“What French Women know” by Debra Ollivier

February 21, 2011  |  inspiration

I decided to talk about his book, because I bought it as a Christmas gift for a good French friend of mine, and she adored it. It gave her validation for who she is, where she comes from and that, oui, she exudes this chic elegant French flair, and will never understand American dating. I will never forget a Bill Maher stunt, when after a long soliloquy of contrasting Franco-American differences, he finished by saying…. “Can’t we learn something from the French?” Indeed, there is so much one can learn from French culture that life will never be the same again. And that is the beauty of this book. It is educational and illuminating, giving you tons of references to continue your exploration.

I met Debra Ollivier last year in San Francisco when this book came out. While American by birth, she is married to a Frenchman and looks like someone who has lived in France for a long time, simply revealed by her clothing style and the certainty in her attitude. She feels comfortable demystifying cultural differences, and that’s what she does in this book. In the preface, she refers to Descartes and makes the point that the purpose of writing a book of this genre is not to judge one culture against the other, but to point out the differences in order to understand one’s own culture.

What I love most in this book is how well it is researched. Ollivier cites Edith Wharton, Véronique Vienne, historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and others. She refers to contemporary thinkers, conducts interviews, and draws from her own experience with popular French culture to give us the affirmation that France is still “a place of sensual and cultural refuge, intellectual freedom, hot sex, high culture and fabulous food.” Throughout the pages, one feels how deeply ingrained the cultural makeup of the people and their appreciation for aesthetics are, how important bringing pleasure into one’s life is, and that sensuality is indeed a French word.

We learn that French women prefer a living over making a living, and that joie de vivre is actually an external matter. “You derive this kind of joy from acknowledging greatness outside yourself — in things, in nature, in others.” The book gives one the impetus to go out, find a French restaurant or a wine bar, and start enjoying life In French Style. What should matter in life is having joyful experiences and cherishing the memories of the good times. In the words of Véronique Vienne, cited by the author, it boils down to the “holy trinity of essentials — a simple bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a good company — is all that’s needed for a deeply satisfying moment.”

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