What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind by Debra Ollivier

Aug 2, 2011

Why does the world seem infatuated with French women?  There is something fascinating about them to all of us, and this book tries to uncover the uniqueness of French women.  What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind is written more for entertainment than science.  

The author is an American journalist with a French husband who spent ten years living in France and observing the “la vie en rose” differences between the Anglos and the French.  According to the author, joie de vivre is triggered by the world at large, not by an internal reality, unlike happiness, which is an inner state of contentment.  Joie de vivre is not self-involved, but derives from acknowledging external greatness in thought, in nature, and in others.

 Ollivier is exploring and breaking many “ooh-la-la” stereotypes and myths. The book is full of anecdotes and observations about French women’s everyday life, as they read Proust on the Metro or cook from scratch.  The author confirms that they have a keen sense of aesthetics, seek pleasure wherever possible, reject much of the moral dogma that ties Anglos in knots, and prefer having a life over making a living. Asking what you do for living or which part of town you live in is considered rude, or at least unimportant. 

French women are indeed connoisseurs of life which one should learn from them.   French women perfected the art of being a woman. According to Ollivier, Emma Bovary was the ultimate Desperate Housewife.   The French don’t have a concept for Desperate Housewife; this phrase cannot be translated into French. The TV show runs in France under a different title.

 For French women, the good life is not associated with materialism, and money occupies a different place in society.  Another cultural gap the author points out is the Anglo prudishness. Marianne, as depicted in the famous painting by Delacroix, “Liberty Leading the People”, illustrates the ultimate wardrobe malfunction, according to Ollivier. French women are able to conquer the modern world with all of its pressures and conflicting signals while still living life on their own terms.

 There are numerous books dealing with the “Why’s” of French women which explore our fascination with the French, one of them being French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, by Mireille Guiliano.  Refreshing and fun reading for a weekend afternoon, one can also pick up a few French phrases as a bonus.

Reviewed by Library Staff