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The Secret Life of France

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  391 Ratings  ·  62 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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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
Mar 04, 2011 Jenny rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 09, 2009 Veronica rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Beth Bonini
May 08, 2010 Beth Bonini rated it liked it
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
May 30, 2015 Sarah rated it liked it
This book explores the historical foundations of feminist ideology in Britain and France and then tries to make sense of research into this history in reference to the authors own relationships in France, as a British citizen married to a French man. Lots of references to guilt derived from Protestant socialization in Britain, being absent in social interactions in Paris.

"Having been bought been bought up in post-feminist Britain, it took me almost a decade to adjust to the experience of being a
Chris Amies
Feb 17, 2011 Chris Amies rated it liked it
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
Jan 28, 2010 Anne rated it really liked it
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!
Angela Young
Oct 31, 2016 Angela Young rated it really liked it
I read The Secret Life of France pretty soon after the UK voted to leave the European Union. I didn't want us to leave but this book showed me, often with great wit, what the differences between the French and the British are and how, in the end, it's perfectly possible for us to understand each other and get on with each other - especially if we take the time to learn a bit about each other.

Obviously, we have to find a proper tolerance for each other's quirks, belief-systems, habits and ways of
Nov 01, 2016 Rebecca rated it it was ok
I don't know. This book felt confused. Started with some lighthearted exploration of attitudes towards sex in French society (vs "Anglo-Saxon", as she calls Brits/USians) and then veers into discussion of their legacy of colonialism and inability to admit their problems with banlieues, with interviews with people high up in their justice system and secret service. I don't know what she was going for here, but it felt disjointed. I would have loved a deeper exploration of how French politics got ...more
Nov 29, 2016 Bonnie rated it really liked it
I didn't finish this book before it had to be returned - BUT I did like it a lot.
The author is cute with her French accents and it was a wonderful way to learn more about France.
Although I didn't finish it so... THERE'S JUST SO MANY GREAT AUDIOBOOKS OUT THERE!
It's not my fault.
Jan 28, 2012 KOMET rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2015 Þorrbjórn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: people
On the surface, this seems an interesting proposition but once you sink your teeth in, you realise it's everything you thought it wasn't.
The level of literary skill is roughly around the Heat magazine/ tabloid newspaper supplement level and the author backs up her entire analysis of her experiences in France with almost random anecdotes and hear say rather than anything remotely credible.
On top of this, the model she uses for comparison with the French way of life is 'Anglo-Saxon' or 'Protestant
(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 Ellis
Mar 10, 2011 Debbie Ellis rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 13, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it
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
Jul 30, 2010 Mar rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wil Gregory
Jan 24, 2016 Wil Gregory rated it really liked it
Lucy Wadham provides a well-written, entertaining and insightful profile of her adopted nation. Many of her observations of French culture echoed my own underdeveloped inklings and it was satisfying to read that somebody had confidently and articulately taken those thoughts to their natural though often contradictory ends. Her approach is balanced and she is fair and often humorous in her weighing of differences between French and English (and sometimes American and other) cultures. I especially ...more
Aug 25, 2015 Tom rated it really liked it
The author finds ways to express many idiosyncrasies that I have noticed but have never been able to put into words. The author eloquently and deeply discusses the differences between the two cultures and the reasons behind these differences. The French have a completely different approach to their priorities, are fundamentally socialist, have a sense of humour that lacks both irony and self-deprecation, and have a concept of marriage and religion that is significantly estranged from the British ...more
Aug 30, 2012 Zoe rated it really liked it
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
Clare Nina
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
Jul 23, 2011 Jamie rated it liked it
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
Oct 01, 2012 Issi rated it really liked it
'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
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
Laura Shrum
Apr 19, 2016 Laura Shrum rated it liked it
I like reading books that are a bit travelogue-esque, and having lived in England for the last year and half thought reading about an English woman's perspective on France might be fun. It was readable enough, definitely not the best written, but I did enjoy a decent bit of the cultural comparisons. Worth a read if you are curious about the difference between England and France from an outsider's perspective, but be wary of the sweeping generalizations. I wouldn't read it again, but it wasn't a ...more
Sep 09, 2009 Linda rated it really liked it
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
Feb 04, 2012 Alana Farrell rated it liked it
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
Oct 27, 2013 Sharon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 10, 2009 Matthew rated it really liked it
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.

Liz Wilson
Jul 02, 2015 Liz Wilson rated it liked it
I don't usually read non-fiction and I did remember why at times, because it took me a while to finish. Having said that, although the pull wasn't there to keep reading all the time, it was very interesting and gave a real insight into French culture and society. As I am currently living in America, I could really empathise with the authors disconnect but desire to understand and be connected to the very culture she could only really appreciate as an outsider.
Lisa Kekaula
Aug 02, 2011 Lisa Kekaula rated it really liked it
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.
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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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