Exasperating French Women, Book Review

What French Women Know...by Debra Ollivier

What French Women Know about Love, Sex and Other Matters

Debra Ollivier

Penguin, 2009

With an intriguing title like that no wonder why critics have lauded this book with praise.  Debra Ollivier (also the author of Entre Nous, A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl), is an American living part-time in Paris with her French husband.  Similar to another perennial favorite Harriet Welty Roquefort, walking between worlds gives her both the authority to speak on the matter of French women and to observe from a la distance.

And Ollivier’s observations caused me to chuckle at times, guffaw at other times, and practically roll on the floor with laughter still at other times.  This Franco-American author certainly possesses the biting humor of her adopted country men and women.  She flings those sharp observations at her readers while poking fun at American women with their girl’s clubs and nights out, with American women’s hostility towards the opposite sex (oh, this does exist), and our obsession with micromanaging our lives. I found the obsession with exercise hilarious, lifting weights at the desk while at work.  Do women actually do this?

She saves some of these observations to comment on French women too.  They don’t get off the hook.  While French women have many fine qualities, even exasperating fine qualities, they come off as rude, icy, and condescending to many American women. They don’t make great pals and you can’t just hang out with a French woman, unless you are the opposite sex, then they might love you a lot, or a little, or not at all.

But what I do find refreshing about French women is that you can sit next to one on a bus and she won’t blurt out her tragic life story to you.  She won’t tell you about her relationships with her parents or how much is in her bank account.  She won’t even ask you what you do for a living because the only thing she’s concerned about is whether or not she feels comfortable in her skin.  Do you feel comfortable in yours? She doesn’t even care if you like her or if you gossip about her.  Life’s too short.  I find that refreshing and I agree with this healthy attitude.  We would all feel healthier if we stopped caring what others thought about us and cultivate a rich inner life. (Matter of fact, I’ve already done this).

I would love to sit down at a French dinner, next to an attractive man who flirts, but it doesn’t mean anything and there’s no baggage attached.  And wouldn’t it be nice to discuss the latest movie, book or philosophy than to hear about the details of someone’s illness (this happens too often in the US)? I think so.And the truth is I don’t want to know someone’s life story either.  I don’t wish to meet someone in within the first ten minutes of conversation I learn that the person is divorced, his wife is a you know what, and he has addiction problems. First of all it’s depressing and second of all, why tell those things to complete strangers? 

But even with all their elegance and charm, French women come off as exasperating.  I like simplicity too, believe in less is more, and I love the concept of a woman defining her own beauty rather than taking cues from the industry.  On the other hand, I think women need to spend time with their own sex, but not bashing men.  I enjoy having women and men friends.  And a little kindness goes a long ways.  In the end I prefer the smile over the pout. 

In the meantime French American relations are ripe with humor, little plums waiting for us to pluck them.  American women can learn a lot from the typical French woman, but I also believe that French women can learn about the meaning of friendship from American women.  When the chips are down everyone needs friends, even Parisians.

3 thoughts on “Exasperating French Women, Book Review

  1. Great review, sounds like a humerous book. I love the ones that poke fun at us (and others too). They lighten up the attitudes and make life a little less serious. And we all need that at times!


  2. Hi Hallie, Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post. I agree that we need humor. The one great thing about us Americans is that we have a sense of humor and enjoy laughing at our own foibles. At least I do.


  3. Pingback: remarks on sex drive | my journal @ LIFESTYLE INC.

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