It was one of those rainy days, where you think, I’m just staying inside and not dealing with this weather. Which was ok by me. I spent the day rotating between playing with the kids, cooking/baking, and reading. I was in the mood for something light and new, so I started reading, Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier.
I often read a few reviews for a book before I purchase it less the summary of the book or cover really really grabs me. I read a few reviews about Entre Nous. They were mostly positive so I went ahead and purchased the book. Unfortunately I ended up disappointed because the three star review I read was right. The book wasn’t horrible, but neither was it great. The biggest problem is that Entre Nous basically reads like a laundry list of do’s and don’ts about what is wonderful about the French woman (and not so wonderful about the American). In fairness the author does try and point out that there is a middle ground between French and American behavior and that American women do have positive traits as well. But the focus is a lot more on what is wrong with the American woman as opposed to her strengths.
For example: the French woman is reserved, and takes many years to let someone into her inner circle, where as the American woman will sit down on a park bench and tell you her entire life story with in five minutes. Ollivier seems to feel that the French reservedness is the way to be, that this makes the French woman authentic and her relationships more authentic because she only lets a few people into her life, who really fit her life. Where as the American woman has many many shallow friendships. My take on this is that French women and American women have very different styles both of which can have there positive side and negative side, but neither of which is inherently bad or wrong.
I am not French so I can only comment from the outside, but I would imagine a French woman probably has a few truly trusted confidants. But she can probably trust them absolutely which is certainly to be valued. But on the flip side I bet her lack of openness can cause her to miss out on other wonderful people and experiences. American women certainly can over-share from time to time. Our media and Facebook can provide many examples. But a lot of women are open without diving into over-share territory. I have to add that just because American women may choose to be frank and open with people quickly does not mean that their relationships are not deep and authentic.
I personally feel like I am generally happy with the type of person I am and don’t have to hide that from people, though I try to share with people who express an interest rather then anyone I meet. I know sharing my experiences is what allows me to make connections with others, To me connections are one of the true pleasures of life.
While that is only one example from the book, a lot of it had a similar feel for me. All things French: good. American: Bad. I actually generally love books about France, the way the French do things from eating, to style, to parenting, people’s experiences in France when they travel, whatever. The French do have a certain je ne sais quoi and it’s fascinating. But part of being authentic (which Ollivier stresses so much in this book) is not following a laundry list of how to be French. French women certainly have many excellent traits worth emulating, but neither is something inherently inferior because it is not French. And you can certainly learn from other people’s positive attributes and refine your own by studying examples of who you desire to be. But to be authentic you must also be true to the traits which are part of who you are.
Perhaps that is not entirely fair, from time to time Ollivier does give a sentence or two that are positive in reference to American women. In the bit about the reserved vs. over-share thing Ollivier does briefly state that in reality there is a balance between the two extreme ends of being reserved and over sharing and that might be the best way of all. I think perhaps that part of the message just gets lost in the laundry list effect of the book in general.
However a few thoughts the author had that I did like:
- How to shop: A French woman generally shops for quality items: this means that the item is well made but more importantly that it looks good on her and make her feel good. She does this regardless of the trends of the time. It is better to wear the same excellent dress in different ways for three days then to have three different dresses that look so-so or feel blah.
- You can’t please everyone: stop trying. And hand in hand with that: have opinions. According to the author French women don’t try to please others, they please themselves. And you can’t make everyone happy with you. Have the self confidence to just be happy with yourself. I am a people pleaser so I find this one hard… I want people to like me. I am also extremely non-confrontational. Which is why the second part, have opinions ties in for me. Ollivier is actually talking about cultivating the mind, being well read, have opinions. But I actually am fairly well read (though couldn’t we all do better) and smart, and I do have opinions, but sometimes I shy away from sharing them because I worry people won’t like me if my opinion differs from there own or that it will lead to an argument. I like the idea of trying to let that go.
- Cultivate your own inner garden. I know this is kind of cliché. But I think it got that way because it is good advice. And I don’t mind the reminder. I’m happiest when I have lots of things going on in my own life. I love having interesting things to share with my husband, friends, whoever. It makes me a fun and interesting person to be around.
- I am endlessly fascinated with the French way of eating. Eat the good stuff! Butter! Cream! Wine! Eat it in portions and keep it balanced with salads and smaller meals when your not indulging. It seems like an ideal way to eat to me. I struggle with it, but really want to get there.
Now that I’m done with my thoughts about the book, I will share with you something very positive to come out of my reading: a deep urge to make baguettes. Certainly France has gifted the world with some amazing food and pastry. Baguettes, for me is one of those delicious things that just seem so chic and French. I deeply wish I had an amazing artesian bakery on my street where I could pick up fresh bread every day. Since I don’t I clearly needed to learn how to bake baguettes at home. I’m intending to give this recipe a try….I will report back with the results at some point. If anyone out there gives it a try or has a great baguette recipe drop me a comment I’d love to hear about it!