WTF?! What the French by Olivier Magny

WTF?! What the French by Olivier Magny
I wish I had known about this book when it first came out a few years ago. But I didn’t: so now I just want to make sure that everyone else knows about it as soon as possible. Because WTF?! What the French is a wonderful, I would even say essential, book to add to the list of books about the fascinating intricacies of French culture, society, psychology, and habits—with the wonderful advantage of being written by a Frenchman who has an impressive command of the English language, and the somewhat unusual ability to see his country and his people with the broader perspective of an outsider. The author, Olivier Magny, is supremely modest about his talent as a writer: “In real life I’m an entrepreneur,” he says. (He was the co-founder of Ô Chateau, which has been recognized as one of the best wine bars in Paris). He refers self-deprecatingly to his “silly writings,” but make no mistake: although this book is very witty, it is far from silly, and it is also extremely well written.   View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Ô Chateau (@o_chateau) on Apr 29, 2019 at 10:59am PDT The book is arranged in short chapters that cover nearly 90 topics—everything from terroir and taxes, to eating, dating, and driving in France, to the French view of Anglo-Saxons; and a host of topics in between. Not surprisingly, coming from a Frenchman it more often draws amused smiles than laughing out loud. But there are also chapters that deal with completely serious topics like immigration, terrorist attacks, and the rise of Le Front National, that are dealt with in a deep, substantive, and illuminating way. And though it falls into the general category of “humor” it is also extremely well documented. When Magny states his opinion (almost always using a sarcastic tone that tends to lighten up his approach to serious topics), he backs it up. Most humor books do not have footnotes, or if they do, the footnote is part of the joke. This book does have serious footnotes: so if you don’t agree with what the author is saying about something political, or economic, or social, or whatever, or if you simply want to know more about the subject, he’s given you the resources to do so. As a reader with generally left-of-(American)-center instincts and beliefs, I was a bit shocked to encounter some of his remarks about French politics, intellectuals, globalism, and the European Union. But I decided that instead of tuning him out or reeling back in horror, I would listen to what he had to say since, after all, he knows much more about these things, especially from a French perspective, than I do. And in so doing, I learned a lot, and was given much to think about. Most importantly, I think, Magny has given me a way to better understand French opinions about some of these things that have previously been difficult for me to understand. That, I believe, is a wonderful gift.

Lead photo credit : Photo credit © Dorian Hurst, Unsplash

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.