“Then, over coffee, he came to the point: would I like to be his mistress? I laughed out loud. He looked me dead in the eye, his pouting little mouth twitching with indignation: ‘I don’t make jokes about such matters.’”
Available now in paperback and ebook
Table of Contents
Driving and Breakfast
2. The Secret Garden
Slap and Tickle, Guilt and Parking
Adultery and the Cult of Beauty
3. Being a Woman
La Libido, La Femme Fatale and the Sisterhood
4. Truth versus Beauty
Tragedy, Comedy and Historic French Losers
Television, Hypocrisy and Ideas
5. The Wedding
Catholicism, Anti-Semitism and Le Pen
Language, Yoghurt and Hot Rabbits
6. Sublime, Necessarily Sublime
Mayors, Mass Demonstration and Mayhem
Nobility, Freedom and Status
Glory, Breastfeeding and the Norm
Freud, Maths and the Cult of Reason
Smiley, Happy People
9. The Past
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
French Rudeness, Surrender and Betrayal
Collaboration and Defeat
10. Foreign Affairs
Cake and Spies
Anti-Americanism and La Force de Frappe
11. Tolérance Zéro
Cops and Spooks
France’s War on Terror
12. Sarkozy and the End of Ideology
Sex Dwarves and the Patriarchy
The Society of the Spectacle and the End of the Secret Garden
13. Black, Blanc, Beur
Football, Rap and Role Models
14. Douce France
15. Everything in its Place
16. The Broken House
17. Ride a Fast Horse and Stay Ahead of the News
18. Patriarchy in Peril
19. Hating the Rich
Hi John. Thanks for writing. I’m so glad you found the book helpful and that it still makes sense. Bon courage pour la suite ! All my best. Lucy
Hi Lucy, I have just finished reading your book. I am from the North of Ireland and decided to go to France for six months to work in an Irish Pub in Paris. I stayed there for seven years until I was offered work in ARRAS in the Nord Pas de Calais setting up and running a new Irish Pub. While in Paris I spent most of my free time with the English speaking community and so it was a great shock to me to find myself in ARRAS and finally having to deal, in French, with the French. I found your book explained many of the queries that I had encountered. Great read.
Lucy, I agree with many things in your book (the press as government mouthpieces, certain anti-USA sentiments, low-level anti-Semitism, the failure to integrate Maghreb immigrants, and a few other points). However, I really cannot concur with your views on sex and adultery, Catholicism, or Freudian psychoanalysis.
I am half French, and the Parisians in my family are nothing like the people you describe, despite their living in some of the same arrondissements that you mention. In that respect, I think you are portraying a very narrow slice of one fraction of the population.
In my experience of 60 years of not only spending a great deal of time in France but also of working as a translator and interpreter with people at all levels of industry from all over the country, as well as discussing schooling and many other aspects of daily life with relatives, friends and business associates, I feel that in the personal part of your memoir you have painted a picture of a very unrepresentative microcosm. This saddens me because it perpetuates certain misunderstandings about France.
Similarly, the picture you portray of the UK represents only a small slice of it. Not everyone in the UK lives on a diet of EastEnders, Big Brother and tabloids, or bonds simply on a few hours of watching sport and drinking pints.
All in all, for those who grew up between the two countries, your book is fine in parts, but rather narrow and simplistic in others. However, as you state, it is a personal memoir, and these are your personal experiences.
Thanks so much, Sue. And thank you for passing it on.
All my best,
Lucy – I loved your book. l My brother gave it to me knowing that we had owned a home in France, lived in the south-west for a bit, not to mention had two exchange visits to Paris in my teens during the 1970’s (no mobile phones or Internet!) when no English was allowed. I saw the Sound of Music in French was rather odd. Everything sounded familiar and made sense to me. A country of contradictions. I bought the book for myself &plan to lend it to a 93 year old friend.
Thank you, Lucy.
I very much appreciate it.
Thank you for your comment. Your indignation is not remotely out of place and I’d like to apologise for any offence caused by this passage, the wording of which has been changed for the second edition of the book, due to be published with additional material in July.
Below is the new passage:
“When you consider that Serbia lost its entire Jewish population under the Nazi Occupation and that Poland, Estonia and Lithuania saw 90 per cent of theirs slaughtered, France – even with the complicity of Vichy – was one of the countries in Nazi-occupied Europe where the largest number of Jews survived.”
I have been reading your book with an enormous pleasure until this moment. Chapter “The Past”, page 170 : “When you consider that Serbia killed every last one of her Jews, and Poland, Estonia and Lithuania each slaughtered around 90% per cent of theirs, France […]”.
I would like to assure you that Poland did not kill 3 million Polish Jews during World War II, which is roughly 90% of its original population living in Poland before the war. These were the Nazis who murdered them in the Nazi extermination camps in occupied Poland. These were the SS men themselves who poured Cyclon B into the ventilation chimneys in the gas chambers, and yes, there were Polish men involed in this attrocious procedure – the prisoners who were made to “empty” the gas chambers of the dead bodies and carry them – one by one – to the crematoria or the mass graves outside the camp where the prisoners sometimes ended up too, dying from exhaustion or a German bullet.
There are countless testimonies of the former prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps in Poland and hundreds if not thousands of books that can confirm there were no “Polish death camps” – but only “Nazi death camps in occupied Poland”. Sadly, the term “Polish death camps” appears in the western press and literature occasionally, and the Polish diplomacy takes great pains to straighten out the facts. Until the next misfortunate publication that has to be dealt with.
One may say that my indignation is out of place here as your book is not about the holocaust and probably not many of your readers are particularly interested in knowing this part of the history. However, it is a great pity that this misfortunate sentence has appeared in your book as it might have given some readers the wrong idea of my nation’s qualities – and the history itself – and, sadly, a reason to create a false and harmul stereotype.
I wish you success in selling the book but I hope that the sentence in question will be removed from the future editions as it is entirely untrue.
Hi Lucy, I’ve just finished your book “The Secret Life of France” and it stirred up all sorts of emotions! I found myself reliving my own arrival in Paris in the ’90’s, remembering my shock at the way people spoke to me, the frustrating battles with bureaucracy etc etc… I also really appreciated all the digging and delving you did to explain the reasons behind the Anglo-French socio-cultural-political-and just about everything else-chasm. My reading was peppered with “a-ha”‘s. Like you though, my relationship with Paris and the French gradually changed (matured, probably), helped by marrying a Frenchman and having my children in Paris (although I reached out to an English-speaking mums network when my kids were born, as its French equivalent didn’t exist). For the past 8 years we’ve been living near Barcelona, so I have a whole new Latin, Catholic culture to get my no-messing Protestant head around. And yes, I still miss France.
Thanks, Lynne. I’ll do the same. Lucy
Please forgive the delay in replying. I’m afraid there is no French translation as yet. I imagine that French publishers have become partiularly tired and wary of books about their country written by the English, and rightly so.
I’ve had very positive responses from French readers, though, so with luck word will spread.
I live in Sydney, Australia. I co-ordinate a book club here and we have just read yours. I’ve been googling everywhere to find out if there is a French translation? I’ve seen this question asked several times on this site, but no reply. Please let me know.
I’m book publisher in France and I could be interested by your book. Do you know if the rights are free for France ? I hope so ! And waiting for your answer.
Loved the book – just included on my blog
Hi Lucy, I’m a blog writer from Australia (http://mademoiselleslimalicious.blogspot.com/) and also a big fan of your book “The Secret Life of France”. I am French myself, been living overseas for the last 6 years. Your book has helped me understand myself better. I would love to publish an interview of yourself for my readers, with a focus on pressure on French women to be beautiful and slim at all costs. Would you be interested? This could increase the sales of your book in Australia. Please contact me at cyndiebowen (at) gmail (dot) com – I look forward to hearing from you.
By the way , is there a French translation in the pipeline ?
Hello Lucy. Loved your book; as a French leaving in Australia it … helped me to understand better where I am from and why after 22 years in Australia , I married … a french woman. Then I realised how french I am and wondered where it might be coming from (yes from France obviously) ; somehow I thought that leaving that far away would filter my blood and add some Anglo bits in it ; well it probably does to a certain point. With 4 kids , 2 born here and 2 born in France , question remains about where we want to be next and … you chose les Cevennes !
Your book landed in my hands cause a 14 y.o who saw the book on his way back from England to Australia, wanted to make a gift to his mum … he saw France on it, she loves France , she is an English friend. Conversations about belonging and comparison never end.
Many thanks .
Can we compare the writer of The Secret Life with Zadie Smith in White Teeth? Is there any relation between reality and fiction in your narration?
Have just spent a delicious three weeks camping in various parts of France and I read your book which I thought was funny, informative and extremely helpful in getting some idea of how France ticks.
I thought your book pretty readable and now you are living in the countryside, perhaps you can write another book about that experience. I suspect Paris is probably quite different from the rest of France.
Anyway, although my favourite destination is Italy, France is not far behind!
thanks for the good read.
I’ve just finished your great book . I could identify with so much of what you wrote. I came here about forty years ago and, like you, am divorced and have French children. As a teacher (certifiée) with the Ed Nat, I could also see your point about the education system. Hope Jack’s Masters has gone well and he gets the agreg!
All the best, Judy
I loved your book, it made me laugh but also made me sad. Having lived in France for 6 years it made me understand many issues I have faced over the years.
Sadly I would prefer not to stay here though it is a beautiful country – I feel like an alien! Four eyes, six legs and I understand and speak French (not the best!).
I am so glad I found your blog/site. Thank you.
I put your book on my Christmas list after reading a review in the Sydney Morning Herald. Luckily my Secret Santa bought it for me and I’m thoroughly enjoying reading it. Having visited France a few times it does help to explain many things about the French – well done!
Incidentally have you seen the French movie Sarah’s Key (Elle s’appelait Sarah) – it’s well worth watching. I only saw it the other day after I’d started reading your book which made both your book and the movie even more fascinating.
Having married a French man myself, lived in Paris and its outskirts for ten years and had two children there, I can safely say that there isn’t one word in your book with which I disagree! Like you, I spent a great deal of time utterly infuriated by everything from the schooling, police and fonctionnaires to the driving, television, music etc etc. In the end I had to admit that the French (certainly the Parisians) and I were incompatible. I moved back to the UK, got divorced, put my children in a European school to keep up their French (but where they also get a dose of less rigid English teachers) and am now with a Welshman – who understands my humour and says thank you when I do things for him.
Thank you so much for this book. Although I wrote many articles on living in France for an English speaking magazine in Paris, I never got round to a book. If I had, I dare to hope that this would have been the one!
PS How can you stay in a country where they don’t even have a word for “fun”??!
I’m pleased that you enjoyed the book but hope that your misgivings about France weren’t exacerbated by it. I suspect that if you come to Gardoussel most of them will evaporate.
The couple who run the retreat centre tell me that Sarah would be very welcome but as it’s a writing only retreat there’ll be no yoga being taught that week. She could either join the course or alternatively take up the full-board option and just relax in a beautiful place and be with you after class. The best thing would be to get in touch with Sharon Black, the extremely nice woman who runs Gardoussel. Her email is:
All best wishes,
In Barbados on hol and just read your book. Loved it. Made me understand why Arsen Wenger is such a bad loser! Must be tough to be French and ambitious – at least our language covers half the world. Me and my partner Sarah plan to sell our Music Colleges business in about 3/4 years time and need to get out of UK so we came and looked at Luberon recently as a potential base – but you have made me think twice, especially on the alienation of language which was a worry that you have confirmed. It wouldn’t necessarily stop us but total commitment is a heavy concept.
I plan to write too and have done 3 years column on songwriting for a music mag, plus I have written a couple of potential book ideas that have been sitting on my laptop for years. Then there is the memoirs thing that might be cool for my kids. I fancy doing your workshop, looks fab. If Sarah came along could she do yoga? We are a bit joined at the hip!
I have read your book with the greatest delight. I also lived for eighteen years in Paris between years 68 and 85 all my souvenirs came back reading your book….I now live in the depts of the countryside in the south west.
I really miss the British sense of humour, the theatre, the music scene and the ‘sense civic’. My daughter who was born and brought up in Paris, also prefers London although she married a Frenchman. I am sending your book to her as I am sure she will enjoy it as much as I did.
Like Debbie, I would like to know whether it has been published in French as I want to offer it to ‘some’ of my French friends.
I first went to France to au-pair in 1965, aged nineteen, and have been drawn back very often, ever since. I have much enjoyed reading SLOF, which has been so evocative and at the same time, enlightening. Thank you.
However, I am anxious to know if it has, or indeed will be, translated into French because, as you can imagine, I would love to discuss it with several of my good French friends! Please let me know the outcome.
Currently reading your SLOF book.
I left the UK to come to live and work in Paris in the 1990’s.
I agree with many of your observations. Except for the sex. Either my French colleagues and friends keep that part of their lives very well hidden, or you were moving in a very different “entourage social”!
Je m’appelle Lucie, et suis une française de 23 ans vivant en Angleterre depuis 6 mois. Votre livre m’a accompagné tout au long de mon séjour (qui se termine) et m’a aidé à mieux comprendre ces deux pays voisins aux cultures pourtant assez différentes. J’ai beaucoup aimé ce livre et m’y suis bien retrouvée en tant qu’expatrié en Angleterre.
Votre livre est tout simplement une merveille intellectuelle !
En tant que française vivant à Londres, je confirme la triste réalité qui est parfaitement bien illustrée tout au long de votre livre.
Quand mes clients me disent : « Paris est une ville merveilleuse, majestueuse et romantique. »
J’ai envie de leur répondre : « Ce n’est qu’en apparence car Paris souffre beaucoup aujourd’hui de nombreux problèmes politiques, économiques et socioculturels.»
Je voudrais aussi ajouter qu’étant jeune quand les divergences d’opinions se sont transformées en véritable guerre idéologique entre la France et l’Algérie, je n’ai malheureusement pas pu réaliser l’ampleur des évènements et grâce à votre livre, j’ai pu apprendre beaucoup plus de ce qui avait été enseigné à l’école par nos professeurs d’histoire et comprendre davantage les tensions qui règnent en banlieue encore aujourd’hui.
Pour finir, merci de votre honnêteté, merci d’ouvrir les yeux à ceux qui veulent se cacher la vérité et merci pour ce petit plaisir intellectuel qui fut partagé par de nombreux lecteurs.
Bien à vous,
PS. Hope all goes well in the bosom of the wonderful French health care system… look forward to your return to the keyboard!
I’m in the midst of reading your wonderful book, ringing so many bells for us now living in France with our four children, (we’re all English though, and living in the Haute -Loire).
We were talking last night to French friends about it, and wondered if a French translation is available?
Thrilled to have discovered the blog in my search for this info! I’m looking forward to following your thoughts and observations!
Many congratulations on a superb work (my husband loved it too), it’s made a lot of things about living here a lot clearer!
All best wishes
Not yet, Giusi.
Is your book out in the US? Thanks,
Crystal, hello. Thank you for your kind words. If you’re in Paris, please try to buy it at Sylvia Whitman’s bookshop near Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co. It’s a wonderful place that you should know about (if you don’t already). I’ll be doing a reading there on Aug 3rd. Do come if you’re around – and we’ll workshop that bafflement.
I love your blog, and look forward to reading your new book. However, I live in France and do not like to buy things online, so I’d like to know if the book will be available to buy in bookstores across France this summer? My friend (who also ha a blog) received a copy from the publishing house, but I’m too anxious to read the book and don’t want to wait for her to finish it!
Could you please tell me how I can acquire a copy?
Crystal (a Canadian girl married to a Frenchman, living in Paris and still baffled by all things French)