Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French

( 11 )


The French...

-Smoke, drink and eat more fat than anyone in the world, yet live longer and have fewer heart problems than Americans

-Work 35-hour weeks, and take seven weeks of paid holidays per year, but are still the world's fourth-biggest economic power

So what makes the French so different?

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong is a journey into the French heart, mind and soul. Decrypting French ideas about land, privacy and language, ...

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Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French

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The French...

-Smoke, drink and eat more fat than anyone in the world, yet live longer and have fewer heart problems than Americans

-Work 35-hour weeks, and take seven weeks of paid holidays per year, but are still the world's fourth-biggest economic power

So what makes the French so different?

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong is a journey into the French heart, mind and soul. Decrypting French ideas about land, privacy and language, Nadeau and Barlow weave together the threads of French society--from centralization and the Napoleonic Code to elite education and even street protests--giving us, for the first time, a complete picture of the French.

"[A] readable and insightful piece of work." --Montreal Mirror

"In an era of irrational reactions to all things French, here is an eminently rational answer to the question, 'Why are the French like that?'" --Library Journal

"A must-read." --Edmonton Journal

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In 1999, freelance bilingual Canadian journalists Nadeau and Barlow traveled to France under the auspices of the Institute of Current World Affairs. Their goal? To determine how France has been coping with the new forces of globalization and modern times in general. The product of their effort is a wide-ranging discussion of the French character and how it has changed since World War II. Their overwhelming generalizations are based mostly on conversations with a variety of sources from seat companions on transatlantic flights to high-level government and business officials. The authors' intent "is not a history of France. Neither is it a specialized study of sociology, demography, political theory, or economics. [It] is a study of France." Therein lies the problem: the approach is so inclusive that any reader, except those quite familiar with France, will have a hard time understanding what Nadeau and Barlow are trying to convey. Unfortunately, neither an index nor a bibliography is provided. Readers may find more satisfaction in Julian Barnes's Something To Declare: Essays on France. Not recommended.-Olga B. Wise, Austin, TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402200458
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 270,657
  • Product dimensions: 8.28 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Canadian journalists Jean-Benoit Nadeau an Julie Barlow have spent the last decade working extensively in both their country's official languages.

Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1964, Jean-Benoit Nadeau holds a bachelor's degree in political science and history from McGill University. A journalist since 1987, he has written for L'actualite, Saturday Night Magazine, National Post Business, and Quebec Science. The holder of seventeen journalism awards, he was granted a two-year fellowship in 1998 by the New Hampshire-based Institute for Current World Affairs to study why the French resist globalization. In 2001, he published a humorous travelogue, Les francais aussi ont un accent (Payon, Paris). He has also traveled in Mexico, the UK, New Zealand, and Algeria.

Born in Ancaster, Ontario, in 1968, Julie Barlow holds an honour's degree in political science from McGill University and a master's in English Literature from Concordia University. Over the last decade, she has written for Saturday NIght Magazine, Report on Business Magazine, L'actualite, and other Canadian magazines. In 1998, she worked as Editor-in-Chief of English-language projects at Montreal-based publisher Ma Carriere. In 2003, she published Same Words, Different Language (Piatkus, London) with international gender expert Barbara Annis. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, North Africa, Israel, Turkey, the Caucasus, Mexico, the UK, and New Zealand.

The couple is now based in Montreal, where they are living happily in French and English while producing their next book, The Story of French.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Meet the Aborigines

When we arrived in Paris at the beginning of Jean-Benoît's fellowship, it was only the second time we had set foot in France. We were tourists, and at the outset we looked at France through the eyes of vacationers. Whenever we could squeeze some free time out of the jumble of immigration, housing, and banking predicaments that monopolized our first few months in Paris, we strolled the streets in awe. The city and its monuments seemed ancient beyond belief. We visited a park in the Latin Quarter that was the site of a Roman arena from the first century A.D. In the very place we were observing smartly dressed, well-behaved little French children chasing balls under the watchful gaze of their nannies, ten thousand citizens of the Roman Empire once watched gladiator combats. The idea made us giddy. Everywhere we went we saw remnants of a past we could hardly imagine. We scrutinized rows of fifteenth-century houses on the left bank whose facades still slanted backward according to medieval construction techniques. The proud owner of a restaurant next to the Paris city hall led us down to his basement to show us the building's thirteenth-century foundation.

But one of our most acute time-warp sensations came months later, after a hike along the Seine river that ended in La Roche Guyon, a small town built on a bend of the river twenty miles west of Paris. The founders of La Roche Guyon chose a spectacular location for their village, nestling it between the river and a four hundred - foot cliff of white chalk. The more we looked around, the more La Roche Guyon impressed us with its historical layers. On the highest spur, right over the town of La Roche Guyon, there was a twelfth-century dungeon. At the base of the dungeon there was a Renaissance castle. In the cliff behind the castle, we saw the bunker where the German Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891 - 1944) defended Normandy against the Allies in World War II (the way he saw it, anyway). Then, as we walked across the town, we noticed several dozen houses dug straight into the cliff. The houses had neat French facades and Peugeots parked in front of them. We asked the nearby shopkeepers about them and were told that the houses were actually ancient cave dwellings, updated with modern amenities, and still inhabited.

Like many North Americans, who live on a slate wiped clean of history, we never got over the thrill of carrying out our modern lives among Roman ruins and medieval churches. Even though a lot of the monuments and structures we saw predated the founding of America, they were just part of people's daily lives in modern France. Sometimes we found them in completely unsuspecting places. East of La Rochelle, the utterly uninspiring city of Angoulême boasts nothing less than a Gothic city hall. In Provence, Avignon's massive Palace of the Popes, built in the fourteenth century, sits smack in the middle of the city's bustling downtown. To top off this effect of strange historical juxtapositions, we noticed that in many French cities, modern and ancient structures were built out of stone the same color as the gravel in the alleys. In other words, French cities looked like they had gradually grown out of the soil over the centuries, or in some cases, the millennia. Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral (the part they've cleaned, anyway) is the beige color of the city's native stone, and so is the Louvre, the Versailles palace, and even twentieth-century apartment buildings.

Later, this helped us make one of our first breakthroughs in understanding France: it is impossible to disassociate the past from the present. There is no clear line to divide ancient from modern in France, and what goes for architecture, goes for the people, too. As a society, they slowly grew out of the soil. It's as if they live in the past and the present at the same time. Yet it took us a while to figure out what that actually meant.

Our first impression of the French was that they were busy living modern lives. When we got to France, people were starting to moan about the troubles the new euro would cause them. Life didn't look that different from what we were used to in North America. People drove their Renaults to work and heated up frozen lasagna from Picard for supper. Even while we were starstruck by castles, churches, and dungeons, many things about the country struck us as incredibly modern. "Smart cards" - cards with microprocessor chips that carry personal information and an ID code - made modern commerce feel space age to us.

At the same time, there were moments when we felt like we were living in the past. Smart cards worked well in automated machines, but when we went to the bank in person, the clerks could not use them to access our accounts. We had to give them our name and account number (which we learned to carry around on a little slip of paper in our wallets). In restaurants, waiters tallied our bill and processed our payment with little remote control microwave radios - very advanced technology. However, when we asked for the directions to the rest rooms, they sometimes showed us to an outdoor Turkish toilet, essentially a glorified hole in the ground.

Other mind-boggling customs left us scratching our heads as we were impatiently tapping our toes. Our baker individually wrapped every pastry she sold no matter how many people were waiting behind us to place their orders. Our dry cleaner meticulously (and slowly) wrapped each article in paper, gingerly, as if our shirts were St-Honoré cakes. At the grocery store in our neighborhood, people still paid by check, even for five-dollar purchases.

We got the finishing touch when we rented our apartment and the rental agent handed us a set of oversize keys straight out of The Count of Monte Cristo. Just what era do the French live in, anyway? we wondered. We started to get the answer to this question nine months after our arrival, during a visit to the Périgord region, east of the city of Bordeaux. Périgord is the destination of choice for the world's gourmands. It's the land of foie gras, truffles, and duck confit. The area's most beautiful city, Sarlat, is a jewel of preservation with its narrow, winding, cobblestone streets, perfectly restored medieval houses, and stunning collage of Romanesque, Gothic, neoclassical, and Renaissance architecture. But preservation is perhaps too strong a word. Until the 1960s, the residents of Sarlat actually lived in medieval conditions, with no electricity or running water. It was the Minister of Culture of the time, André Malraux, who saved them. In 1962 he created a law for the preservation of historical monuments and Sarlat, a twenty-year renovation project, was his several hundred- million-dollar guinea pig.

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Table of Contents


Part I: Spirit

Chapter 1: Meet the Aborigines
Chapter 2: The Land on Their Mutual Mind
Chapter 3: Private Space
Chapter 4: Grandeur Is Better
Chapter 5: The Art of Eloquence
Chapter 6: Until-the-Bitter-End-Ism
Chapter 7: World War II: The Unforgotten War
Chapter 8: Algeria: The Unacknowledged War

Part II: Structure

Chapter 9: The Penchant for Absolutism
Chapter 10: The State: One for All, and All for One
Chapter 11: Dogs, Towns, and Local Governemt
Chapter 12: Strong Language
Chapter 13: Elite Education
Chapter 14: The Enarchy
Chapter 15: In the Name of the Law
Chapter 16: Civil Society: Invisible Helping Hands
Chapter 17: The Choreography of Protest
Chapter 18: Redistributing Wealth
Chapter 19: Economic Interventionism: The State Will Do

Part III: Change

Chapter 20: The World According to France
Chapter 21: The French Melting Pot
Chapter 22: New Checks and Balances
Chapter 23: The Meaning of Europe

Appendix 1: France's Changing Regimes
Appendix 2: ENA Postings
About the Authors

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 20, 2009

    How and why French attitudes are so different from those in the US

    According to this very interesting book, French attitudes are quite different from those we think of as typical of people in the USA. This results in the two societies talking past one another on many topics, and being nonplussed by the other society. The book's chapters recount a number of the ways French attitudes, opinions, and society are different.

    Some examples: French people have very different notions about privacy. Imagine you strike up a conversation with a Frenchman previously unknown to you. Soon enough you will with total comfort ask the person his name, and soon enough after that , also what he does for a living. Americans do this without a second thought. The book informs us that a French person will find your curiosity uncalled for, rude, and quite offensive. For us Americans such a response would seem very bizarre.

    Another: the French love the exercise of power. They expect their politicians to brandish their power. A politician may treat an opponent's stance with scorn or ignore it altogether. Many Americans would consider this arrogance and would be offended. Far fewer French would; they would expect it; a politician too considerate of his opposition would be considered weak.

    Another example: French governance is unlike that in America. In France, says the book, there is only one government, the national government. Municipalities in France are largely administered by prefects sent to do so by the national government in Paris. There is hardly anything in the way of local police. The institution of police is national. Police are employees of the government in Paris; police are recruited nation-wide, and never stationed around their home towns, to reduce a source of prejudice in performance of their duties.

    A last example for now: contrary to the tendency in the US in recent decades, the French educational system practices an unapologetic elitism. In fact, there is a national network of specialized schools whose purpose is to identify and train elite students in numerous fields, such as governance, science and technology, agriculture, the military, and so on. That's right, there is an elite school for training future politicians and top-level administrators. You are not prevented from being a civil servant if you did not start in such a school, but you will have to pass examinations to be a civil servant, and undergo considerable retraining during your career as a civil servant.

    This book covers yet more areas of difference. It is an enjoyable and easy read, with plenty of surprises about how French society has sharp differences with American and other societies.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2005

    Couldn't Stop Laughing

    A great read! A manual to the French psyche and the French way and the French world (and yes, they do live in a different world). Not just exaggeration on the differences, but also an analysis on how and why the French and us are so different.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    More info on Canada than I care for.

    This is a well researched book with a sufficient info on the French. What I didn't really care for were all of the references and facts about French Canadians. One of the authors apparently happens to be a French Canadian and obviously felt compelled to make some comparisons, but what I was really looking for was mainly information about France and it's customs, not on Canada and their French speaking people. If I wanted to know so much about the cultural and language differences between the Canadians and the French, I would have gone for a different book. On the next edition of this book maybe they can add a little Canadian flag to the cover so people aren't misled about the information they are getting. Thanks for sharing about your heritage Mr. Benoit, but you should add somewhere or give some kind of indication that there will be a good amount of info and comparing of Canada and France. As I said in earlier, I do appreciate the info on France in Europe. Most of the info was actually on France, but I could really care less for the info about Quebeckers vs. France.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2005

    Too Complicated

    Although I found the book informative, I thought it went too much in depth of the political situation in France. I did enjoy the fact that they explain French behavior but that they explained WHY THEY ACT THE WAY THEY DO. You can begin to understand that there is meaning behind everything and there is a reason for not cleaning up doggy poo and all sorts of other quirky things the French do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2004

    Nadeau a raison!

    I'm curious if this English translation of Nadeau's 'Les Francais Aussi Ont un Accent' (literally: 'The French Too Have an Accent') will be as potent for an anglophone audience. As another French- Canadian who lived (10 years) in France, I found his observations about France, from the perspective of a Canadien-Francais, totally on target. The book was originally intended for francophones and when I read one person's critique saying she had a hard time following what Nadeau was talking about, I can see, from an American perspective, how that would be so. We French-Canadians who grow up with ancestral and linguistic ties to France find ourselves completely blown away at the arrogance, condescending attitude, and downright nastiness with which many French regard us, all the while as they profess us to be their 'cousins.' But as Nadeau analyzes the antagonism between 'la Vieille France' and 'la Nouvelle France' as well as with the rest of the world, he does so in a refreshingly witty manner, not holding back harsh criticism, yet tempering it with humour and compassion. This is one of my favourite books of all time and I definitely recommend it to people interested in entering the French psyche (and those interested in how France deals with the rest of the French-speaking world.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2014

    A great read

    I really enjoyed every bit of this book. It is well written, and helped me understand why the French feel the way they do. I would hope that a new book is forthcoming.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2004

    French 101-Introduction to French and France

    I was introduced to the book at a talk by the authors at the Maison Francaise in DC. Found the book to be interesting, fun and in general a good review of some of the basic concepts of French culture, notably the state, language and privacy. I am quite familiar with France and for me the book hardly represented anything new but several of my friends who are less familiar with France loved it too. I think the advantage of this book, is that is written with a North American perspective and audience in mind, and that should make it fairly easy for the American reader to understand and compare France and French to America and Americans. Easy to read and to enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2004

    Highly Informative and Fun

    This book was just what I wanted. It added another dimension to French News, which I watch nightly on TV. My French is not so good and this book allowed me to penetrate another layer of French culture, which is usually only open to fluent French speakers. Simply and ably written, it moved fast and was a pleasure to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2003

    Love? No. Understand? Maybe a little better.

    No, not specialized. However, very interesting reading, even for those of us who know very little about the 'other' country across the pond. As for reading Julian Barnes instead of this work? Only, and I do mean only, if you have a love of Flaubert and French music of the latter 20th century. A wonderful read, but night and day from what I was looking for and found in 'Sixty Million Frenchman.........'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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