I’ve never been to France, as I’ve said in the past. This continues to be true. However, I’m trying to change that. In my quest, as I handle all other quests, I research. Rick Steve’s (My favorite Euro-guru, of NPR and Public Television fame), has a list of recommended reading for people looking to visit France. Sixty-million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong is one of them. I should tell you now that I was a Political Analysis minor, so the fact that for intents and purposes, Sixty-Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong was basically a study in Comparitive Politics didn’t bother me. It could, however, be excrutiatingly boring for someone who isn’t into learning the ins and outs of government.
Except, here’s the thing, Sixty-Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong purports that France is Government. France is the State. So any book analyzing the French will therefore be a book about government and politics.
Sixty Millions Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong is not a travel guide. That’s why I read it, now, so far from our trip. It’s a book about France, French History, the French People, the French character, and those that run the country written by a couple who are from Quebec. I had heard a few years ago when I was considering makeup school in Paris (yes, I considered it. The dealbreaker? Quarantining my cats.) that France is a bureacratic nightmare. And I think, that it probably is, except it seems like the French have no problem with this. They like to know the State is there taking care of them. Of course, your average American would shout “BIG BROTHER!” and dive under his bed at that thought, myself included to some extent. But the French State isn’t looking to control a la Big Brother. It’s just doing what it’s citizens want in the first place. Whereas in America, it’s citizens do NOT want that in the first place.
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong presents the French as the “aborigones of Europe.” It hopes its readers will think of the French as a foreign culture, as foreign as the Chinese. The authors of the book assert that one of the main rifts between the French and North Americans, is that we tend to think of the French as like us, with a different language. And then we become frustrated when they don’t act like us. The point is, it’s a really fascinating take on a really fascinating people.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered a couple things. Somehow my upbringing has been a little more “French” than I ever thought. 1. The French tend to put rural life on a pedastal. This comes from pride in their cheeses and cuisine. Certainly, NW Ohio isn’t known for its cuisine (unless you are fascinated by what foods suspend the best in jell-o), BUT in both France and NW Ohio, if you run for office and you can’t talk agriculture or can’t manage to look natural in a picture with livestock, you probably won’t go far. So there’s that. 2. Paris, in particular, is considered a “City of Neighborhoods.” One Parisian expert said that one thing tourists can’t seem to grasp is that each arrondisement has it’s own center, and character. Hello, Chicago! Don’t we all sigh a little when tourist never make it much past Chicago ave? (Unless they go to Wrigley…) The point is they don’t make it to Lula or The Violet Hour and that’s a shame…for them. Not for me. They are crowded enough.
Am I comparing the French to Midwesterners? I think maybe I am, but this is based solely on research and not personal experience. There is an anecdote in the book that talks about how one French politician attended a county fair of sorts and in a botched photo op, had a lamb pee on him. He then subsequently lost the election. If the rep. for the 75th District in the Ohio General Assembly got peed on by livestock at the county fair, I’m just sayin’….
But then, in France, there wouldn’t be a representative for such a non-centralized area. As far as the book is concerned, all roads lead to France. All roads in the US certainly don’t lead to Washington, DC, let alone, Columbus. So maybe the comparison is moot.
My only complaint about the book is truly just the nature of this type of book. It’s copyright is 2003, but obviously it headed off to editor in 2002 sometime. There is not mention of the tensions between the US and France at the beginning of the war in Iraq (I’ll be frank, I’ve been strongly opposed to the war from the very beginning. HOWEVER, I’ve read enough to know that France and Germany’s hesitations were far from humanitarian in nature, due to monetary interests in the Persian Gulf, etc.) But the point is, none of this is mentioned in the book because it hadn’t happened yet. So, were they to release an updated edition (and I hope they do), I’d be very interested to see what it says concerning anti-Americanism, etc. (They definitely DO cover anti-americanism, fyi.) They also cover the situation in Paris’ “cites” concerning the “Jeunes” (a euphamism for France’s angry Muslim youth.) But that situation swelled as well, in 2003 – present. I guess I’m basically saying some of the info is by nature, outdated. Luckily, Rick Steves and his associates (not affiliated with this book) produce updated podcasts on Europe on a weekly basis, so the information is available, if not as convenient.
All in all, I’m glad I picked this book up. And I highly recommend it if you are looking to learn about the French from a certain perspective.
Sixty-Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.