What is it about French women that seems so sensual, intelligent, beautiful, sophisticated, and above all French from an Anglo-Saxon (American or British) perspective? That is what American-born, French-wed Debra Ollivier explores in this tongue-in-cheek book with the catch phrase: about love, sex and other matters of the heart and mind. Despite the fact that “What French Women Know” does include reference to scientific studies around the differences between French and American mindsets, the book is a broad generalization about women on both sides of the Atlantic in chapters about men, mystery, rules, perfection, nature, art de vivre, and body.
A witty pearl, written without scruples, “What French Women Know” works because of the generalization. The epitome French woman is so clearly defined that it is easy to see her positive and negative facets, and compare and contrast her the Anglo-Saxon woman. Debra Ollivier has lived in France for a number of years and experienced the cultural clash between French and Anglo-Saxon women first hand, so the caricature is not without factual observations and truth and she does try to illuminate some of the causes for the different facets. At times, “What French Women Know” dwells in factual studies or in humorous comparisons and becomes a bit long, but the majority of the book balances between these two poles.
Seen from the perspective of a Dane, I definitely recognize the American prejudice about the French woman and ponder as for the reason why that vivid exemplar of the French woman does not have the same status in Denmark. France certainly brings a generalized picture to mind, but not French women as such.
I recommend “What French Women Know” to female readers, who want a step up from the popular articles in magazines about embracing your own Frenchness, but do not expect to be transformed. “What French Women Know” is neither a self-help book nor a higher truth, but entertaining nonetheless and evidence of the importance of mentality and point-of-view.