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A Look at Beliefs About the French

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I don’t highlight passages in books. I just don’t. First off, it makes a mess on my Kindle screen. And usually, I don’t know … the spirit just doesn’t move me.

But a passage in They Eat Horses, Don’t They? by Piu Marie Eatwell had me scrambling for a highlighter. Unfortunately, a pen was the best I could do – anyway, the section I highlighted on page 53 made me laugh loud and hard; I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but I will say it involved a  McDonald’s franchise in France, bricks, angry French farmers and Roquefort cheese.

Eatwell’s book is subtitled The Truth About the French. She takes beliefs about the French and dissects them based on her research and experience living in France. She gives a conclusion about whether the belief is true or false.

Beliefs about the FrenchI’ve heard many of these beliefs about the French before, but Eatwell has a access to a few unfamiliar to me … probably because she’s English.

The myths range from France’s ranking as garlic and cheese consumers, to the alleged style sense of French women. And oh, yes – there is a section on sex. These are all pretty commonly known beliefs.

The beliefs that were unfamiliar to were the “archetypal Frenchman wears a beret and striped shirt and rides a bicycle festooned with onions.” That, and the view that France is a very egalitarian society. I’d never once heard that before, and it was something that even my good French friend of more than two decades has never hurled at me in claiming Gaelic superiority. When I think of egalitarian, I think of the Scandi-Nordic countries. Oh, and the belief that the French eat horses – news to me, as well.

Eatwell digs into these many beliefs about the French over about 300 pages; she has a distinct English flavor to her writing … there’s a bit of almost ironic formality sauced with smirky humor. I really enjoyed her style, and she seems like she’d be an extraordinarily amusing dinner guest.

beliefs about the French

You might feel like eating a chunk of Roquefort cheese after reading this book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Francophile visiting my home earlier this year read some of the book, and agreed with some parts while disagreeing with others. I found many of the objections, though, typical of the over-romanticizing of the French. Americans indulge themselves in this bad habit about a great many foreign countries, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in that. Eatwell has the advantage of research of the most valuable type: time in-country. Lots of it.

Here’s the best measure of whether Eatwell succeeds with They Eat Horses, Don’t They?: She made me – a traveler who really doesn’t care about visiting France and is content to leave it to the unadventurous – laugh often. I read it straight through with no cheating interludes with other books.

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