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I was getting annoyed by the degree of stereotypes and superficiality displayed in ...
on October 24, 2008
The first time I came to visit Australia, this book was a big hit. Obviously because I am French and my husband Australian, people gave it to us. It was 11 years ago. Back in France I read it, curious to see my country being described by one of my husband's compatriots. Unfortunately, not only this book was a big deception regarding its style or lack of it but, I was getting annoyed by the degree of stereotypes and superficiality displayed in the book. In fact, I thought that with a journalistic background, the author, Sarah Turnbull, would have been more inclined to go beyond the usual stereotypes. On the contrary, her book is filled with articles of hers, describing the French bourgeois, having expensive wardrobe and $2000 pet dogs. Owners, of 400 years old farm, people dancing rock in line, frustrated, envious, jealous woman who cannot dare to laugh, etc. I thought I was taking it too personally and waited 6 years to read it again, but now that I have been living in Australia for 9 years I can understand why this book has this effect on me. I see how the French lifestyle is imagined in Australia, and I have to say distorted. However, for a journalist living in France, I find incredible that Sarah cannot or doesn't dare to deepen her knowledge about French and the French culture. It is a superficial, badly written book about a capricious girl's experience in Paris. She doesn't try to go beyond the generics. All French are the same from one extreme to another, all French are unhappy and frustrated, all French are old (no mention of youth in her book!), all French are tied with conventions. Apart from one trip in the centre of France and her regular trips in the North, never does she mention going and travelling around France, meeting other people other than her partner friends and family. Never does she mention, that France is NOT Paris.
Let me tell you that all French are NOT Parisians, that 4 millions live in the centre of Paris but 56 millions lives all around France. Not everyone is from a bourgeois background and has a lawyer for boyfriend to answer to every caprice the girlfriend might have. Most of the people in France laugh aloud (and when I do so, here in Sydney, I am badly looked at!), drink a lot, dance randomly (actually French people love to party and dance, not so much in Australia), enjoy life, love to share with others, are curious minded and love to learn about others' experiences and culture, furthermore, love to meet new people. This time I am not going to finish the book. I know very well how she described becoming the one she once disliked so deeply. I am a language teacher in Australia and amongst other language teachers, I am trying to fight stereotypes. It is my belief that it is the cause of too many misconceptions and misunderstandings and above all, the cause of people not being interested in others. Because stereotypes are convenient.
When people mention this book as an example of a French experience, I can't help but feeling annoyed. Definitely, this book is not the work of a woman who embraces her new experience with wide open eyes. This book is NOT a good and truthful description of the French and their cultures. It is certainly not a love story but the tale of a capricious little girl who gets easily frustrated when her wishes are not granted, someone who doesn't work to get what she wants but waits for it and sulks until she gets it. My Australian husband who lived in France (he was fluent in French after 6 month and working full time in a French company after 1 year) read the book 6 years ago and was shocked by the degree of superficiality displayed in the book. Finally, French culture/experience aside, I am always taken aback when people tell me how enjoyable this book is and well written it is, as I find her writing still very poor.