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Canadian authors Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow lived in France from 1999 to 2001 on a fellowship to study why the French resist globalization. The result is “60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong,” which expands upon the initial assignment and attempts to explain how and why the French are different from Americans and other nationalities. They also describe how the French are evolving in what the authors portray as mostly positive ways. I like to use my kindle to highlight remarkable insights and thought-provoking relevations, and this book has more highlights than any other kindle book I have read.
There are many examples of the authors giving very favorable treatment to behaviors that are unique to the French and that North Americans might question. One example that is frequently referred to deals with globalization. In 1999, activist farmer José Bové inspired a group of sheep farmers to “symbolically dismantle” a McDonald’s restaurant under construction in Larzac in protest of globalization and other issues. The authors present the rationalization for this act of protest as a result of the unique relationship that the French have with their land. The authors make this act of protest seem almost understandable, but they never discuss the complete disregard by the protestors for the property of others, so this argument is difficult for me to appreciate.
On the other hand, the authors make a very sound argument in support of French journalism. The International Herald Tribune (a partnership of the New York Times and the Washington Post at the time) published a story in 2000 about the interaction between France and the United States following windstorms that destroyed millions of trees in France. According to the IHT, after the storm, middle school students from Fayetteville, Georgia persuaded the Forestry Association to donate five thousand trees so France could replace the lost Versailles trees. The French returned three thousand seedlings because they failed to meet European Union regulations. The IHT writers did not specifically criticize the French, but they seemed to intentionally leave the impression that French bureaucrats were the villains in the story. French journalists included one additional fact (completely omitted by the IHT journalists) that Europe’s entire wine industry was wiped out in the late nineteenth century by a parasite which arrived on evergreen seedlings from the United States.
In chapter 16, Civil Society: Invisible Helping Hands, the authors describe how ‘for profit’ and non-profit organizations function in France. It is disappointing that the authors devote six paragraphs to a spelunkers’ non-profit organization and only two paragraphs to churches. Apparently the authors and/or the French consider spelunkers three times more significant than churches.
The appendixes add much value to this book, but the absence of footnotes raises questions. The authors claim to be business writers, but some of their financial assertions seem questionable. For example, even though the authors were in France while France was transitioning from francs to euros, the authors show most financial amounts in pounds. And the authors exaggerate the strength of the French economy by labelling it the fourth strongest in the world. In 2000, it had the fifth highest GDP and in 2016, it has the sixth highest. In both years, the GDP of the United States is 7.5 times the size of France’s and the GDP per capita of the United States is 40% higher than France’s.
Granted I'm not done reading this but I'm not overly impressed. I don't really like the attitude of the authors, they seem to have the attitude that France is, well, wrong. Although they go through patronizing lengths to show why this isn't so, it's a bit irritating. The authors must be libertarians or something. Also, English has 1 set of words for food and 1 set of words for animals because England was invaded by France hundreds of years ago. The elite class spoke French but the farmers and peasants continued speaking English. The English words for livestock were kept because the peasants working livestock continued speaking English, we took French for the food because the food culture developed from the elite French speaking population. Any hangups we have about calling our food by it's name is because of linguistics rather than the other way around. Also while I think philanthropy is great, I certainly don't see America's willingness to pawn off the care of it's down trodden onto private industry as a good thing and I don't find it all strange they would want the government to actually help people or that they would want everyone in the country to get a decent education or at least the chance of one. I don't find it odd at all that France is a "native" culture, certainly most of the world is besides the Americas. Also, for something so opinionated it's very dry. However there are few things I do like about it. It does contain a lot of useful information about France. The war piece about the Algerian War was very informative. I pretty much already knew as much about WW2 although I suppose when this written it might have been less well known. I've also recently learned before reading this that before the 1900's a lot of France didn't speak French but that would be a useful thing to know for someone new to French culture. I probably should give this more stars because clearly it's target audience is people who think big government is a failure (honestly for Canadians they kind of sound like Texans) and it's about what I expected but I can't. It's not that I even like France all that much, it's just the things they assume everyone must hate about France I find to be quite great. Not everyone thinks it's ok or a good thing that small churches run everything out in the out posts to the point where they limit the education and social rights of people living there, or that they should have a monopoly on charity.
One more thing-the author seems to think it's weird that French people open their shutters in the day time, and shut them at night. This is really normal, most Americans do this only with their blinds or curtains, the only difference seems to be the French do it with their "shutters." Personally I think it's much weirder we have "shutters" that are glued open to our windows and that we retain this vestige of the past as purely ornamental.
Also, yes surely the French persecuted Jews in WW2 but is this a failure of their system of governement? The author seems to forget that Americans nearly wiped out an entire continent of Native Americans, is that a failure of the "independent" system of the Americans? Not to mention, without a few Jewish activists in the 1800's that changed Americans perceptions of them (one of them being the author on the statue of liberty), this country could have easily been in the same boat.