My sister and I recently went to Mireille Guiliano’s book signing, “Why Frenchwomen Don’t Get Facelifts?” at the Van Vleck in Montclair. I read the book over the holidays and there are few things worth noting. There’s the point Ms. Guiliano’s book makes about how Frenchwomen don’t just give up on looks because they are older. The other is the difference in how older Frenchwomen present themselves compared to their global counterparts. I am not going to go into a deep discussion of either one of these points as this is what the book does for you.
Instead I just want to express a rather deep disappointment in these books as well as others that glorify the French culture and lifestyle (like Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe”). I have been deeply exposed to the French culture for about 27 years of my life. There are some good aspects of the culture, I’ll agree. The French have such high level of appreciation for beauty that is pretty incomparable to the rest of the world. France spends a great deal of money preserving their wonderful buildings and parks for le patrimoine. Perhaps only England and Germany can rival in its effort to preserve its historic monuments and I know that this is a direct result of these countries relative wealth (vs. Italy and Greece apropos their historic sites, for instance).
The problem is that there are so many writers and what-nots who try to take advantage of France’s aesthetic values and try to elevate it to rather unhealthy levels for marketing opportunities. We cannot generalize and glorify one culture alone. There are plenty of things to appreciate in other cultures. Also, I don’t like the fact that these books do not address modern-day realities in France but rather talks of France that I know is somewhat disappearing. Often, these books pertain only to just a certain demographic or socio-economic group. None of these books mentions that France has an increasing obesity rate (less than the US but still growing) and how France is McDonald’s biggest market after the US.
Don’t get me wrong — I am deeply rooted in France. There are many things about the country and its people that I like and enjoy. The country is at a crossroads and its future is a bit uncertain. What I am uncomfortable with is the blind worship that people have for the culture. France is not a perfect, static country. It is changing and evolving. I believe that the sooner everyone (the French and the rest of the world) is open for the country to meld its glorious past with its changing realities, the easier the path it will be for the French to define its new identity.