This is a guide to France intended for the traveller who wants to get to know French people as individuals, for the negotiating businessman and for students who wishes to discover in-depth aspects of their lives. It looks at what makes up the national character of France.
France is the most popular country in the world with foreign visitors. Each year millions of people arrive there to take delight in its landscapes, its extraordinarily rich history, its art and architecture, its food and its wine. For many visitors, especially, perhaps, the British, the only difficulties lie with the people. The French, it is generally agreed, are either irritating or baffling or both. Theodore Zeldin's book is an erudite but tongue-in-cheek guide to the French which will dispel any lingering Francophobia in the minds of those who read it. In chapters with titles like 'Why it is hard to meet an Average French Person', 'How to understand what they are trying to say' and 'How to sympathise with them', he unravels the mysteries of the French. This is a brilliantly sustained, readable and amusing cultural analysis which unlocks the door to the French mind and the French spirit.
THEODORE ZELDIN is a Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. His two-volume history, France 1848-1945 (1973,1977) received international acclaim: The Times called it "brilliant, original, enter- taining and inexhaustible"; Paris Match said that is was "the most perspicacious, the most deeply researched, the liveliest and the most enthralling panorama of French passions." His other books include the novel Happiness (1988). Theodore Zeldin has been awarded the Wolfson Prize and figures on Magazine Litteraire's list of the hundreds most important thinkers in the world today.
This is a book for anyone who has ever found the French elusive, obstinate, irritating, perplexing or simply enthralling. The French magazine L'Usine Nouvelle says that Zeldin, Oxford don and author of several brilliant thematic studies of French social history, 'understands us better than our politicians, our employers, our wives and our children'. And so he does. Unputdownable. (Kirkus UK)
The French? Individuals. Diverse individuals - intricately related to one another and to the patchwork that is France. Thus, British historian Zeldin carries forth into the present the broad sweep and minute scrutiny of his magisterial, multi-volume social history, France 1848-1945. The book is set up, slyly, like a tourist guide. (It is also speckled with French cartoons of French foibles.) Under stock headings - "How to tell them apart," "How to make sense of their language" - Zeldin does more than spoof stereotypes, and expose stereotypical thinking: he draws forth the stories of individual Frenchmen (no gender-neutral equivalent exists) and thus bares what can only be called the human condition, its common qualities and local inflections. "The French probably have more interesting things to say about what it means to be human," Zeldin remarks, "than about what it means to be French." To their testimony, he brings microscopic historical knowledge - the beret marked the Frenchman only from 1923 to the 1950s, "the age of Renoir" - and transcending historical vision: 18th-century France "held a place in the world which was not altogether different from that later assumed by America, the asylum of free men, the source of amazing new opportunities. . . ." Today, lacking berets or universal ideals, what distinguishes the French? Their language; their food - though diminishingly; but not their chic ("there is French taste, and French good taste") or their sex lives (Brigitte Bardot, Yves Montand, the commonality). Far more intriguing is their nonconformity to type. One of Zeldin's most eloquent subjects is the drop-out diplomat, contented for some years as a carpenter (though his family round the conviviality trying), who "still feels the need for more adventure": the Utopian strain, and the restlessness, appears in others. There is much intercourse with things American, and fine adjustments to regionalism. It is a rich, nuanced portrait - peering into education, medical practices, religion, "the revolt of 1968." At the close, Zeldin considers the identity of Sanche de Gramont/Ted Morgan. Highly civilized, highly readable. (Kirkus Reviews)
Winner of Enid McLeod Literary Award 1983
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