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on 28 August 2014
I cannot but echo all the other positive reviews the book has received. It is now slightly out of date, with heaps of references to the Sarkozy regime, and the main body of the book is very Paris-centric. Nevertheless, it is highly engaging, highly informative and a great read.
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on 9 February 2010
I've lived in France for over 30 years and reading this book, I often wondered if Lucy and I had lived in the same country. I have yet to be invited to an orgy, my gynecologist has never offered me a device to re-muscle my vagina. I wonder if she put these things in to attract readers - or rather, buyers of books. There are insights from time to time which are interrupted by sweeping generalizations. She over-analyses much of the time and apart from an incredible vocabulary, doesn't always seem very intelligent. Some of her anecdotes - about the educational system and civil servants - were very similar to experiences I had had. For some reason, the mix of anecdotes and intellectual analysis didn't work together very well for me. I didn't warm up to her at all and had no desire to spend any amount of time with her - probably why I didn't like her book. For my own sweeping generalization, I'd say that she's an Oxford graduate who hasn't actually lived up to her potential. She's tried to write an intellectual book based on her life experience but it's just generally been too narrow. I don't know if her horizons will broaden living with another Englishman in the provinces - perhaps. I hope so for her.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I didn't think I was going to like this book. I am tired of reading about the exploits of the young and privileged with all their effortless social contacts. But I was wrong, there's more to this book than the usual whimsical account of the misunderstandings and faux pas of the innocent middle class English girl abroad, desperately trying to fit in and failing... but having a fabulous time dahling!

I changed my mind because Lucy is perceptive and painfully honest about her own short comings and lack of self-confidence, and also because she writes with self-deprecating humour.

She has gone one step further than the usual "My Life in the Midi" fare and has successfully enhanced her personal story with its close-quarter's scrutiny of French daily life by drawing on factual evidence from French social history. For example, she makes some serious points about the complicated social and political legacy handed down from the Second World War Collaboration of Vichy France.

Much is explained about the way the French operate, both on an individual and collective level. Factual information is carefully interwoven with humorous anecdotes; such as why you shouldn't be friendly with a French waiter, and what exactly is the practise of "yaourt" singing? I particularly enjoyed her description of meeting "Sarko the Sex dwarf."

Do you want to find out who the French despise more than the English, and why the French are the "biggest consumers of psychotropic drugs in the world?" Then read on, enjoy it and be informed!

Next time I go to Paris I will take her advice, and remember to "show no weakness", even if my French isn't up to their exacting standards.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 4 August 2009
After reading the reviews in the national press, I thought I was in for a good read. However, the author does rather seem to enjoy flaunting her knowledge of French politics rather than life in France from a Brit's perspective. There were some interesting bits where she drew upon personal experiences, but overall I felt as though I couldn't wait to finish the book and pass it on to the school fete. Perhaps Ms Wadham's book was overrated by the press, but nevertheless I was sadly disappointed. Well written but dull.
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on 30 March 2016
Hilarious and really informative. I found the description of different approaches to healthcare and education fascinating. After living in France for a while I realised I was not aware of all the social rules and how they are different to those in the UK. When people are rude it's sometimes hard to know why.

Then I followed Lucy's advice about French waiters and speaking to them very respectfully (not in a friendly, casual way as we do in the UK) and asking their advice on wine. I also made sure to greet shopkeepers on arrival inside the shop, not at the till and use titles. This just revolutionised the quality of service I then received in France.

I told a French acquaintance her story about being at a dinner party that turned into a sex party and he started shouting at me quite aggressively telling me the author was a liar and this could never have happened.

I would recommend this book to any foreigner living in France as I did because it will improve your quality of life. I don't think French people like it because they don't like hearing criticism of France even if, as in this book, it is balanced with a lot of positive and neutral differences.
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on 9 April 2015
My husband is study French and thought this was a very interesting view of France and the French by soneone who lived, loved and worked there;
and was able to intelligently compared the two cultures.
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on 27 September 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 July 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I enjoyed this book while in France on holiday. Or more accurately I really enjoyed two thirds of it. Lucy Wadham is very much a journalist and this is clear in her style. The first third is a fascinating insight into the French way of thinking - and it is unusual to find a book on the French rather than on France. It is equally insightful at comarissons with the English. The second third is perhaps less fascinating, but still enjoyable. One of her main theories is that, unlike the English, the French think in terms of big ideas and theories - and perhaps reflecting the time she has spent in the country, the final third of the book seems to drift into this way of thinking and, losing the personal touch, the book also loses its way a bit. It would have been more interesting to hear more about how her French raised childred adapted to the English ways - which she hints at, but no more. All in all, this is an interesting little book - with some really useful insights. If you are visiting France this summer, it is worth reading as you will find that some of the French ways are not quite for the reasons we tend to think.
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on 2 August 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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