The French: facts without frictionWhen I read the press release that accompanied Piu Marie Eatwell’s book They Eat Horses Don’t They? The Truth About the French (UK: Head of Zeus) – “she worked as a lawyer, a BBC television producer and a teacher” – I admittedly found myself author profiling, putting Eatwell in the Julia Stagg “not everyone that moves to France has a story to tell” category.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Eatwell’s investigative non-fiction into 45 lifestyle myths about the French is the bowl of porridge that’s just right, flanked by the unimaginative and often poorly penned Mayle-lit (too hot) and the overly academic histories of France (too cold), both of which styles have inexplicably – and far too numerously – found their way on to expat book shelves and e-readers.
Born in Calcutta and raised in the UK, the Oxford-educated Eatwell has lived in France for over ten years, long enough to observe “the behaviour of a country we have stereotyped for hundreds of years”. Eatwell suggests it’s “time to re-think the clichés”.
“The myths that annoyed me most, and which really inspired the desire to expose them in this book, were those that ‘French women don’t get fat’ and ‘French children don’t throw food’,” she tells the Reporter. “It seemed to me that not only were some expats making a great deal of money churning out these (incorrect) assertions, but that they were also making non-French women feel inadequate. Not only are we all fat and ugly, but we can’t raise children either – after all, French kids recently came bottom out of a recent European survey for discipline in class.”
Eatwell doesn’t waste one word over the 322 pages and, even though she cites over 280 footnotes, her delivery is seamless.
“I really wanted to get away from the whimsical, jokey tone that has characterised this type of ‘expat’ book about the French up to now – but it had to be entertaining and fun to read as well. The editor and I hit on the idea of including lots of snippets of information and quotations, along with illustrations, to give it a quirky feel, while still keeping the serious content.”
The French myth subject matter is current and diverse – anything from plumbing to sex, from holidays to music (the chapter on 'French Pop Music is Irredeemably Naff' really is enlightening) – and provides a great deal of “Oh, so that’s why” to any expat living here who’s asked the question mais pourquoi? At the end of each chapter, the myth is exposed as true or false, but you won’t want to skip the pages in between. This book is essential for those who often find themselves deeply embattled in the “centuries old, love-hate relationship between Britain and France” yet lack the hard evidence to prove their point. And it would be an ideal book to have on hand for visiting family and friends, who’ll secretly take pleasure to know that “French women are increasingly getting fatter, and that French children do have tantrums over eating their steak au poivre”.