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on 20 June 2017
I loved it. Just moved to France and the author has shown me the subtleties of French life!
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on 8 January 2012
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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on 27 January 2012
Like the last reviewer, I found this through the kindle Christmas special offers where it was about 80% cheaper than the current kindle price, so a real bargain.

This differs a lot from the usual "Brit quit Blighty to move to a warmer, sunnier country in search of a better life" that are, especially on kindle, ten a penny. For a start the author is a professional writer not somebody out to make a few quid by writing something of the quality that would appear in a blog or in e mails back to family and friends.

The author really gets stuck into the fabric of France, and explains in great detail how the country works, how the people think, and every other aspect of French life.

This is mixed with her own experience of dealing with the French as a foreigner - even though she's lived in France since the 80's and speaks perfect French. There's a great story about her applying for a French national ID card debating with a civil servant that she wasn't an illegal citizen. Since the early 90's a Brit cannot be an illegal citizen in the EU.

+1 on what the other reviewer said re buying this on kindle - the last 25% of the book or so is notes and the index, so the book isn't as "thick" as it appears on your kindle.

A very entertaining and a highly recommended book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 1 August 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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 the differences between our "Anglo-Saxon Culture" and the French way of looking at the world. The areas are wide-ranging, from sexual manners, the importance of appearance, attitudes to breast-feeding, the French school system, French healthcare, social system, politics, foreign policy, and more.
It's a more serious book than I was perhaps expecting, certainly with some humour, but also with a lot detailed discussion of history, politics and France's relationship with her ethnic minorities, and her response to terrorism. Certainly, it will give you some insight into the correct tone to adopt towards your boulanger, but it also deals with other more weighty issues than this.
If I have a criticism it is perhaps that this book doesn't quite catch the diversity of France, based very much on what Wadham experienced in her own circle. For example, she does touch on French rural life, but a more in-depth analysis of the differences between the city-dwellers and the proudly titled French "peasants" is beyond the scope of this book, perhaps understandably, but it is a shame nonetheless.
Definitely worth reading if you love France but find the French rather enigmatic as some light will be shed on the mysterious ways of our Gallic neighbour!
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on 6 October 2012
This is an account of living in France (chiefly Paris) by someone initially taken there by love. Warning - one or two spoilers.
It moves from some fairly personal passages to other, more sweeping, debates about the nature of France and the French. As others have mentioned there are hundreds, probably thousands, of books written by British people who have moved to France. Many are frankly rather tedious; page after page of how wonderful it all is, and how funny the French are. This book is a bit different.
The author does at least try to understand her new neighbours and acquaintances; helped by the fact that she married a Frenchman, which at least meant she had to integrate to some degree. Although the marriage did not last, she remained in France, and tries to explain why.
The differences between French and British culture are examined, and although you may not always agree with the conclusions, they normally make you think.
Overall, an interesting read; it can only be a personal account, but does not pretend to be anything else.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 2 July 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I shall look at France and the French people with fresh eyes after reading this book. I've always thought it is very difficult to analyse a country's culture when you were brought up in it. You cannot get enough distance from it though in this case the author could see France as an outsider and has spent long enough there to be capable of objectivity about English culture. In this book Lucy Wadham who has lived in France for 25 years and been married to a Frenchman for part of that time, attempts to demonstrate the difference between life in England and life in France.

I was intrigued to discover that the media has in general only a limited influence and that the French are not that interested in work for its own sake seeing it as a means to an end. There are some fascinating snippets in this book and if you approach it with an open mind you will find it worth reading.

I found the author's style approachable and interesting though she makes no attempt to simplify her subject matter - which I found refreshing. She quotes many documentary sources to back up what she says, so while this is a personal viewpoint the conclusions she draws are based on verifiable facts. Worth reading I thought.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 1 September 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
That was the question that faced Lucy Lemoine (nee Wadham unless that is just a nom de guerre) when she ended her 20-year marriage to a Frenchman. She had to decide whether it was nobler in the mind to suffer the talk and habits of outrageous Frenchmen or to pull up stumps and cross the sea to England, and maybe find that better. She had actually once gone along to apply for French citizenship, and had been so appalled by the rudeness of the civil servant she encountered that she changed her mind on the spot. However when it came to the later decision she elected to stay in France after all, although significantly not in Paris.

Myself, I have been to France ten or eleven times, including my honeymoon in Corsica, but reading this book makes me think I probably know the place better from television and maybe a few films than from my stays there. Nothing Lucy Wadham says about France or the French surprises me, and although my knowledge of it all seems somehow second-hand I think I can understand to a fair extent what she is talking about. She starts her narration where she ought to start it as a young woman, with the relations between the sexes, partly but not mainly her own experiences. I am not going to précis her findings: I shall say only that she has a very interesting slant not only on the work/life balance of the French but on the balance between their commitment to marriage, their adherence or otherwise to Catholic moral teaching, and their attitude to sexual relations generally. A lot of the interest of this part of the book may be unintentional, by giving us insights into her own mental and emotional processes. She is obviously very sharp and analytical, for instance, but if the word `love' occurs at all in this context I think I must have missed it.

One very interesting, and for me quite persuasive, insight is her opinion that the French are hidebound in their inherited traditions from 1789 and also in a self-deceiving mythology about themselves. This point the author illustrates from so many different angles that I can't help being drawn into her mindset. She sees herself as freethinking and independent-minded, and I would call that realistic on the evidence here and not a pose or auto-suggestion. Being of this way of thinking clearly creates communication barriers with the French, and Lucy Wadham does not quite convict the French national mindset of outright escapism, but she seems to me to come very near to it.

The book covers a wide spectrum of cultural and political issues, and with one exception I found myself keenly interested in Lucy Wadham's take on them. The exception occurs near the end, and that may have something to do with the matter, say a deadline to meet that did not help her concentration and focus. I really thought that the chatter about M Sarkozy as something called a `sexual dwarf' was a right load of rubbish, but perhaps I ought to reread the passage in due course. One way or another it is not significant enough to influence the rating I am prepared to give this thoroughly intelligent, fair-minded, readable and enjoyable volume. What really impresses me is that not only does the book address so many difficult and contentious topics with gusto and insight, it even provides, on page 64, nothing less than `the key to the French identity'. Short of identifying The Meaning of Life, I think this is as lofty and ambitious a generalisation as I have encountered in many years.

To me a theme of this kind, when attacked with so much mental grip and expressed with such lucidity, is far more interesting and involving than many a novel. I gather the author is a novelist, although this is the first time I have encountered her work. On this showing it will not be the last time.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2009
Lucy Wadham moved to France just when I left it, so I was very interested to read about her take on a country that I turned my back on, and I was not disappointed ! Away from the rosy-tainted glass approach that most Brits have towards anything french, Lucy reveals it all, from the good to the worst. She pinpoints very well the constraints of (what I personally call the french 'carcan'), a society that values conformity above all ( whereas England once upon a time, valued Eccentricity !)
The skillful insertion of autobiographical material makes the book livelier and more genuine to read than just theory, but towards the end it does become a bit dry and dull, and I can't help thinking we would have liked to know more about the failure of her french marriage than about the 5Tth Republic.
I find her conclusion that France is a country she loves and despises in equal measure, very bizarre. Surely despising is worst than hating and irreversible...Humm...In any case, while reading 'Secret Life', I certainly did not feel nostalgic but relieved that some twenty years ago, I made the right move !
I would nevertheless highly recommend this book to anyone interested to go and live in France as it does contain 'Warning. Can damage your life !'
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on 29 April 2016
This will certainly prove to be the most valuable book I will have read this year, perhaps for several years to come as well. I initially bought, and read it, on kindle. Now I have upgraded to the paperback version for lending to visitors. When one of these nicks it to take home and finish - as they surely will - it will have to be the hardback, chained to the bedside table.

I was born in mainland Europe and brought up there too, in various countries. I have always known France and spoken French. My godparents were French, so it has my spiritual allegiance as well. My extended family has always included far more French people than British ones. As an adult I lived for a long time in England, but mostly managed to spend about two months a year in France. So, when my husband and I moved here permanently about two and a half years ago I was pretty confident that I knew France and its people well.

I was wrong. Yes, I knew when the shops would be open, how to organise most things, and to hold my own in social situations. But the complex subtleties of French values and real social interaction had thus far eluded me. I am still learning.

These subleties Lucy Wadham identifies, analyses and comments on. I suppose you could almost describe her book as philosophy lite - in itself a very French subject to tackle, although the 'lite' is often missing with other writers. She writes so well, so charmingly, and very amusingly.

Some commentators have complained that she focusses too much on Paris. I think this is an irrelevant comment. Yes, the Parisian haute bourgeoisie is possibly the most socially snobbish clan in existence anywhere in the world, but scrape this thin veneer off one of its members, and underneath you will find a perfectly average Frenchman. And fonctionnaires can be just as difficult wherever you travel.

I disagree with her on one or two minor points - but, hey, spirited political and philosophical debate is the stuff of which French social conversation is made.

If you want to understand France, this is the book for you. I am occasionally dismayed by how many Brits move here because a) they think property is much cheaper in France - not really the case, b) they think everyone will speak English. -they don't. And c) the sun always shines - non. So rather than making the effort to learn French and integrate, they huddle together in British enclaves, where they organise neighbourhood watch schemes (a quite superfluous requirement in any French village), hold quiz nights and patronise the British Aisles of the local supermarkets,which have been set up just for them. I think they must be quite unhappy really, and it is very sad that they don't make the small efforts needed to enjoy this beautiful country to the full.

So please read this book, everyone, and thank you so much Lucy Wadham for writing it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 9 January 2015
What Lucy Wadham the racehorse trainer has written a book on France? But no, dear reader, this is Lucy Wadham who went to Oxford and worked for the BBC, living life, as it were, in the raw.

The blurb might have you believing that we're in for a Panorama report on the "The Sexual Life of Catherine M" and indeed there is quite a bit on the way a small part of the French (rich, educated, living in Paris) pursue sexual promiscuity without breaking up their marriages - the "jardin secret". This is not the same territory as Catherine M, but it is a contiguous land-mass and Lucy Wadham describes how it functions. These are the boho bonobos as I call them, amusing in their cages but I would not like them in my house. But just as you are about to shake Lucy warmly by the throat for this generalised picture she's off on other topics and by the end of the book admits that not all the French are like that; indeed they are, like most nations, a lot of different threads.

Lucy discusses a wide number of points including what the French look for in politicians; they must be "hot rabbits" sexually, presumably explaining why Protestant politicians have not had a popular support since Henri of Navarre. Then on to why the French bureaucrats are such a pain; though in truth not turning up with the right document is likely to harden the kindest bureaucratic heart. There are excellent chapters on health services, education, and foreign policy. By the time you arrive at the end a much rounder picture begins to appear. One cannot but wonder if the publisher didn't send a post-it over saying "spice it up early on, love!"

If not as organised as Agnès-Catherine Poirier's French view of the English, Lucy Wadham's return volley has some valuable insights. I do however feel that France had ground up against her, and she against France. I have seldom encountered anything but kindness even from Parisian waiters (indeed when I once enquired which restaurant they would recommend in another part of Paris, my waiter called a soviet of his colleagues and they delivered two excellent recommendations five minutes later after Danton-style debate) and so I do not see all that Lucy sees. But then she saw it day-in and day-out. By the end of the book while I might disagree I was at both educated and entertained, but more importantly amused.
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