Read our interview with Lucy Wadham, author of “The Secret Life of France” . A book about what makes the French so… French and the differences between the British and the French. Written with humour, affection and a wry understanding of French and British foibles – this was a definite Five Star winner for us.
Lucy’s book is a firm favourite of ours and received tremendous reviews not just from us (see our Review here) but from major newspapers and journals in Britain and the US. The Times said of it “… Part personal memoir, part psycho-analysis on a national scale and part socio-political pondering… an intelligent, insightful and astute dissection of the cultural and political heart of one of Europe’s superpowers” and the Herald praised it as “Enlightening… A fascinating character study of a nation from someone who’s lived on both sides of the Channel”.
The Lucy Wadham Interview:
Has your book been reviewed by any French journals? If so – how were the reviews?
Generally what sort of feedback have you had to “The Secret Life of France” from your French friends and family?
The book was submitted to French publishers and the feedback came, without exception, from editors who had not and apparently would not read the book. That I, as an Englishwoman (and without any discernable qualifications) was attempting to dissect the French mind-set was perceived as, at best, delusional and at worst, offensive. I think they had felt burnt by Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and assumed that this would be the same kind of thing.
Despite this, quite a few French people have read the book, having been given it by English friends eager to see their reaction. The French readers who have written to me through my blog enjoyed it and some thanked me for having avoided the clichés and portrayed their foibles with accuracy and tenderness. A few French women have even written to me and thanked me for helping them, through the observations in the book, to understand their English husbands or boyfriends. One French woman in particular, Agnes Poirier, who lives in London and writes about the English for The Guardian wrote a very complimentary review in The New Statesman saying, in essence, “at last someone gets us”.
Who is your favourite historical figure from France/Britain?
I think that would have to be Napoleon, for his staggering hubris. Everything I’ve read about him conveys a man so deeply flawed and yet so convinced of his unique destiny that he could suck most of Europe into his pathology. I mean, he was a nutter and a real lesson in self-belief. My English favourite is Elizabeth I who was in so many ways the opposite of Boney. With her caution and her guile, she managed to stay in power for about thirty years longer than he did, but she had the same extraordinary courage.
If you had Napoleon coming to dinner – what dish would you prepare?
It would have to be meaty because that’s all Napoleon was interested in. I’m no longer a big meat eater but I used to make a mean boeuf bourguignon.
The British say that they are a nation of animal lovers – but wouldn’t dream of taking a dog in a restaurant – are the French more in love with their animals or is it something else?
I think the dog-in-a-restaurant thing says more about the French attitude to restaurants than it does about their take on dogs. I have no doubt that Britain is a more doggy culture than France is. My neighbours in the Cevennes Mountains where I now live see my habit of walking my dog daily as further proof of my eccentricity. They’re unsentimental about their dogs who do not come into the house and who serve a function, either for hunting or herding livestock. In Paris, on the other hand, in my experience those people who own dogs spoil them shamelessly, treating them as mascots or accessories.
Desert Island Books – if you are to be stranded on an island what will you take to read?
Anna Karenina, Le Rouge et Le Noir and The Master and Margarita because I can read these books over and over again and still marvel at the writing as well as find some new insight into the human condition.
My guiltiest pleasure is?
Red wine or white wine?
What are your top three tips for English speakers moving to France to enable them to integrate better with their neighbours?
1. Immerse yourself in the language and don’t be afraid of sounding stupid. (Accept the fact that it will take years until you no longer do sound stupid.)
2. Ask for advice about how they do things. (Most French people expect the Brits to be slightly superior or disdainful, so prove them wrong)
3. Homemade marmalade goes a long way [Ed – we never thought of this one but definitely going to try it!]
What is your favourite restaurant/bar in Paris and why?
I like a noisy Italian restaurant near Saint Germain des Pres where I used to live called Le Golfe de Naples. I often meet my two eldest children and my ex-husband there when I come up to Paris. It’s one of the few places in the quartier that I can still afford. The waiters are welcoming and good-natured and the linguine alla vongole is delicious.
When you’re writing do you have an odd little habits to help you through the process?
Like what? The mind boggles! No is the answer to that. I’m not at all ritualistic about writing. Having always done it with small children around (I had my first child at 20 and now aged 47 I have a five year old) I often find myself moving around the house with my laptop in search of the quietest place. I have to be able to concentrate in short bursts because I know I’m going to be interrupted.