Book Review: Ze French Do It Better, A Lifestyle Guide

Book Review: Ze French Do It Better, A Lifestyle Guide

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Copyright: Flammarion

Ze French Do It Better: A Lifestyle Guide, which is available in both French and English language versions, is a witty insider guide to life in France.

The wit is of the arch, ultra-sophistiqué, ironic variety: the book is beautifully illustrated, designed, and produced in a glossy red, white, and blue; and, although there is some information about country living in France sprinkled in, it is quite Paris-centric.

All of this, of course, is typically, and quintessentially, very French.

The authors have divided the French into seven “tribes”: the Classic Frenchy; the Aristo Chics; the Vintage Bourgeois; the Modern Bourgeois; the Intellectuals; the Eco-Warriors; and last—but certainly not least, especially in France—the Foodies. Each of the tribes is described in terms of their fashion, habits, attitudes, and accouterments, and their likes and dislikes about a host of things. For example, a section in each chapter called “I’d Rather Die Than…” details the things that horrify them: an Aristo Chic would rather die than host a dinner for 13; the Vintage Bourgeois would rather die than wear too much Guerlain Terracotta perfume; the Modern Bourgeois would rather die than wear a helmet on a kick scooter; and the Foodie would rather die than tolerate a chalky camembert. You can see from these examples the breadth and variety of French habits and attitudes that are captured in such telling details.

Copyright: Flammarion

While much of the book is devoted to such observations, sprinkled throughout there are also a great many helpful recommendations for places to dine, shop, and otherwise engage in la vie francaise (especially la vie parisienne), including online resources that would be most helpful to an international audience. There are also maps, recipes, and there is a great deal of very interesting history woven into the text. (This too, of course, is very French.)

I’m not sure what’s the main audience for this book. Certainly one must be very interested in all things French; and the French themselves are probably best positioned to appreciate many of the observations. A witty, ultra-sophistiqué sense of humor and irony, and a genuine interest in fashion are also required, I think, in order to fully appreciate it. My only real critique of the book is that, partially, I think, as a result of the beautiful design and the glossy pages, I found some of it hard to read, at least with my eyes and in my reading conditions. Either I need better eyes, better lighting, or perhaps some of the pages could be printed with a slightly darker ink. But this is a minor quibble.

Copyright: Flammarion

This book, which I believe is best enjoyed in small bites and as a helpful resource (it is not a book for reading straight through), will no doubt bring smiles to a great many readers; and will provide those who are seeking to emulate the French with a wealth of information about how to go about doing so.

Ze French Do It Better: A Lifestyle Guide by Frédérique Véysset and Valérie de Saint-Pierre (Flammarion, 2019). Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore (in Paris, we recommend The Red WheelbarrowSan Francisco BooksShakespeare and Company), or on Amazon below: 

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor 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 she writes frequently on France for a variety of publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the education abroad program of Queens College of the City University of New York; classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C.; and Writing from the Heart workshop/retreats in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region (l’Aube).

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