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WTF?!: What the French Paperback – October 4, 2016
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Praise for Stuff Parisians Like
“A well-deserved spanking for all Parisians.”—GQ
“Hysterically funny.”—Girls’ Guide to Paris
About the Author
Olivier Magny is the author of Stuff Parisians Like and Into Wine. He’s also the founder of one of the best wine bars in Paris: Ô Chateau.
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"WTF" started out in this vein, discussing French dancing, the many uses of the phrase "ca va," the rules of snacking between meals. Then suddenly there's an essay about the overwhelming leftism of French teachers and professors. A little later, a chapter on the disappearance of national borders and the loss of sovereignty in France. Globalization and political correctness, excessive taxation on small businesses (the author owns a wine bar in Paris), high crime rates and lax judges, all rate a quick rant.
Magny's take on even the less important subjects starts to take on a crotchety tone. Middle aged women wear unflattering haircuts, he says. Men in France are too effeminate. Young people can't spell properly. You can't even get a decent hot breakfast in France.
At first I found this grumpy attitude off-putting, but then became intrigued. Magny is not an old man at all, he's in his early thirties. I followed up on his footnotes and sources and reading suggestions. He seems to have what might be a libertarian view if he were in the U.S., and rejects the mainstream parties completely. Is he an outlier or is he representative of what many young people throughout the West are thinking? I suspect the latter. "WTF" wasn't at all what I expected, and I imagine many people will be misled by the marketing for the book, which implies that it is a lighthearted follow-up to Stuff Parisians Like. It is a different book entirely, and I spent more time with it and thought more about it than I expected to.
(Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for a digital review copy.)
As a Brit who has spent nearly a quarter of a century in France I have an interest in books that cover France as seen 'anthropologically' so I then went on to read "What The French". While some chapters are insightful and amusing (bises, aperitif, yoghurt, etc. - hence the two stars), as I carried on reading I became increasingly disturbed by the author's far-right views. I dreaded turning the page to see what the next chapter was about in the event it would provide him for a platform to spout his political views e.g. on immigration. Ironically towards the end (in the chapter about the press) he derides the concept of left vs right, but (1) whenever he mentions Socialists or the left-wing the words "rampant" "teacher" "journalist" or "Soviet" are never very far; (2) many of the media sources he cites are notoriously conservative and right-wing (e.g. La Croix, Le Figaro). In my opinion it didn't seem like his choice of source material was very well-balanced. More worryingly, in chapters like The Rise of the Front National or Immigration he attempts to play down the far-right tendencies of said political party, or states that Le Grand Remplacement (a xenophobic conspiracy theory invented by a far-right sympathiser) is a reality.
So if you're a catholic conservative with right-wing tendencies and want to read a book of sweeping generalisations about France written by a young Frenchman with similar tendencies do buy this book. Otherwise as the French say "passez votre chemin" and read one of the many other better books available on France.
This belongs in your library beside "1000 Years of Annoying the French" (Stephen Clarke) and "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong" (Nadeau & Barlow).