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A primer on the ineffable, je ne sais quoi appeal of the French woman. I t's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the pa A primer on the ineffable, je ne sais quoi appeal of the French woman. I t's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the passage of time, celebrate the immediacy of pleasure, like to break rules, embrace ambiguity and imperfection, and prefer having a life to making a living. They are, in other words, completely unlike us. Ollivier goes beyond familiar ooh-la-la stereotypes about French women, challenging cherished notions about sex, love, dating, marriage, motherhood, raising children, body politics, seduction, and flirtation. Less a how-to and more a how-not-to, What French Women Know offers a refreshing counterpoint to the stale love dogma of our times. Peppered with anecdotes from its Franco-American author and filled with provocative ideas from French sexperts, mistresses and maidens alike, it debunks longstanding myths, presenting savvy new thinking from an old sexy culture and more realistic, life-affirming alternatives from the land that knows how to love.


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A primer on the ineffable, je ne sais quoi appeal of the French woman. I t's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the pa A primer on the ineffable, je ne sais quoi appeal of the French woman. I t's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the passage of time, celebrate the immediacy of pleasure, like to break rules, embrace ambiguity and imperfection, and prefer having a life to making a living. They are, in other words, completely unlike us. Ollivier goes beyond familiar ooh-la-la stereotypes about French women, challenging cherished notions about sex, love, dating, marriage, motherhood, raising children, body politics, seduction, and flirtation. Less a how-to and more a how-not-to, What French Women Know offers a refreshing counterpoint to the stale love dogma of our times. Peppered with anecdotes from its Franco-American author and filled with provocative ideas from French sexperts, mistresses and maidens alike, it debunks longstanding myths, presenting savvy new thinking from an old sexy culture and more realistic, life-affirming alternatives from the land that knows how to love.

30 review for What French Women Know About Love, Sex and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amélie

    As I am French, I was at first surprised and then deeply intrigued when I first saw this book. Of course, I know that French and American are extremely different but I didn’t know that books have been written about it. When I open it, it wasn’t without misgiving as such a book must surely contain a lot of generalisations and clichés and as anyone who read this book must know by now, French people don’t fit in moulds. In fact, we even deeply resent such an assumption. However, as I was quite curi As I am French, I was at first surprised and then deeply intrigued when I first saw this book. Of course, I know that French and American are extremely different but I didn’t know that books have been written about it. When I open it, it wasn’t without misgiving as such a book must surely contain a lot of generalisations and clichés and as anyone who read this book must know by now, French people don’t fit in moulds. In fact, we even deeply resent such an assumption. However, as I was quite curious about American culture, I decide to give it a try in order to see what exactly were those great differences. As we have many American films and books in France, I already had a good vision of American culture but only a superficial one; I didn’t know the rules behind the behaviour. For example, I didn’t even know about the “dating rules” or that such things even existed! Such a ridiculous things to do and quite incomprehensible for us. Of course as I am shy, I tend to be a bit insecure and rules can therefore be a bit reassuring, nonetheless I would deeply resent them as being a threat to my freedom. In the same way, it is true that French women don’t want to be like each other or liked by everyone. We always want to be different and thus draw attention to ourselves and our originality. One thing I don’t agree with is the author take on adultery. It’s true that it is very present in our history, literature, films and culture and that in certain milieu open relationships are accepted, however I don’t see it at all as being a generality. It is not something me or any of the women I know would accept with any complaisance. In fact, it is a great insult directed toward the woman who is cheated upon. Of course, some reconciliations can be made and excuses accepted, but only on the tacit acceptance that such a thing would never happen again. Otherwise, there is divorce. The main difference with America may be that we would not drag religious problems in it. The bad person is not the women having a liaison with a married man (after all if she loves him, she can’t help responding to his advances) but the man himself. It’s true that marriage itself is not such a dream to everyone and that many couple are happy living together without getting married. In fact, such a period is recommended even before marriage in order to test your couple before committing yourself. As for what is said about flirtation and “dates” I think it is quiet accurate. In fact, I see people who want to know everything about me, even potential boyfriend as a threat. I don’t like anyone to invade my personal space and if they do, I can only focus on throwing them out. In the same way, it’s true that we focus a lot on our leisure and on “having a life”. Another thing which I want to underline, armpit hair are definitely NOT ok in France. Again, it depends on persons and education, but most of us definitely find it disgusting and filthy. In the same way, about housekeeping, even if we are not as extreme as the American are presented in the book (far from it), we still think it’s important. Our house must be clean and look ok when we receive people. It’s ok to have children toys, books or magazines lying around but not dust, that’s unhealthy. On the whole, this book makes me put clearly what I was already understanding unconsciously about my own culture and think a bit about the American one. Even if there is a lot of generalisation (and I was struck by the fact that a great deal of the examples mentioned in the book are mostly found in one kind of social milieu, as are the author’s French friends and the French writers she quotes), I found it mainly accurate and enjoy it a lot. I would recommend it to people interested in reading about culture differences.

  2. 4 out of 5

    ~Geektastic~

    I am always wary when an author presents a “typical” person of any kind. In this case, it’s the “typical” French woman, and as we all know, this person probably doesn’t exist outside of popular opinion. At the same time, there is nearly always a grain of truth in a stereotype, and in this case the generalizations have more to do with cultural conditioning than any solid, definable “type” of person. Also, this being a self help book for all intents and purposes, the generalizations are necessary I am always wary when an author presents a “typical” person of any kind. In this case, it’s the “typical” French woman, and as we all know, this person probably doesn’t exist outside of popular opinion. At the same time, there is nearly always a grain of truth in a stereotype, and in this case the generalizations have more to do with cultural conditioning than any solid, definable “type” of person. Also, this being a self help book for all intents and purposes, the generalizations are necessary to present a philosophy that is applicable to life, namely American life. Because this is a book built on generalizations and broad strokes, be aware that the statements I will make in regards to this book and the French way of life will most likely be equally non-specific. They may be inaccurate or only half-true, but I think they can be helpful for all that. I became fascinated by the French in high school. Like many sensitive, bookish and –let’s face it, pretentious- teenagers, I thought there was something truly amazing about a culture that didn’t seem obsessed with being likable or ambitious. A culture that could produce the likes of Rabelais, Moliere, Sartre and especially de Beauvoir, not to mention some of the most glamorous and tragic American expats, felt so inviting and almost magical when surrounded by a world of grin-and-bear-it perpetual optimism and soul-crushing popularity contests. Americans are not generally encouraged to sit and contemplate existence, much less come to the conclusion that life might, in fact, be rather pointless; we’re supposed to grab life by the balls and force it to meet our expectations. If things aren’t turning out the way they “should,” we must not be trying hard enough. This perspective has never sat well with me. In the broadest terms, Americans love control and we want everything to be black and white. We want to have everything defined and categorized, not to mention sterilized. Not so the French, or so Debra Ollivier says. Ollivier is an American married to a Frenchman, so she does have the advantage of being both on the inside and the outside of her material. She has spent years living in Paris and the States, comparing and contrasting the way of life in both places and internalizing the elements that have allowed her to make a life on foreign soil. What French Women Know is a guide to incorporating certain French ways of thinking into your life, in hopes of capturing some of that joie de vivre of which they seem to have such an abundant supply. Thankfully, Ollivier doesn’t treat her material like a guidebook; there are no lists, no 12-step formulas or life-affirming mantras. That would be terribly un-French. Rather, she has taken observations and anecdotes and filtered them in such a way as to contrast the “best” elements of Gallic life with its Anglo counterparts and see how they measure up to each other. And, for the most part, I’d say she’s pretty fair; neither culture comes out on top as “the winner,” but I have to say that much of the French philosophy, with some definite exceptions, is more appealing. For example, Ollivier asserts that the French are all about the “middle ground,” whereas America is the land of highs and lows. Where an American might put all their hopes for the future and all their energy into a romantic relationship, the French are much more cool-headed and ambiguous about romance. Your spouse (or your children, for that matter) are not the end all and be all of happiness; they’re important, but a French woman will focus on balance where an American woman will buy into the mythological Happily Ever After. It should be pretty obvious that the great H.E.A has wreaked considerable havoc in the American psyche. We build industries on it and rely on it as an important component of not just our emotional economy, but our monetary one as well. A phenomenon that is, when you come to think of it, a little sickening. France has a wedding-honeymoon-baby economy of its own, of course, but it’s nothing to our behemoth Bridezilla empire. The middle ground vs. black-and-white argument covers a lot of ground. Our American concept of beauty, for instance, is a bizarre world of contradiction. We have a cookie-cutter ideal that suffers little variation and results in some very unhealthy behaviors (not to mention mental health issues), but at the same time we have a plus-size industry that is unheard of in France. The French, bless them, have the wonderful and not-exactly-clear philosophy of jolie laide, which translates hideously to “ugly pretty.” The French are famous for having an abundance of beautiful women, but if you look very closely, very few of them fit the criteria we so rigorously enforce in America. They embrace “flaws” as character; a large nose, a flat chest, too short, too tall, these things are accepted and flaunted rather than concealed or “fixed.” Again, this isn’t absolute and there are plenty of ugly people in France I’m sure, but a big dose of confidence and sex appeal really goes a long way to trick us into ignoring this little inconvenient fact. Ah, speaking of sex appeal, that’s the real heart of all of this. The middle ground approach doesn’t allow for the bizarre extremes of American attitudes to sex, which vacillate alarmingly between voyeurism and denial. Thanks to our Puritan ancestors for that one. The French accept sex, as well as many other perfectly natural things, as just another part of life, and a valuable one at that. Americans indulge in pleasure, no doubt about that, but the flip side is nearly always guilt and half-hearted justifications. The French find this ridiculous and almost incomprehensible. The French aren’t the only ones; America is one of the few nations outside of Islamic countries that regularly censors biology books intended for children and has made it an unofficial rule that all toys must be gender neutral below the belt. I know this is starting to sound like a lot of America-bashing, but it’s really not. I love my country, even if sometimes only because it’s mine. Ollivier admits that there are aspects of the American way that work just fine; we are generally friendly and civic-minded, and when we want something we will work hard to get it. And the French have their flaws too, with their don't-give-a-damn attitude towards strangers and a notoriously vague way of making judgments. But Ollivier’s suggestion throughout this book is to temper our cultural extremism with a little moderation, and to enjoy life for what it is rather than for what it merely has the potential to be. Don’t worry so much about smudged make-up or if your romantic encounters don’t suit the one-size-fits all labels we so like to apply to them or if your kitchen doesn’t look like Martha Stewart’s. Life should be enjoyed because it really is short and I doubt many people will be on their death beds wishing they had put in just a few more hours a week in the office. This is a philosophy I would love to embrace, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Now, France has the advantage of not actually needing to cultivate any of this, it’s embedded in the deepest heart of their culture and comes naturally. I will have to work on it, but it’s nice to have a guide to remind me that there are parts of the world where not getting a promotion is not a heart breaking scenario or that there are couples in the world that don’t give up their adulthood when children arrive, and about a million other little things that would make life feel more balanced and less like a color-coded to-do list. I’ve gone on and on about the ideas of the book, probably more than is remotely necessary, but I would also like to mention that Ollivier is a very engaging writer. Her style is witty and conversational without that feeling of someone trying too hard to be charming. It’s very natural and enjoyable. It’s very French.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stella Vance

    Paris-obsessed middle-aged American women will find much to reassure them of the rightness of their Francophilia in "What French Women Know..." A more critical reader interested in a serious cultural compare and contrast will see past the *très* gag-worthy "merci beaucoup"s and obnoxiously frequent "excusez moi"s and know the book for what it is - a masturbatory fantasy for people who love and glorify the idea of France and of being French because some unnameable sophistication must be imbued up Paris-obsessed middle-aged American women will find much to reassure them of the rightness of their Francophilia in "What French Women Know..." A more critical reader interested in a serious cultural compare and contrast will see past the *très* gag-worthy "merci beaucoup"s and obnoxiously frequent "excusez moi"s and know the book for what it is - a masturbatory fantasy for people who love and glorify the idea of France and of being French because some unnameable sophistication must be imbued upon the denizens of Gaul. I actually agree with the core concepts of the book. Americans are unnecessarily Puritanical, laughably uncomfortable with the human body, and are eager to conform to simple and unvaried molds of beauty. However, the delivery of the book was over the top and bordered on being unreadable. For a book to read over a weekend while humping a wedge of brie, What French Woman Know would be all right. For a book backed by peer-reviewed research and cultural studies that can actually broaden one's understanding of "love, sex and other matters of the heart and mind" I strongly recommend "Sex at Dawn."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    If American author, Debra Olliver, sat down at my kitchen table and mentioned that she had lived in France for ten years with her French husband, and I in my exuberance asked her to tell me all about French women over coffee, What French Women Know would be a transcript of the resulting conversation. In a lengthy conversational essay, Olliver expounds on every personal anecdote, pop culture reference, and quote she can muster relating to the French woman—a woman who boasts an internationally acc If American author, Debra Olliver, sat down at my kitchen table and mentioned that she had lived in France for ten years with her French husband, and I in my exuberance asked her to tell me all about French women over coffee, What French Women Know would be a transcript of the resulting conversation. In a lengthy conversational essay, Olliver expounds on every personal anecdote, pop culture reference, and quote she can muster relating to the French woman—a woman who boasts an internationally acclaimed allure. What can an American woman learn in the 240 pages addressing the secrets of the French approach to life, love and most definitely sex? If you’d like to know, first you must concede that the average French woman is simply sexier, more self assured, and more sophisticated than the average American woman. If you can accept that premise, then this smartly explores how French Culture produces a distinct woman, and how that woman captivates the world. What French Women Know is an enjoyable read, and the only book I’ve read to portray Edith Wharton as down right catty.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    I found myself in the "sex" isle while at the library a week or two ago. There was lots of giggling and then I proceeded to walk out with a dozen books. Very mature. I read reviews for a lot of the books and I remember reading a lot of negative ones about this book. Women were UP IN ARMS about the (not so favourable) comparisons between American's and the French. I can see what they were getting at now. It's the TONE in which Debra Ollivier explains the different outlooks between residence of th I found myself in the "sex" isle while at the library a week or two ago. There was lots of giggling and then I proceeded to walk out with a dozen books. Very mature. I read reviews for a lot of the books and I remember reading a lot of negative ones about this book. Women were UP IN ARMS about the (not so favourable) comparisons between American's and the French. I can see what they were getting at now. It's the TONE in which Debra Ollivier explains the different outlooks between residence of the two nations that I would say is the problem. She doesn't just say "this is how they differ" or "this is their outlook", she goes out of her way to prove that French women do it better. This is a self-help book disguised as a text that discusses a culture. Tricky tricky. Reviews that complain about her broad-brush insights are moot. Obviously, in this type of text broad-brush comparisons are necessary. No, every French or American woman is not like how she describes, but her broad descriptions are the general cultural outlook. 'Nough said. I liked the book, overall. I enjoyed some of the perspectives and the spelled out differences in culture (with examples and way too many quotes). However, I didn't take it all too seriously. If I rolled my eyes a time or two, I didn't hold it against the author, I just moved on. Also, I don't think this book will change anyone's life. It's just entertaining and made me ponder the potential differences between how I think, how my mom tells me to think, and how Ollivier claims French Women think.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Earlier this week, as I headed to my job, a man in my building asked me out after a few minutes of conversation. I thought this rather abrupt, as in this short conversation, it was clearly established that we had absolutely nothing in common, especially when his main point of conversation was saying in multiple ways, "You're one of those artsy chicks, right?" and also made sure to mention how much his car cost (that he had just wrecked the week before). Regrettably, I gave him my number, because Earlier this week, as I headed to my job, a man in my building asked me out after a few minutes of conversation. I thought this rather abrupt, as in this short conversation, it was clearly established that we had absolutely nothing in common, especially when his main point of conversation was saying in multiple ways, "You're one of those artsy chicks, right?" and also made sure to mention how much his car cost (that he had just wrecked the week before). Regrettably, I gave him my number, because I was raised to be a nice girl who should be incredibly open and "date around," because that is the only way to find a man - putting an egg in a series of baskets. Baskets with BMWs. When I later told him I had a boyfriend (lie, as my regret increased as the subsequent days went by), he backtracked and told me he had a girlfriend, and he just wanted to hang out, and sarcastically commented, "Uh, right. Thanks for telling me you have a boyfriend, though," beginning a web of awkwardness that forces me to run up to my apartment at top speed in order to avoid running into him again. I happened to be reading this book throughout all these happenings, and now feel truly lucky that I can, in fact, call this common behavior between sexes in the U.S. utterly bizarre, twisted, and immature. I include my own role in it as such. Granted, I understand that "Not everyone!" is like this, and there are plenty of mature, adult relationships, but exactly how they get to that point can use a little refining. However, the thought struck me that, despite many women reading this and being ready to throw up their hands and embrace the French "dating" culture (the wonderful, mature, and adult version of our own), most of the men in this country most likely would not follow through. The cycle continues. Overall, I adored the ideas in the book, and also respected the author for explaining throughly why these attitudes are possible in France. It wasn't just, "Do it this way," but rather, "This is how it is there, but they are also allowed through hundreds of years of historical influence, to be this way." Unlike some readers, I didn't feel it was necessarily saying it was "better" than our own culture, as the author was sure to disclaim the differing situations for French women that give them the ability to conduct the whole relationship scene in this way. Extra bonus points for saying the REAL reason "French women don't get fat" - because they're ridiculously strict about eating, as opposed to the opposing laissez-faire attitude we've been taught to believe, and do not possess the "live and let live" code we attempt to have in the States. The author claims they're downright rude about weight gain - what better motivation than cruelty, really? (Eye roll.) Again, take what you want and leave the rest, but I appreciated her honesty, as the last thing we need in this country is being told that if we "just slow down and enjoy our food the French way!" we'll suddenly be a size 2. As I said, that was sort of how I took the book: it definitely embraced aspects of French culture, but was sure to point out in different parts why it wouldn't work in America and, well, do we really WANT certain things this way? Finally, if there was one thing that would make me move to France, it was the chapter regarding how they raise children. In the US, the author claims, adults deign to children and make the world acceptable for them; in France, children are expected to conform to an adult world. And as someone who had already abandoned her regular bar because every time I went in, a regular's two-year-old was wandering around, I say, "Here, here!" Wine is magical, but it does not make me want to do the mandatory, "She is sooooo cute!" comment to affirm her darling little existence to her insecure parental units wishing for their former party lives back. Or, as the author's French friend commented when she saw her living room (with light sockets covered, toys strewn everywhere, padding on table corners, and latches on drawers): "Your living room looks like a psych ward." Thank you, France. I won't eat like you, but I *will* send my preschooler on an overseas trip with his/her classmates.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    One and a half stars -- one for the subject matter; half for the text. "What French Women Know" struck me as purporting to be a bit more intellectual than the author's previous book, "Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl," in assessing the products of America's feel-good culture and a society in which people are taught to embrace their imperfections, themselves and their opinions. Ollivier tries to have fun discussing why French society fosters independent, stylish spirit One and a half stars -- one for the subject matter; half for the text. "What French Women Know" struck me as purporting to be a bit more intellectual than the author's previous book, "Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl," in assessing the products of America's feel-good culture and a society in which people are taught to embrace their imperfections, themselves and their opinions. Ollivier tries to have fun discussing why French society fosters independent, stylish spirits and explaining a culture in which "good job" is more often expressed as "not bad" and sights are trained to be set realistically low rather than imaginatively high. She uses personal anecdotes and literary quotes to report that the French find people who agree all the time "bland"; that there is no equivalent in French vernacular for the term "opposite sex"; that the French do not "date" as Americans do, nor have a cultural sense that girls have to be liked by everyone. But the book is a mishmash of anecdotes and hints of research, and Ollivier's style is, frankly, annoying. The substance in this book (French women have a strong sense of the brevity of time, accept that life is inherently imperfect and behave accordingly) could have made for a smashing magazine article. Dragged out into a painfully repetitive book -- striking each instance of "once (said/wrote/told)," "after all," "of course," and "recently" would surely shorten the manuscript by a good four pages --- she manages to drive over some wisps of ideas again and again when drilling down to her point and stating it clearly would have worked a lot better.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Greenwood

    I read this in preparation for a panel I moderated at Books Are Better Shared. (http://booksarebettershared.com/) The focus of the panel was to discuss how authors help readers access worlds far beyond their own personal experiences, and this was a great addition to the discussion. I read this in preparation for a panel I moderated at Books Are Better Shared. (http://booksarebettershared.com/) The focus of the panel was to discuss how authors help readers access worlds far beyond their own personal experiences, and this was a great addition to the discussion.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lucille Zimmerman

    Last week at the end of church service, myself and two other friends were visiting. One of the friends has traveled the world and has dated dignitaries in France. She’s very polished and has a high sense of fashion. I can’t remember why but she said, “You know the French women leave a lot to mystery.” We all began to giggle. The she became more adamant: “No, really, I’ve studied them. And I read the book about what the French women do.” I pulled out my phone and ordered a copy and told my other Last week at the end of church service, myself and two other friends were visiting. One of the friends has traveled the world and has dated dignitaries in France. She’s very polished and has a high sense of fashion. I can’t remember why but she said, “You know the French women leave a lot to mystery.” We all began to giggle. The she became more adamant: “No, really, I’ve studied them. And I read the book about what the French women do.” I pulled out my phone and ordered a copy and told my other girlfriend I would pass it her way when I finished reading. This book, even though it alludes to sexuality, covers many other topics: how French women dress, cook, garden, and perceive life. I love to read biographies and I love books about how certain cultures view the world. (One of my favorites is The Dutch, I Presume?) I knew I would enjoy this book. It was a little more lofty and had so many references to unfamiliar authors and highbrow French literature so I didn’t give it a five star rating. However, I enjoyed it very much. Can’t wait to pass this copy on to my other friend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I really adored Ollivier's previous book about French women, "Entre Nous," but I had trouble finishing "What French Women Know." Ollivier makes sweeping generalizations about both French and American women. For example: "I was recently at a cocktail party in the States when the hostess asked all of us guests to get in a circle with our margaritas and tell the group about the most meaningful and powerful experience we'd ever had. One woman with a head full of meaningful and powerful red hair shot I really adored Ollivier's previous book about French women, "Entre Nous," but I had trouble finishing "What French Women Know." Ollivier makes sweeping generalizations about both French and American women. For example: "I was recently at a cocktail party in the States when the hostess asked all of us guests to get in a circle with our margaritas and tell the group about the most meaningful and powerful experience we'd ever had. One woman with a head full of meaningful and powerful red hair shot up and said, 'The first time I had a multiple orgasm!'" While that certainly is an interesting anecdote, I don't know how many American women have attended a cocktail party like that. Most of the time I got the impression that Ollivier was writing from her own (rather narrow) perspective (that of a woman who was born and raised in southern California) and assumed that this must be the way that every other American woman has experienced life and thus behaves. Honestly, I cringed my way through this book. If you're looking for a fun and meaningful look into French culture, I would suggest Harriet Welty Rochefort's "French Toast," Elaine Sciolino's "La Seduction,"* or Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow's "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong." I would even recommend Ollivier's previous effort, "Entre Nous," which contained excellent book and movie suggestions -- but please, please, steer clear of this book. It's chocked full of stereotypes and shallow observations, and precious little insights. *I have to admit that I picked up "What French Women Know" because it was recommended by both Sciolino and Barlow. Now that I've finished I'm, I'm bewildered by their recommendations.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I read Debra Ollivier's previous book, "Entre Nous," and enjoyed it thoroughly. I jumped at the opportunity to review "What French Women Know," as I was certain that the well-known expatriate columniste for "Le Monde" would share more of her interesting insights to French culture. Ollivier did not disappoint. She writes about friendships, dating (a concept the French do not really have), cooking and shopping -- and how French women look at all of these things differently from American women. Olliv I read Debra Ollivier's previous book, "Entre Nous," and enjoyed it thoroughly. I jumped at the opportunity to review "What French Women Know," as I was certain that the well-known expatriate columniste for "Le Monde" would share more of her interesting insights to French culture. Ollivier did not disappoint. She writes about friendships, dating (a concept the French do not really have), cooking and shopping -- and how French women look at all of these things differently from American women. Ollivier's work is humorous and, at times, self-deprecating when she writes about her experiences in navigating the cultural differences between the French and the "Anglo-Saxons" (a catch-all term that some French folk use to describe the British or Americans). There are many lessons to be taken from the Gallic attitude toward life, and Ollivier shares them in an entertaining fashion. Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Benedict

    There are many explanations of what French women know. But I adore their fundamental attitude: they love Men a lot a lot. And not surprisingly, the compliment is repaid by French men: they love Women a lot a lot. So the foundation is always there to build upon. French women know men need a lot of tolerance and looking after. This view offers a certain relief in the "battle of the sexes" as it is played out in the States. This book gets to the core of the famous French diet and way of eating, and h There are many explanations of what French women know. But I adore their fundamental attitude: they love Men a lot a lot. And not surprisingly, the compliment is repaid by French men: they love Women a lot a lot. So the foundation is always there to build upon. French women know men need a lot of tolerance and looking after. This view offers a certain relief in the "battle of the sexes" as it is played out in the States. This book gets to the core of the famous French diet and way of eating, and how French women maintain their looks. The explanation is fundamental and understandable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lillian

    "What French Women Know..." can be summed up with the most oft repeated phrase in the book, which is that French women are aware of "the brevity of life and the immediacy of pleasure." The author is an American who moved to France and married a French man and became a Francofile. She wrote this book exploring the differences between French and American women, focusing on love, sex, and food. All these three areas of life have an element of hunger to them. I would say after reading this book Amer "What French Women Know..." can be summed up with the most oft repeated phrase in the book, which is that French women are aware of "the brevity of life and the immediacy of pleasure." The author is an American who moved to France and married a French man and became a Francofile. She wrote this book exploring the differences between French and American women, focusing on love, sex, and food. All these three areas of life have an element of hunger to them. I would say after reading this book American women are more skilled at curbing and denying appetite and our culture more abusive in it's restrictions on our sexuality. How many times do you hear 'my d*ck' on the subway, compared to how many times you hear 'my vagina'... case in point. We live in a hyper macho society where the female body is simultaneously hidden away and objectified. In France it would seem women are in possession of their sexuality, they own it and they walk confidently in it. I'm also fascinated with the concept of 'ugly pretty' that Debra Ollivier describes as a phenomenon in France. "Jolie laide" is the French saying which means 'ugly pretty' in English - no real English equivalent exists. The term is used to describe women who are beautiful or sexy in an unconventional way. Every woman in France can feel sexy and beautiful based on who they are/ what they project from the inside (character, confidence etc...). This is not to say every woman does feel sexy in France, and a lot of the book is based on generalizations. In France the magazine cover beauty queen is still there, she just holds a lot less power over other women in France, and their ability to feel stunning. It seems American women could learn a thing or two from the French.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Blaber

    I was a little disappointed when I started reading this when I discovered that it was just another view by an American embedded in Paris. My disappointment faded, however as the author turned against the social mores of American life with a persistent ferocity. She does not go so far as to say that the French way of life is perfect, or even 'near' perfect, but she does say that many aspects of French life are superior to the American Way. I found myself agreeing with every frankly laid out point. I was a little disappointed when I started reading this when I discovered that it was just another view by an American embedded in Paris. My disappointment faded, however as the author turned against the social mores of American life with a persistent ferocity. She does not go so far as to say that the French way of life is perfect, or even 'near' perfect, but she does say that many aspects of French life are superior to the American Way. I found myself agreeing with every frankly laid out point. American puritanism, greed, gluttony, conformity, and materialism all come into scope to be felled one by one as 'completely unacceptable' in French life... and the author contends that this is a shameful thing to persist in America as well. The title of the book might have been more aptly phrased, "What American (Canadian, British) Women (and Men) Don't Know." What did I come away with? 1. Take notice of the mysterious nature of French women, but do not fear the mystery; accept it. 2. Men are expected to act like men in France, particularly around French women. 3. Never ever date an American woman if you can at all help it. This was a great read, if not a bit preachy. Enjoy my friends, Robyn

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    It's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the passage of time, celebrate the immediacy of pleasure, like to break rules, embrace ambiguity and imperfection, and prefer having a life to making a living. They are, in other words, completely unlike It's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the passage of time, celebrate the immediacy of pleasure, like to break rules, embrace ambiguity and imperfection, and prefer having a life to making a living. They are, in other words, completely unlike us. Ollivier goes beyond familiar ooh-la-la stereotypes about French women, challenging cherished notions about sex, love, dating, marriage, motherhood, raising children, body politics, seduction, and flirtation. Less a how-to and more a how-not-to, What French Women Know offers a refreshing counterpoint to the stale love dogma of our times. Peppered with anecdotes from its Franco-American author and filled with provocative ideas from French sexperts, mistresses and maidens alike, it debunks longstanding myths, presenting savvy new thinking from an old sexy culture and more realistic, life-affirming alternatives from the land that knows how to love. pub 2009

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jane Dugger

    I really enjoyed this book. I'd rather give it a 3.5 stars since I preferred the author/narrator when she spoke in the French accent. She seemed to rush the English portions a bit. I think she was nervous. There is a lot of food for thought in this tiny tome. I felt like I was getting an opportunity to look into a Frenchman's mind which is very insightful since I live with one. It explains a lot: the nonchalance, the aloofness, the unfriendliness ... I could go on but then you'll wonder why I lo I really enjoyed this book. I'd rather give it a 3.5 stars since I preferred the author/narrator when she spoke in the French accent. She seemed to rush the English portions a bit. I think she was nervous. There is a lot of food for thought in this tiny tome. I felt like I was getting an opportunity to look into a Frenchman's mind which is very insightful since I live with one. It explains a lot: the nonchalance, the aloofness, the unfriendliness ... I could go on but then you'll wonder why I love the French so much. The best part of reading this book was the really interesting discussion about American/Anglo-Saxon values and perceptions compared to French I had with Angelo until he sliced open his hand with the bread knife. (And yes he was eating a baguette with smelly cheese.) It was so fascinating. He even went on about how he loves how everyone is so polite in America and friendly and helpful. Plus I heard the best joke/anecdote "Two Men & a Woman." It's very apropos (& a bit stereotypical) about culture. Email me if you want to read it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    The book is exactly what it claims to be: a quick, fun examination of cultural differences in Lady Stuff (romance, bodies, relationships, diet) between French and American women. Besides her own experiences, the author includes quips from friends, popular culture, and philosophers to highlight the attitudes and stereotypes surrounding women in the two cultures. She keeps it light, highlighting that examining others allows us to see our own quirks, while lambasting The Rules mentality that Americ The book is exactly what it claims to be: a quick, fun examination of cultural differences in Lady Stuff (romance, bodies, relationships, diet) between French and American women. Besides her own experiences, the author includes quips from friends, popular culture, and philosophers to highlight the attitudes and stereotypes surrounding women in the two cultures. She keeps it light, highlighting that examining others allows us to see our own quirks, while lambasting The Rules mentality that American woman are said to have. Although she acknowledges she's making generalizations, by the end it starts to get a little old, but it's short and quick so by that point the book is already finished. Although I'd recommend it to friends for a fun read, I admit I was embarrassed to show the cover when I was reading it on the subway.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ida

    So what do we learn from the great country that gave us libertine passion; Marquis de Sade, and philosophical giant; Voltaire? Apparently a lot! Especially on how its culture cultivated their women. I found this a great read especially because I am a non Aglo-Saxon, so it's basically learning both cultures for me. I would love to inbreed some of this free-spirited values for myself, and can finally understand some of the things I don't understand when watching French movies! I found this an entert So what do we learn from the great country that gave us libertine passion; Marquis de Sade, and philosophical giant; Voltaire? Apparently a lot! Especially on how its culture cultivated their women. I found this a great read especially because I am a non Aglo-Saxon, so it's basically learning both cultures for me. I would love to inbreed some of this free-spirited values for myself, and can finally understand some of the things I don't understand when watching French movies! I found this an entertaining read, as I am not partisan to any cultures, this afforded me a few chuckles here and there. Very enlightening too. Read it and embrace the inner French girl in you that wants to come out. After all, smart is sexy to the French, and a different opinion is greatly appreciated in their vibrant misery culture. Plus you don't get fat. :P 3.8/5. Recommended!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elisa Winter

    You know, it's just so strange to casually pick up what you think is going to be a quick light read that won't make any dents in your head, and find that some author just nails you when you least expected it. This woman explained some important things about living the good life, that has nothing to do with how we're taught to live the good life as AMERICANS. Really nothing. French women, it seems, are brought up in an adult culture, a confident culture, a culture that applauds the breaking of ru You know, it's just so strange to casually pick up what you think is going to be a quick light read that won't make any dents in your head, and find that some author just nails you when you least expected it. This woman explained some important things about living the good life, that has nothing to do with how we're taught to live the good life as AMERICANS. Really nothing. French women, it seems, are brought up in an adult culture, a confident culture, a culture that applauds the breaking of rules when the rules need to be broken. It's understood. It's confident. It's real in a way that we don't really understand. But I understand better now. And it's going to make a world of difference in my life, way more than any of the silly "believe it and you'll see it" books so many of us read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne

    I'm not going to get embroiled in all the hoo~ha about this book. What I am going to do is quote an excerpt from an interview with Vanessa Paradis aka 'Mrs' Johnny Depp, who, when asked the question "'You've been with Johnny for more than a decade. What are the secrets of a long~lasting relationship"? replied "Love, respect...and patience" which in a nut shell corroborates one of the messages contained in this book, your husband is your best friend? really? this is not the way french women work. I'm not going to get embroiled in all the hoo~ha about this book. What I am going to do is quote an excerpt from an interview with Vanessa Paradis aka 'Mrs' Johnny Depp, who, when asked the question "'You've been with Johnny for more than a decade. What are the secrets of a long~lasting relationship"? replied "Love, respect...and patience" which in a nut shell corroborates one of the messages contained in this book, your husband is your best friend? really? this is not the way french women work. Vanesa Paradis interview appeared in Stylist Magazine issue36/30 June2010 and appeared in the Scoop section.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    interesting to note that in America there is only one beauty the blond bimbo whereas in France beauty can take many different sides and intelligence is valued for a woman. The author points out that in America it is all about youth and fitting that narrow ideal whereas in France it is about adulthood and women regardless of age are/ feel sexy. They don't obsess about being the perfect woman and go to extremes about obsessing about their husband and children, being the perfect wife and mother and interesting to note that in America there is only one beauty the blond bimbo whereas in France beauty can take many different sides and intelligence is valued for a woman. The author points out that in America it is all about youth and fitting that narrow ideal whereas in France it is about adulthood and women regardless of age are/ feel sexy. They don't obsess about being the perfect woman and go to extremes about obsessing about their husband and children, being the perfect wife and mother and at the same time having a very neat and tidy household.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Harries

    I loved this book. I think of the phrase, "you're too close to it to really see" when I read this and think about how I live my live. All the anxieties about love and relationships, the body and self confidence that we have as American women, (generally speaking) and then there are are women who live else where with out it? This is possible??? Who knew! lol. This painted an entirely different perspective for me and I couldn't stop reading. (Well, listening, it was a book on tape lol! I'm a cheat I loved this book. I think of the phrase, "you're too close to it to really see" when I read this and think about how I live my live. All the anxieties about love and relationships, the body and self confidence that we have as American women, (generally speaking) and then there are are women who live else where with out it? This is possible??? Who knew! lol. This painted an entirely different perspective for me and I couldn't stop reading. (Well, listening, it was a book on tape lol! I'm a cheater hehe). Excellent. I know I'll be enjoying it more than once.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Candace Dorn

    The concept of "ugly beautiful" is covered in this book. It is a concept the French embrace. It is the theory that what makes someone unique, while it often makes them ugly to the mass population.... is what makes them truly beautiful. When you learn this, you start seeing ugly beautiful everywhere: In your old shoes, in your dog, in your car. And you finally go easier on yourself, because you drop the perfection. You drop the fake happiness. You enjoy life right now, bite by bite, person by per The concept of "ugly beautiful" is covered in this book. It is a concept the French embrace. It is the theory that what makes someone unique, while it often makes them ugly to the mass population.... is what makes them truly beautiful. When you learn this, you start seeing ugly beautiful everywhere: In your old shoes, in your dog, in your car. And you finally go easier on yourself, because you drop the perfection. You drop the fake happiness. You enjoy life right now, bite by bite, person by person, and each and every moment you have breath. Joie de vivre!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Polly Vous Francais

    This may be a good book but the author and publisher quoted a full page from my blog without attributing it. Lame at best, unethical at worst. Read about it here. http://pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.com... This may be a good book but the author and publisher quoted a full page from my blog without attributing it. Lame at best, unethical at worst. Read about it here. http://pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.com...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Boney

    So many stereotypes. So so many stereotypes. The book in a nutshell: French men have desires and needs that French women embrace because their only need is to feel desired by French men. :/

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    3.5 stars

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate Schwarz

    21 years ago I took a class called "Human Sexuality and Catholicism" at my Jesuit university. The first sentence of the first reading on the first night of class was, to me, shocking and unforgettable. "Sex is good," the book began. What?! I had never considered such a thing. I had a strict Catholic upbringing and two parents who meant very well but discussed very little, and the nuns at my Catholic certainly didn't fill in the blanks. Anyway, this book was as brain-opening as that class was for 21 years ago I took a class called "Human Sexuality and Catholicism" at my Jesuit university. The first sentence of the first reading on the first night of class was, to me, shocking and unforgettable. "Sex is good," the book began. What?! I had never considered such a thing. I had a strict Catholic upbringing and two parents who meant very well but discussed very little, and the nuns at my Catholic certainly didn't fill in the blanks. Anyway, this book was as brain-opening as that class was for me. I love cultural studies in general and loved traveling Asia and exploring other cultures, so this "study" (not scientific but...) comparing French and American women was delightful, humbling, and fascinating. Some of my favorite quotations of Ollivier's: "The ability to hold back the floodgates (of information)...implies not only a capacity to keep secrets but to cultivate them--and that suggests that it's okay for some unspoken experiences to coexist that aren't necessarily shared with one's partner. In America, where sharing is considered a moral virtue ion to a civic duty, that is also decidedly not okay." 77 "For French women, silence can by sexy." 83 "French women have a keen sense of brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure." 99 "The singular difference between Anglos and the French is tangled up in the cruel, tender machinations of youth. For one of the first pressure that bear down on American girls is the pressure not only to be liked by to be like everyone else. This initial feat of self-transformation often involves loosening one's grip on that quiet sense of inner self and hitching one's wagon to a single standard of beauty. The stress of leaping through the hoop insinuates itself into the young heart and soul with a vengeance, and insecurities go from being hard little buds of confusion to overripe, snarled, and tyrannical fruits that hang on the vine as we age." 146 "American women need to f-- up a little more. Be late for something. Let the homework be late occasionally. Let the kids miss a playdate. Drinking a little too much with their husbands from time to time. I'm not talking about crashing a car and getting a DUI. I'm talking about letting go a little bit; letting up." 199 I really liked this book--I might have to immerse myself in the culture a little more so I can let go of some of my puritanical ways...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Toney

    I have, over the years, collected a shelf of what I think of as "French Guides." Now, this is not anything about the French Language, history, or anything like that- rather it's my collection of books that try to have their readers learn the secrets of the French Woman. She's so chic! So polished! So unlike us! These books are often very entertaining, but just as often full of very basic, almost intuitive advise that you could get almost everywhere. It's just that this set of advise is wearing a I have, over the years, collected a shelf of what I think of as "French Guides." Now, this is not anything about the French Language, history, or anything like that- rather it's my collection of books that try to have their readers learn the secrets of the French Woman. She's so chic! So polished! So unlike us! These books are often very entertaining, but just as often full of very basic, almost intuitive advise that you could get almost everywhere. It's just that this set of advise is wearing a beret. This book is a bit off that usual French Guide structure. This is more academic, an informal study of sorts. No tips here on the perfect lipstick and wearing heels on cobblestone streets. Rather this is a book of insight and musings into the mindset of the French Woman. This is probably the most distinct of all the French Guides that I've collected over the years. If not groundbreaking, at least thought inducing, and I recommend it for those who have grown tired of the pink chi-chi books, but not grown tired of the allure of the women of France.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrea V

    Read this book to get some insight into differences between American and French culture since I, myself, am in the midst of joining this group of expats in France. All in all I enjoyed the book. It's not a serious analysis of cultural differences and in many instances just skimmed the surface and what could be a very interesting historical, anthropological, social and psychological discussion of the cultures. Nonetheless, still enjoyable and a quick read. It made a lot of culture references I had Read this book to get some insight into differences between American and French culture since I, myself, am in the midst of joining this group of expats in France. All in all I enjoyed the book. It's not a serious analysis of cultural differences and in many instances just skimmed the surface and what could be a very interesting historical, anthropological, social and psychological discussion of the cultures. Nonetheless, still enjoyable and a quick read. It made a lot of culture references I had to look up and some of the language was a bit unnecessary, but it's just part of her style. She uses many french expressions and a lot of terms in english that are uncommon and you might need to look up. Or maybe that's just me and my limited vocabulary and exposure to pop culture. In any case, I'm thanking the "define" feature on my ereader!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kitty

    Rollicking fun , especially the dialogues between American and French women and the originality of describing "the "perceptive penis". A good reminder that the body has senses that the American mind might ignore, and it is not necessary to know all the answers nor to be understood by men. There is a lot to be said about being a "bon vivant", naturally. The term for being impervious to the opinions of other people (being liked or being like everyone else) is "je m'en foutisme". This is not about Rollicking fun , especially the dialogues between American and French women and the originality of describing "the "perceptive penis". A good reminder that the body has senses that the American mind might ignore, and it is not necessary to know all the answers nor to be understood by men. There is a lot to be said about being a "bon vivant", naturally. The term for being impervious to the opinions of other people (being liked or being like everyone else) is "je m'en foutisme". This is not about being selfish, but accepting the package in which we are born and embracing life with all its ambiguities and imperfections.

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