Speak the Culture: France Paperback – Jan 18 2008
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This is a comprehensive and erudite cultural guide to France and the French. Beginning with a survey of the geography and major historical events that have shaped France, what follows is a highly informative and entertaining look at all aspects of French life and culture. Areas examined include literature and philosophy, art, architecture and design, the performing arts, cinema, photography and fashion, media and communications, food and drink and the state of the nation. A veritable cultural kaleidoscope of famous, influential and significant activities, events, places and people that add up to France. With a format and written style that allows for easy digestion of facts and information, this is a book that all Francophiles will find hard to put down.French Property NewsSpeak the culture, France is an absolutely indispensable guide to every aspect of French culture, from the country's great musicians and artists, to the television viewing habits of its population. Everything you could possibly hope to know about French lifestyle - from what the newspapers and magazines on French newsstands are about, to the historic French architecture - is explained in clear detail.Complicated subject matter such as France's artistic and philosophical movements is clearly summarised and simple to understand. Practical information about French law, wine, food and politics is also given in the book, to give a complete picture of la vie francaise.Speak the Culture, France answers any questions you may have had about why there is no Big Brother on French television, or what exactly is in a glass of kir. The book will also help you evade embarrassing faux pas by clarifying social dilemmas such as who should pay if you invite someone out to dinner and how to avoid pouring an impolite amount if wine into somebody's glass.The book begins with a historical explanation as to how France gained its cultural identity the details France's heroes and villains, explains how language evolved in France and looks at who the French language is protected today. For anybody living in France, visiting the country on holiday or simply interested in French life, Speak the Culture, France is essential reading, giving its readers access to information normally gained through years of cultural observation.Living FranceEven as Eurostar relocates to a gloriously refurbished St Pancras station and the journey time between London and Paris is shaved even closer, more and more people on both sides of the Channel are taking advantage of the extra opportunities this highly cherishable link offers us. And for those already in love with France (not to mention the ever-increasing legions of converts), Speak the Culture: France will be an invaluable aid and companion. Actually, no publisher has attempted anything quite like this, and the publishers Thorogood are to be much applauded for their ingenuity and achievement. The subtitle is Be fluent in French Life and Culture, and that facility is just what this remarkable volume offers, cramming an amazing mass of information into its well-designed pages. Everything is here, from French art and literature, architecture, media, sport, fashion and (of course) food and drink. But while not being in the slightest dumbed down, the information here (while often dealing with such weighty subjects as Proust and French existential philosophers) is delivered in a concise and highly accessible style (and aided considerably by the clever graphics which have a nicely self-mocking subtext -- when was that last seen in a book on a foreign country?). So, you're sitting on Eurostar, and a fresh espresso is to hand. Don't reach for the glossy magazine the train company provides -- crack open Speak the Culture: France and you'll be thoroughly tooled up for your visit to the City of Light. -Barry ForshawIt is an engaging Foible of the French to believe that they are the most cultured race on God's earth. The authors of this mainly excellent handbook seem happy to indulge in them. On page 77, they write "...nearly every strataa of (French) society, from farm labourers to government minisers, enjoys its capacity for abstract thought". I am not sure that "strata" should be 'stratum", but the words that really catch the attention here are "farm labourers". By stroke of luck, I know lots of French farm labourers, and splendid chaps they are, too. But structuralism and the naturalistic fallacy are rarely the mainstraysof our conversation.Then again - and here is the point - if such subjects were raised, I would bet that my farming friends would be interested. For the truth is the French are not more cultured than the rest of us, but are infinitely more respectful of culture and learning, There is no French equivalent of the idiot phrase "too clever by half".The two results of this are (a) an insane admiration for writers, artists and, Gold help us, journalists and (b) an awful lot of bluffing. Middle-class people, especially, cannot admit to ignorance of post-Impressionism or the works of Erik Satie. Which is where this book comes in. If the French are bluffing, then the outsider must bluff along with them - and this is a terrific bluffer's guide to French Culture.In intelligent tabloid style, it gallops through history (from Cro- Magnon to Sarkozy in 14 pages:brilliant), art, literature, music, food, and more besides. Overlooking hardly anything of importance, it's a miracle of compression spiced with good trivia. I didn't know that Verlaine and Rimbaud were lovers or that Charles Worth, who apparently invented Parisian haute couture, was English.The few lapses are, therefore, all the more surprising. Auguste Comte "pedalled (sic) positivism" only if that is what he called his bike. And the generic French term for scandal showbiz magazines is "la presse people" not "la presse public".There is also a certain imbalance: nine (good) pages on opera and ballet, but only two on French television. Perhaps the authors simply couldn;t bring themselves to contemplate a television service so dire. But these are quibbles. Read the book carefully and you will have the skeleton of French culture. It will then be up to you to put the flesh on the bones and really dominate those conversations.Anthony Peregrine, Daily Telegraph"All facinating stuff. If you take only one book to france with you in the summer, take this one."Dominique's France Magazine
About the Author
Andrew Whittaker has travelled widely and written extensively on France and the Mediterranean countries.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
And as I read through it, I found myself thinking, "Oh...couldn't the writer sit still long enough to write more than 5 sentences on each subject...? Then people would know what the book is about."
Well, not that I didn't generally know - it was about "F".
The basic lack of structure, analysis, organization, and in-depth coverage of topics made this book a very hard read. First, it is split into various chapters on the different aspects of life and culture in France. Those chapters - while following a basic theme - are riddled with side notes, footnotes, and, in the case of some pages, with only notes.
There wasn't enough information provided on any one topic to make me feel like I'd actually learned anything. And, faced with so many loosely connected facts at a time, I wasn't able to retain any of them. When something caught my attention I had to google it to actually understand it.
I'm sure some would think it an interesting read; maybe people already highly knowledgeable about France would find the odd fact here and there to talk about over hors d'oeuvres at a chic party overlooking the Seine...but for people looking to gain beginning insight into the country and the culture, a fairly comprehensive picture, I would suggest a different read.