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The Secret Life of France

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  280 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Describes the mutual bafflement and fascination that characterised both their subsequent marriage and the author's unfolding relationship with France. This book leads us on a journey through the French moral maze, and examines French attitudes to a range of subjects from marriage and adultery to work and race relations.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published 2009 by Faber and Faber
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(showing 1-30 of 563)
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How refreshing it is to read an account of France and the French that hasn't resorted to the usual "hilarious" micky-taking of every stereotype you can think of.

I am a huge Francophile and am about to embark on my 8th trip in the next few months so I was looking forward to reading this. The book is written by a Brit who has lived in France for over 20 years, was married to a French man and has two children who have always considered themselves French rather than dual-nationality, so she's prett
I've had this book lying around for ages and finally picked it up thinking it would be another book on how strange the French are but how lovely Provence is. Instead I found this a very erudite book on why the French are how they are and how this compares with les rosbifs; not just more obvious things like their views on adultery and their media's lack of interest in the sex-life of politicians (though Sarkozy is changing this), but deeper, more philosophical aspects as well. For example, the Fr ...more
I enjoyed this book, although as many other reviewers have said, it's more "The Secret Life of Paris" (and the Parisian haute bourgeoisie at that) than of France -- there were numerous places where I just didn't recognise my friends and neighbours, notably the dinner parties where people pop discreetly into the next room for group sex between courses, and the assumption that everyone has a jardin secret, aka a lover.

The book is a sometimes uneasy mixture of the personal and the political, but sh
Chris Amies
Some pithy observations of life in England and in France - helpful when trying to understand the worldview of the French. Some negative reviews seem to be because to a certain middle-class English mindset it is forbidden to criticise France at all, usually by people who have only been there for their holidays. Wadham has lived there since she was a young adult and gives us the good and the bad. I don't care for the phrase 'Anglo-Saxons' (didn't they live in the 9th century or something?) but the ...more
God knows I have read my share of books on French culture over the past few years, this one is a must. Well written, very insightful and I just love the conclusion: "Like the long-suffering spouse who realises, after all those years, that in spite of everything, there is no one in the world she would rather be with, I adore and despise this country (France) in equal measure." That's just how I feel about my home country!
(in french)

Le point de vue d'une anglaise qui débarque à Paris à 18 ans et découvre les moeurs de la bourgeoisie Parisienne (du 16ème).

J'ai beaucoup aimé l'analyse des différences entre les deux pays (surtout socialement). Malheureusement (et l'auteur le souligne dans le dernier chapitre), les bourgeois du 16ème ne sont pas représentatifs des français!

Il y a des passages vraiment drôles (le restaurant, la partouze). Il y également des passages plus injustes: par exemple cette aversion contre la
Debbie Smith
As you will see from my list, beginning in 2002 I have read a rather large volume of books about France and from these personal accounts of others who have moved to or spent time in Frnace, I have picked up tidbits of what it is like to live there but none have been as insightful as The Secret Life of France. Because of Lucy's position with the BBC which allowed her opportunities to interview French nationals in political positions, she is able to share detailed information regarding the attitud ...more
As a confirmed Francophile, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK, from which I learned so much more about the cultural mores of France.

Wadham herself had been married to a Frenchman for close to 20 years, with whom she had 4 children (all of them educated in the French educational system), and, though divorced, continues to live and work in France. While shedding insight into French attitudes toward religion, politics, education, race, relationships, history (France continues to be very conflicted abou
Having struggled with doing business in France and had occasionally bonkers experiences with the French, I spotted this in an airport bookshop and picked it up with relish.

I had been confused about the French, who I adore, for some time. Of course I love the language, which I speak well enough and you have to adore the country itself - but if like me you have ever worked with them, been infuriated by some arcane rule that was stopping you doing something in France, or wondered how an entire Wor
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Beth Bonini
I'm a sucker for books which attempt to explain a culture from an insider/outsider point-of-view. In this informational memoir, Wadham (an English woman) describes what it has been like to live most of her adult life in France. She attempts to explain some cultural differences between England and France by using a combination of personal and journalistic experience. As the book develops, there is less of the author's personal life and more (seemingly objective) analysis of France. I liked it bet ...more
Wadham really goes deep into the ins and outs of the French and France, critiquing their republican attitudes and the further implications of said attitudes, such as ties with socialism, lack of condemnation of rioting, and a widespread intolerance of religion. She analyses their zero-tolerance attitude towards terrorism, police malpractice, the view on Capitalism (and therefore the US) as an enemy and the bourgeoisie and their parisien paradises and jardins sécrets. A narrative of her life entw ...more
September Dee
Well written and gives great insight to life if France beyond the usual travel books. Enjoyed the comparisons between the English and the French lifestyles and morals and attitudes on many topics. For anyone who wants to understand what makes the French tick.
I really enjoyed Lucy Wadham's personal account concerning being an Englishwoman who, upon marrying a Frenchman, adopted the French way of life. Her anecdotes were amusing, often funny, and her observations about French culture were informative for any nascent (or longtime) Francophile. In short, a vivid depiction of cultural immersion. However, when Wadham descended more into the political goings-on of France, and it became less of a memoir, I found myself becoming increasingly disinterested. S ...more
I find the French at times paradoxical. The French embrace beauty in their fashion, architecture and art, yet their streets are littered with cigarette butts, human urine and dog feces. They want to remain as one of the preeminent global leaders, but they don't seem to want to account for their past legacies, particularly in Africa. The French also want the best education, food and services, but don't appear to want to work or pay for it. What is at least clear about the French is that they love ...more
This was nice enough book. I feel like it deserves 3 stars because it is not objectionable, but I also want to give it less because I am not sure that this ever really needed to exist \_(ツ)_/ ...more
Ms Tlaskal
Ms Leaver lent this to me and despite knowing a fair bit about French culture..I learnt a whole lot more! The author is a political journalist so the second half is quite heavily into the political makeup of the country, but the first half is more cultural and readable for me. You learn why French pop music is ...pas terrible (always thought this)and why the TV does not unite them as a nation as it does the British. You learn all about the right to a 'secret garden' and why French school kids do ...more
The Secret Life of France fell down in two places for me:

- The stream of consciousness style that meant the chapters were somewhat arbitrary
- The fact that the author was really examining PARISIAN, not FRENCH attitudes, something she doesn't acknowledge until the epilogue. Mass generalisations are made throughout that any reader who didn't know better would assume applied to the whole of France, when this is certainly not the case
'I was nineteen the first time Laurent Lemoine asked me marry him'. The first sentence of the book had me filled with dread that this was going to be yet another stereotypical but amusing lighthearted story about English girl meeting French boy and so forth. However, yes it is the story of English girl meeting French boy, but it is so much more than that. At last a book which goes beyond why French women are not fat and why French children eat salad, ... I thought it was an astute, insightful wo ...more
I very much enjoyed this book, which offers keen insight on a nation that, while reams and reams have been written about, still remains a mystery. At the same time, as a journalist, I wanted and needed more sourcing beyond, "Well, my other well-heeled bourgeois friends all have affairs and that's just what the French do." Still, other claims were well researched and clearly backed up, so I can't complain overmuch. And I read it whilst in France, so everywhere I looked, I saw mean waiters and the ...more
Alana Farrell
I very much enjoyed this book. Lucy is a wonderful writer and I found myself laughing at loud at a number of points. I thought her contrast of urban and rural French life was excellent but I wish there was more of it. It can be said that a lot of the book is quite generalised but I thought she described her own experience quite well.

Parts were also quite moving and I feel I learned a lot about France, especially it's wartime history.

Well worth a read for anyone who likes France and enjoys Frenc
Sandra Kruger
loved it
Angela Alcorn
There's an excellent review of this book by the UK Independent which quotes the book saying things I completely identify with like:

She memorably describes Parisian zebra crossings for instance as being "like Bosnia's safe zones: places where, if you die, you may simply die with the knowledge that your killer was in the wrong".

It has to be good. :)
Great book, that gives a good insight to the 'real' France (at least according to the authors point of view)
I found this a fascinating story, and enjoyed seeing this woman's adopted homeland through her eyes, as well as discovering how she perceived what it was like to be the parent, and watch her children grow up in the French system.
If planning to move to France, I would suggest this book as a great start of what you may expect in settling there.
Lisa Kekaula
This book was given to me by a dear friend living in Brussels. At the time I didn't have any desire to read the book so it sat on my shelf for 3 years. After reading it I want to call and apologize to her though she is none the wiser. I think she knew this book would be a great significance to anyone that spends as much time as I do in France without being french. "The Secret Life of France" is truly one "ah-ha moment" after another.
Aug 10, 2009 Matthew rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Francophiles
Engaging and idiosyncratic view of modern France and, in particular, women's place within it. Obviously a subjective take on the country and its history -- sure to contain much that some Francophiles will find arguable or infuriating -- but entertaining and lucid. As an ex-pat living in Britain (and only an infrequent visitor to France), I most enjoyed the cross-cultural comparisons between the UK and France.

As a Francophile I expected this to be one of those "Watching the French" type books, but it turned out to be a superbly written book on the French culture and psyche. The author clearly knows her subject and provides insight into the differences, similarities and misunderstandings between the British (and related Protestant-based cultures) and French. It's definitely worth a read.
I have to say this book felt like it was in two parts. The first, life,love and curiosities of french life and the second part seemed bogged down with politics. The book certainly didn't increase my feelings for the french nation as a whole... there is still the whole question of the Rainbow Warrior and the nuclear testing in the pacific that wasn't mentioned here either...
I enjoyed this when I first read it, but then I lent it to the French language assistant in my school, who told me she got so frustrated with this book that there were times when she physically couldn't read it anymore. Not everything in the book is wrong, but on the whole it is inaccurate and very stereotypical, and for that reason couldn't recommend it.
Marianne Broadgate
I read this book whilst in France dealing with a French company on business and seeing French friends. It helped make sense of all kinds of things that had been puzzling me about the patterns of behaviour I was experiencing around me. A fascinating, engaging, at times hilarious and very educational book about France and the French told with passion and empathy.
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Lucy Wadham is a British writer of crime and thriller novels, but her most widely reviewed work is her autobiographical account of her life in France.

Wadham was born in London in 1964 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. She has worked as a news assistant at the BBC Paris bureau since 1989. She is currently a freelance journalist and regularly contributes to The Independent, The Spectator, an
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“... zebra crossings were rather like Bosnia's "safe zones": places where, if you die, you may simply die with the knowledge that your killer was in the wrong.” 1 likes
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