Thumbs up for What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind by Debra Ollivier. Psychology.
This book interested me because it was by and large descriptive rather than prescriptive; it was not a how-to book about how to become happier by “being more French.” That, I am not interested in; and it would have been ridiculous anyway, because it quickly becomes clear in reading that in order to be a French women you need to live in France among French people. (Autre cultures, autre mœurs!) So it must be viewed as a work of popular anthropology, and, as anthropology does, it serves to broaden the mind to different ways of thinking. In this case it does so very entertainingly. The author is an engaging writer and clearly a woman of great intelligence; she knows how very much she has to leave out, and she is upfront about it. What I like was that she allows Frenchwomen (and -men) to speak for themselves, in quotations from those both great and small. Who would I recommend this to? Anyone who plans to travel to France and wants to understand the unspoken cues of the French. Or, perhaps, a woman who cannot see beyond the patterns of her own culture. There are an unfortunate many of those.
Solange was from Alsace. She was pale with straw-colored hair and reminded me of a garden elf. Despite this cherubic quality, she had a severity about her that evoked the rustic plains of her ancestral Northern Europe – at least that’s how I perceived her penchant for frugality. She ate cheese to the rind, then dried it and grated it into her soup. (Similar rituals were performed with dried half-eaten baguettes.) She was reserved, rarely gesticulated, and had three articles of clothing that she wore over and over again, with tiny adjustments to each look, In short, though Solange was no va-va-voom French girl, she did, despite her curiosities, have a certain undeniable charm and sex appeal, and I recall thinking that if she were a typical French girl, I’d have to adjust my cultural assumptions. I was already aware that the proverbial je ne sais quoi we Anglo-Saxons associate with French women did not have as much to do with surface detail as one might surmise.
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