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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to really understand the French
I'm an American who's been living in Paris for 4 years now. I've read a few books on France before, and always learned from them. This book is no exception. What I liked about this book is it really studied the French from different angles. For example, a lot of detail was given on their school system, government, and history (especially the wars). I've been here 4...
Published on July 5 2004 by Michael

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1.0 out of 5 stars Provincial Notes
As a Canadian who has lived in California for many years, I find this apology for the French amateurish, provincial, and superficial. The differences between continents are considerable, especially so from a Left Coast perspective. These authors, new to France as they undertook this book, never fail to take a shot at the States, while always appearing to maintain a...
Published on Feb. 22 2004


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to really understand the French, July 5 2004
By 
Michael (Paris, France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
I'm an American who's been living in Paris for 4 years now. I've read a few books on France before, and always learned from them. This book is no exception. What I liked about this book is it really studied the French from different angles. For example, a lot of detail was given on their school system, government, and history (especially the wars). I've been here 4 years and I learned so much about the French that I never knew before. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the French.
While living here I constantly find myself comparing France to the US. France does a lot of things right, such as universal healthcare, 7+ weeks of vacation per year (this year was higher than normal with 38 days). But there is a cost: Taxes are high, there is a 19.6% VAT tax. Gas is 3 times the price in the US. There are very little part time jobs. Most jobs are in Paris and the housing is insanely expensive (a 100 year old 1 bedroom apartment costs as much as a brand new 1400 sq foot home in Arizona). If you read this book you'll understand a little more of these tradeoffs. I wish the book had focused more on this angle as I think this is one of the most interesting.
I also highly recommend "French: Friend or Foe". it deals more with the social aspects of living in France.
-Michael
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journalism that reads like fiction, May 12 2003
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
This is a rare breed in the world of nonfiction: a factual book you'll actually read through to the end.
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic book on all things French, May 17 2004
By 
Tim F. Martin (Madison, AL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
France is a land of contradictions. It is nation where people have seven weeks of paid vacation a year, generally take an hour and a half for lunch, have one of the longest life expectancies on the planet, work in the fourth largest economy in the world, and have one of the finest health care systems in the world. It is also a nation that has one of the lowest rates of charitable donations in the developed world, where people expect the State to do everything because they pay so much in taxes, where the civil service makes up about a quarter of the working population, and where local initiative or self-rule is virtually non-existent. What explains these many paradoxes?
Authors Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow sought to discover the source of these contrasts and to learn why the French were so different. Living for three years in France, they worked almost as ethnologists, delving into all aspects of French political, cultural, and economic life, uncovering many things from an outsider's perspective. Writing about the French civil service, economy, media, education, charities, unions, social welfare system, courts, politics, foreign policy, history, and language, they provide a thorough and very readable primer on all things French.
One thing they point out is that the French as a people love power. They have a great disdain for compromise - both in politics and even in personal conversations - instead preferring winners and losers, embracing particularly in politics what the authors termed "jusqu'au-boustisme" (until-the-bitter-end-ism), of the tendency in politics to pursue winning even to destructive ends. An ultimate expression of this might be found in the fact that State is absolute in French politics and society; it tolerates no rivals, whether it was the Catholic clergy's onetime dominance over the nation's education system or the existence of any meaningful regional government tied to a local culture, though the latter has changed some in recent years. The French love for their politicians to exhibit grandeur (and the politicians love to exhibit it), practicing something called cumul des mandates (or simply the cumul); it is possible for one to hold more than one elected office at the same time (for instance for a time President Jacques Chirac was also mayor of Paris, the prime minister, deputy from his home region of Correze, and a deputy in the European Parliament). Indeed the French President is one of the most powerful heads of state in the democratic world, in many ways more powerful that the American President.
Some of this lover of grandeur is exhibited in the fact that the French state is very much a unitary one, not a federal one; the central government in Paris reigns supreme, even in matters in the U.S. that would be regarded as strictly local affairs, such as the choosing of school textbooks or in most cases the management of local police. For instance the mayor of Paris does not control local police or transport, but they are instead controlled by the central government. Only towns of less than ten thousand citizens are allowed to control their own police.
This tendency to have a highly centralized, almost absolutist democracy though is not entirely due to a French love of grandeur. Much of dates back to the centuries long attempts to create the nation of France and keep it together, to impose French culture and language on more distant regions. At the time of the Revolution, the doctrine of the Republique was that "nothing should come between the citizen and the State." The French State actually created what we today call France, assimilating very diverse populations, giving them a single nationality, eradicating any local power or local language, acting for decades with extreme suspicion of anything (including churches) that fostered any sense of local community beyond the instruments of the state. Though France has levels of local administration - the Commune, the Department, and the Region - these do not exactly correspond to Canadian provinces or American states in that they have no sovereign rights themselves or exhibit any significant sense of French separation of powers, but instead are for the most part representatives of the central government. In the case of the 99 Departments, they were created as a result of the Revolution, often designed to deliberately break up regional identities, dividing lands with local identities into more than one Department, often given non-historical, sometimes deliberately meaningless names. The advent of the Region in 1982 reversed this to an extent, as Regions reflect natural cultural divisions in France, such as the areas inhabited by the Bretons, Occitan, or Corsicans, though some in France fear that this may lead to federalism one day (while at the same time France has given increasing powers to the supranational European Union).
This is not to say that the French State is anti-democratic; it was founded with three principles, assimilation (or eradication des particularismes; eradication of local differences), interet general (or common good), and equality (not only equality of opportunity but also equal or identical law throughout France). The principle of assimilation had been a driving force in creating the Departments (though ironically has made integration of the growing Muslim community in France difficult as it has until recently been regarded as illegal to even recognize special status or differences among French citizens).
There are checks on the Republique. In addition to civil and criminal law, the French have administrative law, an entirely parallel legal system for dealing with matters relating how the State relates to the citizens, administrative tribunals that can rule against government and the state. The growing independence of judges is another check. Protests are a way of life in France, a legitimate method for citizens to curb the system, the authors detailing this uniquely French form of political expression at some length.
I have barely scratched the surface in my review of this fascinating book. It is an absolute must read for anyone wanting to do business or live in France.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Candid Camera on the French, April 22 2004
By 
Xavier Kreiss (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
I'm currently reading "6O Million Frenchmen Cannot Be Wrong". And I'm loving it.
I am judging it as one of those 6O million.
There hadn't been anything as good since since Jonathan Fenby's "France on the Brink" .
The American television show, Candid Camera, used to have a song with the words "it's good to look at yourself as other people do". It is indeed. One condition must be met: it mustn't be a fawning collection of exaggerated praise, nor must it be one more vulgar "French-bashing" exercise. But the authors have steered a steady course, pointing out some of our defects , certainly, but also giving praise when it's (in their view ) due. I cannot fault their impartiality , or their reasearch. And the book is very readable and entertaining.
Barlow and Nadeau are Canadians: she is an English speaker, he is "francophone". A good recipe for a balanced approach.
The book is packed with information, and anecdotes. Yes, if you want to know who the French are,and how we "tick", the book will give you a pretty good idea.
The authors are very good in pointing out the differences between France and the US, and the reasons for these differences, for instance in detailing the role of the State and the way it's perceived by the French.
Also in stressing the importance of the legacy of WW2 and the war in Algeria.
I would recommend that anyone contemplating a trip to my country read the book and take it with them.
Un livre excellent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Gallic Gall and other misunderstood Frenchisms, July 17 2003
By 
Govindan Nair (Vienna, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
For over twenty years, travelling frequently between France and the United States, I have gathered and compared perspectives from both sides of the Atlantic on French (mis)perceptions of the United States and vice versa. This book adds to a collection which ranges from John Steinbeck's wonderful satire of Fourth Republic politics "The Short Reign of Pipin IV" to Harvard professor Stanley Hoffman's "In Search of France" and including French sociologist Michel Crozier's interesting works on US society. What is distinct about this attempt by a perceptive Canadian couple to explain France to a North American audience is its remarkably compact coverage of a wide range of topics - from the nature of the French state to its elitist "grandes ecoles" - with well documetned historical and other references which the general reader will find neither inacessible nor superficial. One reservation I have is a tendency to bend over backwards to be culturally neutral, avoiding criticism of any aspect of France, but instead showing why North American tendencies to crticize might be misplaced. But then, this is the prupose of the book, it seems. On the whole, the North American reading this with an open mind will also better understand many aspects of U.S. and Canadian society.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Side comments, April 16 2004
By 
Antoine Cousin "antoinecdc" (New York, New York United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
I really shouldn't comment on a book that I have yet to read! However, I would like to express my disagreement with the reviewer who stated below that "Things North Americans of all political stripes take more or less for granted -- like charities, local control of education and municipal affairs, property rights, and freedom of association -- are almost nonexistent in France." What? Mais non!
While it is clear that self-reliance and the emphasis on local communities are deeply entrenched in American culture, it does not mean that they are "almost nonexistent" in France. First, it is the U.S. that is very unique in that it ascribes an importance to those matters than most other nations don't, because of its own historical and cultural particularities. Most Europeans, Asian, African or South American countries do not nearly value "property rights", "charities" and "local control of education" as much as Americans do! So I'm afraid this is a rather inaccurate and US-centric viewpoint. In addition, it is worth mentioning that:
-France has not only allowed but encouraged freedom of association with the enactment of the 1901 statute on Associations and the 1905 law on separation of church and state. There are, if I recall correctly, 600,000 thousand association in France, which is huge since it has 60-million people. The French actually are very found of non-for-profit associations! Of course, freedom of both speech and association never went as far in the U.S., but then again it is nearly absolute tolerance attitude vis-a-vis "speech", which allows for the expression of the most fanatic viewpoints, as well as its tolerance for religious liberties, even dangerously sectarian, which is unique. It's not France's stance on these matters. Most other countries use the concept of "public order" to control, often too much of course, speech and religion.
-Property rights: recall that until four generations ago a great deal of American states had laws precluding Jews and Catholics from owning land... France, like all civil law countries, through its body of laws based upon Roman law and the Napoleon code, had abandonned such restrictions long before they were finally overturned in the U.S.
-Local control of education. Here again, this is very much unique to the US among the other industrialized countries. Also, it is not clear that a system which allocates educational resources between local communities based upon the respective financial resources of the residents of such communities produces a better public education than a centralized (if not grotesquely centralized) system like France's.
-Finally, as fas as charities: yes, clearly, the French give less to charities than the Americans, and private funding initiatives are less encouraged than they are in the US (still, you do get a 50% tax deduction if you give to tax-exempt entities in France exactly as you do in the US). Yet, you're comparing apples and oranges, i.e. a high-tax jurisdiction with a relatively low-tax jurisdiction like the US. "Social redistribution", to use French terminology, is provided for by the State in France - if you want to give to charities on top of your income tax, there's just not much left for yourself...!
You will perhaps argue that, precisely, it's the State's omnipotence in this respect that you find appaling. I too think the State's is overbearing in France. However, it's not as though a Soviet-style type of State fell upon the poor French like storm broke in a clear blue sky: the French WANT a strong state, and keep voting out each government that is suspected of desiring to weaken it... And the state, whether one likes it or not or finds the system efficient or not, assures comprehensive health-care and other social benefits to everybody, regardless of their wealth. Here again, having lived in and experienced both systems, it's still unclear to me which one is more desirable...
I apologize since I haven't even read the book (BTW I suggest "Fragile Glory" by Richard Bernstein on the same topic; it's a masterpiece and he spent more than "two years" in France...), but I thought that it would be interesting to comment on your comments, since they touch upon some of the greatest misunderstandings between the US and France: the importance ascribed to the state vs. personal freedoms.
Cheers,
A.
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4.0 out of 5 stars There's always something fishy about the French, March 17 2004
By 
Andrew S. Rogers (Houston, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
(The authors adapted a Cole Porter title for their book, so it only seems fair to employ a Noël Coward title for my review.)
Many other reviewers have commented on this, so let's get the book's subtitle out of the way first: Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow don't really tell us why we love France, or why we hate the French. Perhaps the subtitle was chosen to capitalize on the frustrations many Americans feel toward the French ("freedom fries," indeed!) as a result of differences over the Iraq war. While the authors do make the differences between Us and Them quite clear in a number of key areas, the answers to "love" and "hate" have a lot more to do with personal tastes, and aren't really covered here.
What the authors do give us, however, is a pretty comprehensive overview of French political society, and how French history has shaped the French people's understanding of who they are and how they relate to one another. This isn't the romanticized vision of quaint cafés in Paree and cottages in the countryside that so many English-language books about France present to us. In fact, as the authors tell us explicitly at the end of their Introduction, "We did not move to France to renovate a house in Provence. What we are trying to do is renovate some ideas."
And renovate they did ... at least in my case. Although I consider myself relatively well informed in European history and politics, it was a revelation to me how *very* different the French are in their political and cultural makeup and outlook. It certainly put a lot of recent geo-political wrangles in a much clearer perspective. When the French disagree with American politicians on questions of war and economics, it's not just a matter of simple cussedness, self-importance, or (the talk-radio host's favorite) jealousy, but grows out of a mindset deeply rooted in French history. It may not make dealing with them any more pleasant, but at least reading this book can make them somewhat easier to understand.
Most eye-opening to me was the centrality of the State in French life. As the authors write, "France's political culture was built around a strong penchant for absolutism, authoritarianism, centralism, and a considerable dose of intolerance" [p. 315]. Things North Americans of all political stripes take more or less for granted -- like charities, local control of education and municipal affairs, property rights, and freedom of association -- are almost nonexistent in France. The kind of unquestioned obedience medieval man may have owed to the Catholic Church, modern French people have devoted to (to borrow a phrase from David Avrom Bell) the Cult of the Nation. This tendency is as deeply ingrained in the French as "I did it my way" individualism is in Americans. No wonder we have so much trouble understanding each other.
On the whole, this was an interesting, eye-opening, and very timely book. I'm still more likely to side with Noël than Cole on the question of the French. But I would recommend this title highly to everyone from fuming Freepers to new or renewed internationalists seeking a better understanding of this fascinating, infuriating, and in many ways very, very foreign country.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed and insightful, March 6 2004
By 
William Whyte (Somerville, MA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
This book is by two Canadian journalists who spent two years in France studying its economic and social life. They take on an ambitious task -- to explain just how France is, from its most fundamental social structures to the day-to-day details of life, and to show how the deep structurs and the everyday are related. For example, take their section about dog poop on the streets of Paris. Although there are fines for not cleaning up after your dog, the dog-owners don't see it as their responsibility to pick it up, because the State should do it. The police don't enforce the fines, because they're the national police and have more important things to do. And Paris doesn't have a local police force because in the past local police forces have been power bases which have been used to threaten the state. In three steps we've gone from a small, personal observation to an insight into how and why France is organized. The book is full of this kind of illuminating shift in perspective.
Unlike a previous reviewer, I didn't think this book was full of shots at the States. The writers come from an Anglo-Saxon country and it shows -- they're frequently frustrated at the deliberate inefficiencies and lack of personal responsibility in French society. You feel them wishing that things were brisker, looser, easier to change, more clear-cut, more sensible, even as they describe their pleasure in the idiosyncrasies. But they raise the interesting question: is the Anglo-Saxon way, where it's easier to hire and fire, actually more efficient overall? For example, French unemployment is notoriously high -- 9.5% as I write -- but, as the authors point out, the difficulty of hiring means that almost all jobs in France are well-paid, full-time jobs. Contrast this to the US, where large numbers of low-paid McJobs keep the unemployment rate low but don't necessarily provide a decent living wage. Given this, are France's market inefficiencies necessarily a bad thing?
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4.0 out of 5 stars 60 million Frenchmen, Sept. 19 2003
By 
Peter McGivney (Wappingers Falls, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
Like one of the other reviewers, I was almost too quick to judge this book by its silly cover, which would have been a major mistake. Despite the silly cover and equally silly title, this book is a serious attempt to explain who the French are and why they do some of the things they do. The authors are Canadian journalists who examine the roots of French culture, the citizenry's relationship with the state, French education, and the attitudes towards what constitutes the public and private spheres. There is not much about the Franco-American disagreement at the United Nations earlier this year, but anyone who had read this book would have known that those disagreements were going to happen. The book is easy to read, with separate chapters for each of the institutions and customs the authors examine, and is one of the best books I've read this year. But you do have to get past the silly cover and title. I cant imagine who convinced the authors that this cover and title were good ideas but they and their work deserved better.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unique and thoughtful insight, Aug. 22 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (Paperback)
Books by North Americans about Paris and France and the cultural differences they experience while traveling and living there are too often overly simplistic and do not get beneath the surface of romanticized visions of French culture. For example, Diane Johnson's Le Divorce and others are not very well written and offer little new information on why the French are the way they are and how it really is to be a modern citizen of France. This book, however, stands apart due to the authors' effort to resist indulging in stereotypes and, instead, to really explore the workings of French culture. For instance, the chapters on education are fascinating because they give real details on how the French education system works, which are very surprising to most North Americans. Understanding this system provides much greater insight into the way one's socioeconomic status is determined in France and the French understanding of a meritocracy. Similarly, the discussion of the lingering memories of WWII is incredibly insightful and helps the reader understand where the French come from in modern politics. Highly recommended for anyone interested in really learning about modern French.
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