The Secret Life of France

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  4. Review: The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham | Books | The Guardian

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When he ended the conference and swept out of the room with his aides running behind him, I was left in a state of Victorian agitation. If I had had a fan, I would have been waving it furiously.

FRENCH CULTURE SHOCKS - 10 random first impressions - Kiwi expat in France (French subtitles)

Oddly, Wadham hardly mentions food. Only 3. In general he blames the French for losing their appetite for good food, and he blames women and politics. By two million French were living abroad, including chefs. There were 80, vacancies in the food arena that cost too much to fill and, anyway, no one wants to work hard any more.

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The secret life of a real French mistress

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Review: The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham | Books | The Guardian

There is an old joke about the French that involves a government minister ordering one of his aides to draw up a report on how best to tackle some looming crisis or other. When, some days later, the aide presents his work, the minister gives it a cursory read and remarks, in tones of some alarm, "Magnifique, Jean-Claude. I'm sure this will work perfectly in practice.

But my question is: will it work in theory? We Brits rather like the concrete, the particular, the anecdotal. The French, on the other hand, tend to prefer the abstract, the general, the theoretical.

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A cross-Channel citizen if ever there was one, Wadham's desire to find theories, principles and arguments that will explain her experiences in France is positively Gallic; her seemingly endless supply of acerbic and often hilarious anecdotes is thoroughly British. She is very good indeed on the subject of French women, and on relations between the sexes in France generally. Embarking on her life in Paris in Doc Martens, spiky hair and fraying jumper, she is dismayed by the obsession of so many Frenchwomen with appearances, and with the great, grim, Gallic game of permanent seduction one of her husband's many exes arrived knickerless for their wedding.

Infidelity, she discovers, is the norm, and only to be expected, at least in certain circles one of her husband's good friends suggests to her in perfect seriousness, over a fine lunch at an expensive restaurant, that she really ought to consider becoming his mistress.

Wadham says it took her a decade to adjust to being a woman in France. There is in France "a widespread belief that women are allowed to, expected to, behave badly". Brigitte Bardot is lying naked on the bed, and asking her lover which part of her body he likes best: "My feet, do you like my feet?

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  • And my breasts? Which do you prefer, my nipples or my breasts? In English, she sounds like a deranged toddler". There was none of the close camaraderie between women - "the sisterhood" - that Wadham had known in England, because in France, every woman is a potential rival although in the end, she says, she came almost to prefer this, and the constant, often irritating but also uplifting flirtation between the sexes, to "the deep-seated resentments She is strong, too, on France's ambivalent relationship with the state; on the absurdly normative tendencies inherent in its education system; and on the Frenchman's and woman's mythical propensity for rudeness "a formulaic banter If you don't have the right words, you don't have a chance".