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225 of 243 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want insight into France & the French, get this book!
Even though I never bought into the whole "freedom fries" thing, until recently I would've been less than kind in my appraisal of the French. However, after visiting Paris for four days in June of '03, I came away with a whole new appreciation for France and its people. I backpacked through four different countries during my trip, and France ended up being my...
Published on July 16, 2003 by Erik Olson

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86 of 95 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sixty Million Frenchmen can't be Wrong
The book is not totally without value but I believe that problems issue from a limited knowledge of the people of greater France plus for the purposes of comparison a lack of knowledge of the United States. I have lived for the better part of four years in the beautiful and rural Department of the Correze in what is considered southwest France. I came here to retire from...
Published on December 1, 2004 by Sidney B. Hickox


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225 of 243 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want insight into France & the French, get this book!, July 16, 2003
By 
Erik Olson "Seeker Reviews" (Ridgefield, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
Even though I never bought into the whole "freedom fries" thing, until recently I would've been less than kind in my appraisal of the French. However, after visiting Paris for four days in June of '03, I came away with a whole new appreciation for France and its people. I backpacked through four different countries during my trip, and France ended up being my hands-down favorite.
Why the change of heart? Well, first of all Paris has to be seen to be believed. I'm a history buff, and the city is soaked with centuries of it. However, it was the people that really made an impression on me. I was assisted in my wanderings by a number of kind French, including a woman who gave myself and some others an impromptu tour of Notre Dame, and even had three of us over for (free) dinner at her parent's restaurant. And all that just because I asked her for directions! I confess that I fell in love with Paris, and after returning home I began looking for books to learn more about a place that could turn my opinions around so quickly.
I almost skipped over this one - the title and goofy cover art made me think it was some sort of satire. But I gave it a shot, and it turned out to be one of the best books I've read this year. It answered many questions I had about France and the French, from the turbulent history that formed the French national identity, to why a Frenchman spent about a minute correcting my pronounciation of "Champs Elysees." Better yet, the authors write in an accessible, entertaining style, even when dissecting the minutia of French government. A great read from start to finish - don't let this one get away.
I can't wait to go back to Paris, and if you feel as I do, or just want to know why "60 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong", then by all means get this book!
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable introduction to mindset of many French people, March 25, 2005
By 
Arthur Digbee (Indianapolis, IN, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
This is a very readable and enjoyable introduction to French "culture." More specifically, the authors want to explain various features of France to North Americans. They are certainly qualified to do this, being fully bilingual journalists; he is Quebecois, she is Ontarian. Though they are Canadian, they are writing for a US audience as much as for a Canadian one, and they regularly compare all three countries.

The book consists of three parts: "Spirit," "Structure," and "Change." The part on Spirit is by far the best. It provides a good entry to diverse aspects of the French mindset, sometimes using the device of "studying the aborigines" in France. These include, for example, the French attitude toward land, their fondness for grandeur, and their notions of private and public space. The section is full of anecdotes and discussions with French people, and these voices come through very well.

The section on "Structure" is much less successful. Perhaps, as a political scientist, I am inclined to be overly critical of those who discuss politics without the analytical apparatus that the discipline uses. Still, I see that other reviewers were also disappointed in this section. I think the problem is that the authors rely too much on "regular people" as sources. This strategy works really well when people are talking about their own views of things, as in the "Spirit" section. It doesn't work so well when people are talking about things outside themselves, especially if those things may require some expertise to understand, such as the economy.

When Nadeau and Barlow make generalizations about France, the US, or Canada, it's important to realize that all three of these are diverse countries. The authors have limited experience in each - - they don't have the same depth of knowledge about (say) Texas, British Columbia, or Marseilles and they do Paris, New York, or Quebec. As a result, the book jacket and other publicity material very much overstates its case. The jacket claims that there are a lot of answers in this book - - read it and you will understand France. Of course, it doesn't work that way. Still, if you read the book you will understand France better than you did before you read the book. You'll also enjoy the journey.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journalism that reads like fiction, May 12, 2003
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
This is a rare breed in the world of nonfiction: a factual book you'll actually read through to the end.
In a lively style punctuated with anecdote, authors Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau trace how the society and politics of France have evolved over the centuries. The result? We start to understand there is a distinct French character and that the current showdown between France and the English-speaking world is not resistance for its own sake, but the result of the real, historic differences that exist.
This book is for anyone who has ever lived in France, visited or tried to do business with the French. It will illuminate some of the mysteries and answer questions you didn't know to ask.
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86 of 95 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sixty Million Frenchmen can't be Wrong, December 1, 2004
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
The book is not totally without value but I believe that problems issue from a limited knowledge of the people of greater France plus for the purposes of comparison a lack of knowledge of the United States. I have lived for the better part of four years in the beautiful and rural Department of the Correze in what is considered southwest France. I came here to retire from Southern California. I have visited Paris a few times but am just as much a tourist there as most Americans.

Unlike the Nadeaux my knowledge of the French language is not first rate inspite of time spent here. Yet I am able to communicate well enough with many French in the area in which I live and have made close and interesting friends. They are most tolerant of my language failures and my nationality. They would be quite surprised to know that they close their shutters for privacy rather than for weather conditions or that they would never show the insides of their homes other than the Selon or Cusine to guests. Contrary to the book or perhaps contrary to Parisians, in the evening light emminates from my neighbors homes even to a kilometer away across a little valley to the village and the Maire and Ecole.One should also remember homes dating from the Middle Ages don't have a lot of windows or portals.

If political corruption is overlooked,as written, why is President Chirac facing charges of misuse of funds when he served as Mayor of Paris? The system here protects politicians from prosecution while serving in office but that ends when he leaves his elected positon. The former Gaulist Primier Juppe was certainly brought up for illegal political donations although he apparently did not personally benefit.

Jean-Benoit and Julie seem to be shocked that the President of France can give amnesty to any convicted criminal. Are they not aware that the U.S. President and the Governors of the 50 states have the same power? They define the National Police as "the equilivant of the F.B.I. in uniform." My neighbor Girard, a 'guardien de Pays' in the National Police at Tulle the Prefecture of the Correze will get a laugh out of that. Not even close. I'm a bit surprised that Canadians would not realize the National Police structure resembles more Canada's RCMP never the FBI. It covers all aspects of law enforcement and simply has no equilivant in the States.

Gendarms serve under the ministers of Defense and Interior and are a part of the military. They provide policing for most of the Communes and Villages of France There are 21,000 municipal Police who enforce minor crimes and traffic violations all over France. Not just in cities of less than 10,000 as stated in the book. They serve under the authority of the Mayor and are employed by the city in which they serve.

In the states our system of States and Counties simply cannot be compared to the French system of Departments and Regions but a "Commune" may consist of several villages which have their own mayors the writers are quite correct that things fiscal are handled at the commune lever. But the "Maire" of the village issues licenses and permits not the Commune.

The statements: "The French don't have very rich community lives" and "In U.S. communities life is the pillar of the entire social edifice". Are evidence of the writers narrow view of both nations. I would sumit they have spent little time in urban California or rural France.

Incidently their friends whom they describes as "Gourmands" may not be offended in the regions of Paris but in the Southwest it refers to a glutton. I suspect their friends would be happier being described a "gourmets".

I note with interests the five star reviews given this work are from those who have spent little or no time in France. I would submit that by far most American visitors never see the real France.

The writers generalize and reach quick conclusions even with their 3 years of French residency. Still, as stated, the book is of value and offers a fresh view of the subject.There are good historical links and information plus lessons for non-offensive conduct.

As for France, remember to keep an open mind.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique and thoughtful insight, August 22, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
Books by North Americans about Paris and France and the cultural differences they experience while traveling and living there are too often overly simplistic and do not get beneath the surface of romanticized visions of French culture. For example, Diane Johnson's Le Divorce and others are not very well written and offer little new information on why the French are the way they are and how it really is to be a modern citizen of France. This book, however, stands apart due to the authors' effort to resist indulging in stereotypes and, instead, to really explore the workings of French culture. For instance, the chapters on education are fascinating because they give real details on how the French education system works, which are very surprising to most North Americans. Understanding this system provides much greater insight into the way one's socioeconomic status is determined in France and the French understanding of a meritocracy. Similarly, the discussion of the lingering memories of WWII is incredibly insightful and helps the reader understand where the French come from in modern politics. Highly recommended for anyone interested in really learning about modern French.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A French eye on "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong, May 6, 2005
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
I'm a true Parisian (born in Paris) who lived in the US and remained at times intrigued by political and cultural differences

I just finished reading the book, and strangely enough found it extremely useful for better understanding my own country. Most comments and analysis I read about politics or culture are written from a single background perspective, whether North American, or French.

What I really enjoyed in this book is the deep understanding of both civilizations of the authors, and the way they can pinpoint and explain differences using history, traditions, linguistic, and geography.

For instance, French centralization and lack of local initiatives is most of the time a real pain and the source of multiple frustrations when lived from the inside."60 Million..." helped me to understand why such system prevails, where it comes from, even what benefits it brings and how it can sometimes balance the shortcomings

To the same token, I have always had a hard time understanding the relation individuals entertain with the Government and the Community in the US. The book did again a good job, as it effectively compared both systems and mentalities.

I strongly recommend this book to those interested in better understanding both cultures.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that could help Franco-American relations, December 29, 2004
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
Many people have praised and quibbled with one or another of the authors' contentions in this book. After 4 years of living and working in France, (and quite a few more of same in the US), I think that they have done a very laudable job of exploring some of the differences between "French" and "North American" culture. What I like best about the book is its unapologetically journalistic style. In the space of just a few paragraphs it moves from profound insights to curious historical explanations to the authors being frankly puzzled (about the daily ritual of opening and closing shutters for example -- much discussed below by other reviewers). This informal and humble approach is one that I particularly like.

Since French language and culture have made many contributions to American culture and institutions (think of Jefferson or even the Bill of Rights), I would love to see people take advantage of this unpretentious, though likely imperfect, book to put aside stereotypes and see how two peoples have structured their worlds very differently.

Now what is needed is a friendly little book like this one that takes on the French stereotypes and distortions regarding what "liberal" America is all about. (Perhaps surprisingly, for the French in this context the word "liberal" means laissez-faire, supply-side economics.) For French university students, as an example, US colleges are remarkably elitist institutions because they are only for those rich enough to pay the exorbitant tuition. A few photos and thirty minutes of discussion are enough to convince most students that comparing French universities to North American ones based only on fees is a mistake. (French universities are virtually free and have only slightly better facilities than you might expect as a result.)

Speaking of universities, this book would be a good supplement to a N. American university course in French culture and institutions. (The main text would admittedly need to be more meaty and in French, but this one would prepare the terrain for anyone who runs the risk of living in France.) In the afterword the authors speak of having plowed through the second draft; unfortunately they left a few too many of their expressions and anecdotes hanging around in glaring proximity to one another. Towards the end of the book, the repetition made me grind my teeth. It's really a shame, but with 50 fewer pages the book would have been an even greater achievement.

This book taught me, and challenged a few of my ideas. (For example about the socialist nature of social security: I knew nothing about the German model of social security. -- This chapter may well soon need to be rewritten though, as some fundamental reforms seem to be moving the sécu a bit more towards the HMO system in the US. (The much publicised 1 euro per visit out-of-pocket fee since the beginning of 2005 is not really the issue, though that is certainly all the TV news networks have covered.)

In short, I am truly impressed by their synthesis. As a fan of languages (especially French) I am therefore looking forward to their next book.
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91 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic book on all things French, May 17, 2004
By 
Tim F. Martin (Madison, AL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
France is a land of contradictions. It is nation where people have seven weeks of paid vacation a year, generally take an hour and a half for lunch, have one of the longest life expectancies on the planet, work in the fourth largest economy in the world, and have one of the finest health care systems in the world. It is also a nation that has one of the lowest rates of charitable donations in the developed world, where people expect the State to do everything because they pay so much in taxes, where the civil service makes up about a quarter of the working population, and where local initiative or self-rule is virtually non-existent. What explains these many paradoxes?
Authors Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow sought to discover the source of these contrasts and to learn why the French were so different. Living for three years in France, they worked almost as ethnologists, delving into all aspects of French political, cultural, and economic life, uncovering many things from an outsider's perspective. Writing about the French civil service, economy, media, education, charities, unions, social welfare system, courts, politics, foreign policy, history, and language, they provide a thorough and very readable primer on all things French.
One thing they point out is that the French as a people love power. They have a great disdain for compromise - both in politics and even in personal conversations - instead preferring winners and losers, embracing particularly in politics what the authors termed "jusqu'au-boustisme" (until-the-bitter-end-ism), of the tendency in politics to pursue winning even to destructive ends. An ultimate expression of this might be found in the fact that State is absolute in French politics and society; it tolerates no rivals, whether it was the Catholic clergy's onetime dominance over the nation's education system or the existence of any meaningful regional government tied to a local culture, though the latter has changed some in recent years. The French love for their politicians to exhibit grandeur (and the politicians love to exhibit it), practicing something called cumul des mandates (or simply the cumul); it is possible for one to hold more than one elected office at the same time (for instance for a time President Jacques Chirac was also mayor of Paris, the prime minister, deputy from his home region of Correze, and a deputy in the European Parliament). Indeed the French President is one of the most powerful heads of state in the democratic world, in many ways more powerful that the American President.
Some of this lover of grandeur is exhibited in the fact that the French state is very much a unitary one, not a federal one; the central government in Paris reigns supreme, even in matters in the U.S. that would be regarded as strictly local affairs, such as the choosing of school textbooks or in most cases the management of local police. For instance the mayor of Paris does not control local police or transport, but they are instead controlled by the central government. Only towns of less than ten thousand citizens are allowed to control their own police.
This tendency to have a highly centralized, almost absolutist democracy though is not entirely due to a French love of grandeur. Much of dates back to the centuries long attempts to create the nation of France and keep it together, to impose French culture and language on more distant regions. At the time of the Revolution, the doctrine of the Republique was that "nothing should come between the citizen and the State." The French State actually created what we today call France, assimilating very diverse populations, giving them a single nationality, eradicating any local power or local language, acting for decades with extreme suspicion of anything (including churches) that fostered any sense of local community beyond the instruments of the state. Though France has levels of local administration - the Commune, the Department, and the Region - these do not exactly correspond to Canadian provinces or American states in that they have no sovereign rights themselves or exhibit any significant sense of French separation of powers, but instead are for the most part representatives of the central government. In the case of the 99 Departments, they were created as a result of the Revolution, often designed to deliberately break up regional identities, dividing lands with local identities into more than one Department, often given non-historical, sometimes deliberately meaningless names. The advent of the Region in 1982 reversed this to an extent, as Regions reflect natural cultural divisions in France, such as the areas inhabited by the Bretons, Occitan, or Corsicans, though some in France fear that this may lead to federalism one day (while at the same time France has given increasing powers to the supranational European Union).
This is not to say that the French State is anti-democratic; it was founded with three principles, assimilation (or eradication des particularismes; eradication of local differences), interet general (or common good), and equality (not only equality of opportunity but also equal or identical law throughout France). The principle of assimilation had been a driving force in creating the Departments (though ironically has made integration of the growing Muslim community in France difficult as it has until recently been regarded as illegal to even recognize special status or differences among French citizens).
There are checks on the Republique. In addition to civil and criminal law, the French have administrative law, an entirely parallel legal system for dealing with matters relating how the State relates to the citizens, administrative tribunals that can rule against government and the state. The growing independence of judges is another check. Protests are a way of life in France, a legitimate method for citizens to curb the system, the authors detailing this uniquely French form of political expression at some length.
I have barely scratched the surface in my review of this fascinating book. It is an absolute must read for anyone wanting to do business or live in France.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Gallic Gall and other misunderstood Frenchisms, July 17, 2003
By 
Govindan Nair (Vienna, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
For over twenty years, travelling frequently between France and the United States, I have gathered and compared perspectives from both sides of the Atlantic on French (mis)perceptions of the United States and vice versa. This book adds to a collection which ranges from John Steinbeck's wonderful satire of Fourth Republic politics "The Short Reign of Pipin IV" to Harvard professor Stanley Hoffman's "In Search of France" and including French sociologist Michel Crozier's interesting works on US society. What is distinct about this attempt by a perceptive Canadian couple to explain France to a North American audience is its remarkably compact coverage of a wide range of topics - from the nature of the French state to its elitist "grandes ecoles" - with well documetned historical and other references which the general reader will find neither inacessible nor superficial. One reservation I have is a tendency to bend over backwards to be culturally neutral, avoiding criticism of any aspect of France, but instead showing why North American tendencies to crticize might be misplaced. But then, this is the prupose of the book, it seems. On the whole, the North American reading this with an open mind will also better understand many aspects of U.S. and Canadian society.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 60 million Frenchmen, September 19, 2003
By 
Peter McGivney (Wappingers Falls, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
Like one of the other reviewers, I was almost too quick to judge this book by its silly cover, which would have been a major mistake. Despite the silly cover and equally silly title, this book is a serious attempt to explain who the French are and why they do some of the things they do. The authors are Canadian journalists who examine the roots of French culture, the citizenry's relationship with the state, French education, and the attitudes towards what constitutes the public and private spheres. There is not much about the Franco-American disagreement at the United Nations earlier this year, but anyone who had read this book would have known that those disagreements were bound to happen given the vastly different world views at play there. The book is easy to read, with separate chapters for each of the institutions and customs the authors examine, and is one of the best books I've read this year. But you do have to get past the silly cover and title. I cant imagine who convinced the authors that this cover and title were good ideas but they and their work deserved better.
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