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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
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"Should be handed out at Calais and Charles de Gaulle airport to anyone hoping to get a grip on France." Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2004 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.
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.
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.