last 25% is the sources and index. I'm not critisising this, just stating the fact, as it did confuse me a little!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful ..., 15 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Secret Life of France (Paperback)
A couple of weeks ago an English friend who has spent half her life here in France recommended a new book called `The Secret Life of France' by Lucy Wadham. I bought it on Amazon last week - and finished it yesterday (unheard of for me).

Now, over the years I've read dozens of books purporting to explain France to the foreigner (especially the Brit) from Sadler to Mayle - some offer a real insight, most offer just a shallow, myopic perception of France - viewed from the bottom of an expat wine glass.

`The Secret Life of France' is different. It's sensitive, cultured, balanced, self-questioning - and provocative. It offers depth without being heavy and humour without trying to be `funny'. And it manages to be all those things and be `un-put-downable' as well. Clever stuff.

For those of you who have an abiding interest in things French I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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