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Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French Paperback – May 1, 2003
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In 1999, Canadian journalists Nadeau and Barlow moved to Paris for a two-year fellowship to study France's culture and economy in an effort to understand why the French resist globalization. They began by examining this puzzle: How does a country with "high taxes, a bloated civil service, a huge national debt, an over-regulated economy, over-the-top red tape, double-digit unemployment, and low incentives for entrepreneurs" also boast the world's highest productivity index and rank as the third-largest exporter and fourth-biggest economic power? By delving into France's cultural and political history, the authors show how it all works. Chapters are devoted to the French obsessions about World War II and the war in Algeria and how these events still shape attitudes and policies. Other chapters explore the French insistence on precision in language, their sense of private space, and the effects of immigration. 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?" Beth Leistensnider
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
About 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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Glaringly they don't discuss or develop the tragic effect that World War I had on France. The cream of its manhood was wiped out. More than 1,300,000 people died, another 4,000,000 were wounded and hundreds of thousands disappeared or became prisoners. France suffered more than 6,000,000 casualties in that war. Its surrender early in WW II seems to have been done with the awareness that they couldn't suffer such losses again.
The French are wonderful people. While the book works to make us understand why we are different from each other, the authors even in their title show their unwillingness to understand it themselves. "why we love France but not the French" on the cover should have stopped me from even opening it.
There are many examples of the authors giving very favorable treatment to behaviors that are unique to the French and that North Americans might question. One example that is frequently referred to deals with globalization. In 1999, activist farmer José Bové inspired a group of sheep farmers to “symbolically dismantle” a McDonald’s restaurant under construction in Larzac in protest of globalization and other issues. The authors present the rationalization for this act of protest as a result of the unique relationship that the French have with their land. The authors make this act of protest seem almost understandable, but they never discuss the complete disregard by the protestors for the property of others, so this argument is difficult for me to appreciate.
On the other hand, the authors make a very sound argument in support of French journalism. The International Herald Tribune (a partnership of the New York Times and the Washington Post at the time) published a story in 2000 about the interaction between France and the United States following windstorms that destroyed millions of trees in France. According to the IHT, after the storm, middle school students from Fayetteville, Georgia persuaded the Forestry Association to donate five thousand trees so France could replace the lost Versailles trees. The French returned three thousand seedlings because they failed to meet European Union regulations. The writers did not specifically criticize the French, but they seemed to intentionally leave the impression that French bureaucrats were the villains in the story. French journalists included one additional fact (completely omitted by the IHT journalists) that Europe’s entire wine industry was wiped out in the late nineteenth century by a parasite which arrived on evergreen seedlings from the United States.
In chapter 16, Civil Society: Invisible Helping Hands, the authors describe how ‘for profit’ and non-profit organizations function in France. It is disappointing that the authors devote six paragraphs to a spelunkers’ non-profit organization and only two paragraphs to churches. Apparently the authors and/or the French consider spelunkers three times more significant than churches.
The appendixes add much value to this book, but the absence of footnotes raises questions. The authors claim to be business writers, but some of their financial assertions seem questionable. For example, even though the authors were in France while France was transitioning from francs to euros, the authors show most financial amounts in pounds. And the authors exaggerate the strength of the French economy by labelling it the fourth strongest in the world. In 2000, it had the fifth highest GDP and in 2016, it has the sixth highest. In both years, the GDP of the United States is 7.5 times the size of France’s and the GDP per capita of the United States is 40% higher than France’s.