About The Secret Life of France

Photo © Ben Nason

Photo © Ben Nason

“Lucy Wadham was born in London in 1964 and educated at Oxford. She lives in France and is the author of three novels: Lost, which was short-listed for the Golden Dagger Award for crime fiction, Castro’s Dream and Greater Love.”

The Secret Life of France, published in paperback in July 2010, is about my experience of France. When I was 19 I ran away from English boys and into the arms of a Frenchman…

“Anyone who is remotely curious about what makes the French tick (and I was curious enough to marry a French woman) will love this book. Lucy Wadham, now divorced from her French husband, but married, for better or worse, to his native land, peels off layer after layer of French convention, prejudice and sheer unimpeachable style to lay the nation‘s psyche bare. She does so with a delicious wit that is paradoxically both merciless and forgiving. From adultery to nuclear proliferation, it’s all here, as juicy and satisfying as a steak served bleu. And in explaining and exploring our love hate relationship with our nearest neighbours, she tells us more than a little about ourselves. I really couldn’t put this book down. And now my wife can’t put it down.” Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

“In The Secret Life of France, Lucy Wadham examines the profound and varied differences between the Anglo Saxon and French world-views. Using her own experience, as a wife and mother, and later as an investigative journalist for the BBC, she explores French attitudes towards sex, marriage, adultery, money, work, happiness, war, and race and in so doing reveals much about our own priorities and the nature of our identity. The Secret Life of France challenges our preconceptions about France and debunks many of the myths – bleak and rosy – on which our view of France rests, and asks whether we might have something to learn from this most infuriating and contrary neighbour?”

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29 thoughts on “About The Secret Life of France

  1. I read the Guardian review of your book and was unable to resist buying it when I spotted it in our local bookshop the other day. I’ve been unable to put it down since, and am delighted with the way you so cleverly explain so much about France that I’ve sensed in a subliminal sort of way but not quite been able to put my finger on. Congratulations on a truly good book which I’d recommend to anyone wanting to understand France and the French a little better!

  2. My husband and I retired to France and have spent 10 happy years in the Midi. We speak French and are well integrated in the life of our village We were both totally absorbed in your book. It is well informed, answered many of our questions and chimed in perfect harmony with our own experience of French life. We especially appreciated your spare and elegant style of writing. We were so impressed, we ordered a copy for my sister to share with her daughter (my niece) who married a Frenchman over 10 years ago and has two daughters. They live near Lourdes.

    Best Wishes

  3. Dear Ms. Wadham,

    Thank you so much for your book. If I had not read it, I would have been unprepared for the bewildering treatment by the French women.

    I had boldly auditioned for L’Avare for an amateur group and would have come away in pieces if not for your sharing of your experiences.

    It did not matter I acted well because my assassination of their beloved language in the cold-reads did exactly that – it left them cold. The confirmation came when one of them said to me in a fake British accent, “Oh DAH-ling… my throat is comPLETELY PAAARched…”

    I am still whole and I have you to thank, Ms. Wadham. Much gratitude,
    Grace Wan
    Singapore

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  5. Thank you for this book Lucy. I’ve been living in France for 16 years, was married to a french guy for 10, in the Vaucluse, not far from your honeymoon spot!

    I feel less crazy now that I know others have experienced the same situations. I’m also very happy here, and not tempted to move back to the UK.

    I couldn’t put the book down, and have recommended it to all my friends here.

    I’m especially touched by the school experience of your son, I’m having problems with mine (he’s 8), my daughter sailing through (14), but I battle with their dad about the school system all the time (he’s a teacher!)

    I also loved the historical and political references, very interesting, I learnt a lot.

    Anyway, MANY THANKS,

    If every you come down to the south, don’t hesitate to look me up, I’d love to meet you.

  6. Hi Lucy,

    I read your book and I learned an awful lot about France that they don’t teach you when you are studying the language!
    I wanted to pick your brain really – I’m 26 and a Musician tentatively about to try and break into the French Market (I’ve even ‘translated’ the songs, my record company are so trusting!) I wanted to know how English Speakers singing in French are viewed (albeit I’m Welsh) with suspicion maybe?
    anyway I hoped you might ease my fears for me, I’d be happy to send you an album in return for the advice!

    Big Smiles

    Kara

    P.s I do hope you write more about your adventures in France, I’d definately look forward to reading them!

  7. Lucy,

    Great book, I have lived and worked in France (& DOM TOM) for 19 years and found some of your observations inspirational.

    Should you fancy a random invitation, I promise entertaining company and lunch at any restaurant of your choice ( but please something special)!

    Having read your book I believe the pleasure would be mostly mine….. & on these grounds, no offense if my invitation is rejected!

    I risk this being posted, hope it won’t be, however, if it is you’re worth it ;-)

    Best regards and onwards!

    S

  8. Hi Lucy,

    I recently received your book as a gift from my mother. She obviously thought I needed it! As a long term resident in France (married to a French man, 2 young kids in French schools), so many of your experiences rang true that I could have been reading some of my own life story! I could even add a chapter about life inside a French business!

    I just wanted to say; thanks for sharing…

    Regards,

    Rebecca

  9. An excellent book, having spent much time in France over the last few years there is so much to relate to. Just setting of for a few more weeks near Navarrenx and will be finishing the book where it Is destined to find a new home in my parents house.

  10. Lucy, you write so well. I now know a lot more about 20th-century history than I did a week ago. Like all of the above commentators, I really couldn’t put the book down.
    It struck me that you would find the Irish culture and mores very enlightening: a shared history with Britain, a nation of francophiles and yet so different from either culture. We, like the British, laugh our way through life; like the British, we too have close inter-gender friendships, though without the tension that you speak of. I have lived in France too and speak French, but your book provided answers to questions I had barely formed… It has made me really think about the nature of the French – I believe, perhaps with a degree of overconfidence, that I already have the British psyche figured out (I’m married to an Englishman and lived in Britain for years).

    I will now be buying Greater Love (it sounds brilliant) and am greatly looking forward to more excellent reading.

    Thanks for all your hard work, it is much appreciated.

    Roisin

  11. I just finished reading your book . A British friend of mine passed it on. Very much enjoyed the reading as I am a French citizen living in America, sort of the opposite of your experience. I would love to introduce your book to my French speaking friends here in the States. Is there a French translation of the book ” Secret life of France”?.
    Thanks for your reply.
    Best regards,
    Danielle Collins

  12. I have just finished Secret Life of France, offered to me by a British friend staying with us for a week. I thoroghly enjoyed it and was fascinated by the historical context. As we made the most of the lovely end-of-summer weather by the pool, SLOF in hand, I couldn’t help but keep bursting out with comments such as, “It’s all true, it’s all so true” ! I married my Franco-British husband in 1989 and have been living in France since 1988. We have 4 children, including 19 year old twins, one of whom is disabled (I could write a whole book myself about the battles we have fought to keep our highly intelligent, but “different” son in a mainstream education system that is generally of a high standard, but incredibly inflexible). One slight regret, it would seem I missed out on the “naughty bits” during our Parisian B.C. years (Before Children)! The dinner parties we went to weren’t nearly as interesting! Having lived in the Centre, Drôme and Dordogne, home is now near the lovely town of Sommières in le Gard. Fiona Ricard

  13. Your book covers all the things that I experienced and explains why I found certain things so difficult.

    I lived in France from 1972 to 1996 working in different design groups and agencies around Paris. I even started 2 of my own one of which still exits.

    Arriving in France was very liberating. I enjoyed everything Parisian, the beauty, the rudeness, the food and long lunches.

    When I first arrived everyone in studio of ‘La Companie Esthetique Industrielle Raymond Lowey’ where I worked jumped into cars and drove across Paris from the 16th to the 14th to eat lunch in a little restaurant because they served spider crab on a Wednesday. As I watched a colleague order fromage blanc with crème fraîche for dessert I thought I had arrived in paradise. I never missed Marmite for a moment.

    I was lucky to find friends from all kinds of backgrounds and to have French cousins who introduced me to working class ethics and told me how the wicked ‘Rostbif’s’ had cut off the hands of the brave French at Dunkirk. I also had an ancien déportée uncle, a survivor of internment and Mathausen who took me to communist Hungarian New Year celebrations in the heart of Paris. Life was never dull.

    The only reason for returning to England was for my daughter born in 1991. The French attitude to her slight learning difficulties was not sympathetic so we returned to England. The English on the whole are much more tolerant of emotional intelligence rather than the real thing.

    Returning was very difficult and iI still prefer France.

    Thank you for the insight!

  14. Hello Lucy,

    I am reading your book at the moment and I am so glad i found it! the writing is good and it is a very complete and interesting book about those 2 countries, which are part of me. I was raised in France and i just came back from 7 years in London, so I can understand a little bit most of the things you are talking about. I can’t wait to finish it, Love reading it! and I will definitely read your blog!
    All the Best!

    Stella B

  15. Hi,
    My name is Jack, I am the manager of a tourism company,
    I am interested in your site:secretlifeoffrance.com I would like to offer you a link exchange between the home page of our sites. If you are agree, I can send you a list of sites from which you can choose where we will put your links.
    Good-bye. I am waiting for your answer.
    Jack

  16. I grew up in France, worked for English, French and German magazines, lived in London, then again in france for 20 years so I have a foot on each side of the Channel. Your book about Secret France is very relevant in many aspects, but there is one very important factor I should point out. Just as London is not England, so Paris is not France, or to be more precise, the Parisians do in no way resemble the rest of the French population – as no doubt you must have found out when you moved to the Cévennes. For English people it would be wholly misleading to think that the marriages, the affairs and the general moral ‘hauteur’ practised by Parisian couples applies to all of France. Having said that, after 6 years back in the UK I can’t wait to live in France again for the food, the conversation and the sheer humanity not only of the people, but also of the health service. I am currently teaching French to a lady who has a huge villa in Vence who complained that French women have no small talk and have heated and serious conversations about everything. I’d rather have that than the giggling wine drinking English women who talk about hairdressers and clothes. True, it is hard to find a French person without opinions but this too is what makes France a country full of passion. The French education system doesn’t beat children into the same mould. We were expected to do as well as the boys, the boys grew up with girls and knew what girls, then women were all about, unlike the British system where boys (especially in private education) regard girls as some alien species and were it not for desire for sex, they wouldn’t really know what to do with them. I have lived with English and French men and the French man definitely enjoys the company of women in bed as well as in intellectual conversation. Try that in the UK and men will think you talk too much. The ‘mates’ and ‘girlfriend’ culture here seems to be a refuge for both sexes as they simply don’t seem to appreciate each other as people.

  17. Dear Lucy,

    Along with many others, I’m sure, I would like to thank you for writing one of my now favourite books. I am in love with it.

    Regards,
    Stephen

  18. I am in France (Tremolat) on vacation and will return to Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday. Our vacation house had a copy of your book and I just finished reading it an hour ago. I find it fascinating. I admit that as an American, fully occupied with the pitiful state of public affairs in my country, I have not paid terribly close attention to the things that you cover in your book either in France or in England. Perhaps I should have! But I do find your thoughts quite helpful in understanding much of what I see and hear in both countries. We stayed with a friend in London for a week before coming to France to stay with another friend for a few days. This second friend is French-born but has lived most of her life in Great Britain. Her observations have been quite helpful as well. At any rate, I want to get off the computer and get outside in the sun, so I will leave my comments for now and say to you simply, I thoroughly enjoyed your book and I have recommended it highly to my traveling companions.

  19. Hi Lucie, I read your book last year and really liked it. I’m a French woman, I’ve been living overseas for the last 6 years (currently living in Sydney, Australia with my Australian partner). Your book has helped me better to understand how French people and “anglo-saxons” are different, and most importantly it has helped me understand better myself and my peers in France.

  20. Loved it also and read it in about three bites while staying in Paris over Christmas-New Year. However having worked in and visited France fairly extensively I thought the title would be more accurate if it were The Secret Life of the Parisians.

  21. Lucy. I nearly choked (with joy) to find a book on France that wasn’t about renovating a house or “food ‘n wine”. Bravo for exposing some of the more shadowy regions that the Anglo saxons dont even understand, nevermind wanna talk about! I read it in no time shouting “yeah yeah it’s all true” etc, like your other bloggers, but must say that it only touched on this vast can-o-worms called France. I would dearly love to take what you have thrown light on and expand on it in a sequel (!!) including as I go, other areas of psycopathy and dysfunction such as The Family (not always as cosy as one would hope) The Health Service (I am a nurse in the O.R.in central France) the lack of help for those with mental problems. The complete absence of alternative ideas or methods of self help. The lack of comedy. Johny Halliday (oh God JOHNNY HALLIDAY. Run away!!) The highest incidence of suicide in Europe. Why are more than half the population on tranquilisers? Near total absence of anything spiritual for those who have questions. Why cant they sing or create music (they can mimick but not create. Well, nothing I want to listen to anyway)
    What’s the obsession with putains? Give it a rest. It’s boring. Their miscarriages of justice are chilling often leaving innocent men in prisons for decades before letting them out with no littigation or culpability on the side of the law that put them there wrongly; the famous gendarmes having forced any old confession out of their victim for want of a longer lunch break or an early friday finish! (I’m guessing) Then there are the horrific murders that go for ever with no one being caught despite writing yearly anonymous messages to the police with clues!! Gawd, it’s like a comedy! and WHAT murders they are! I dont believe crime writers with carte blanche could dream up twisted events such as those that come to pass here. But it’s all “O.K.” because it’s in the name of “passion” and they simply couldn’t help themselves. . . .(!) Oh dear. Best start trying then what?
    I have worked in an O.R. all my working life and am now 50 something. The behaviour I have seen here in France (their operating theatre) is unlike anything I could have prepared myself for. This subject is not worth starting on in a blogg message as it requires a book of its own. However it falls far short of what I have been used to in Blighty. The lack of professionalism, the foaming at the mouth with that special “passion” they have while shouting and gesticulating like crazed Wall Street “buyers”, the personal lives that intervene at every moment (we can do better leaving those at home no?) those huge visible egos that cant be camophlaged; the petulance and pouting (oh cringe) and the downright cruelty towards one another, not to mention the poor patients, more often than not riddled with one cancer or another. CA VA? they shout all the live long day just before putting them to sleep. I only ever heard ONE single brave soul who was pissed off enough to say. . .”well obviously not. That’s why I’m here” I nearly kissed him for DARING not to answer robotically like the rest of the nation. I totally agree with your take on that silly “mega-speak” thingy you mentioned Lucy, where they can be “triggered” by just the intonations of voice and certain key phrases and ways of speaking. You got to add “HEIN?” after 100% of what you say, otherwise they ignore you. Just dont hear you.
    I’m a veggie and provoke a small theatrical “production” every lunchtime when I raise the lid of my lunchbox. Much tittering and pointing and questioning, and awe and wonder etc. This is after 5 years of “the lunch box” We still cant get over it. . .remind us why you dont eat meat. . .again? They nudge eachother and giggle and then just look blank as if summat just hasn’t quite ‘computed” in there, when I say “dont like it” or “not good for you” or sometimes “killing animals is strongly linked to ignorance” depending how I feel on the day. Weird no? It’s not even an outside option here. Not even ENTERED their heads that there’s another side of the debate. It could be seen as cruel. I only ever answer their questions and NEVER talk about veggetarianism without being engaged in conversation on the subject. Just a small example of those many ‘blank-spots’ in the French psyche. There are thousands but I was so pleased to have found someone who gave a more correct take on the place. Whew.
    Good luck with your second husband! I look forward to more books.

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  24. Yours is a great book with profound insights. It is rare these days to be able to agree with careful neutral analysis by someone whose views are diametrically opposed to my own. I think and have long thought that Baroness Thatcher was the best prime minister since Lord Palmerston. I was delighted when she won election. But your book is absolutely brilliant in its analysis of the cultural differences. I compare it with some of Thomas Sowell’s work. I agree that the attitude to infidelity provides a clear delineation. Opinion polling of French and British publics shows the attitudinal difference stands. Given that sex before marriage is no longer an issue before marriage in either culture, it seems to me that the French attitude is more practical – Why break up a marriage in those circumstances?

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