Magazine article The Spectator

Where Are Our Garlicbreathing Gallic Brethren?

Magazine article The Spectator

Where Are Our Garlicbreathing Gallic Brethren?

Article excerpt

They Eat Horses, Don't They?

The Truth About the French by Piu Marie Eatwell Head of Zeus, £13.99, pp. , 342, ISBN 9781731854440 Oh the French! Where would the Anglo publishing industry be without them? Ever since Peter Mayle first made goo-goo eyes at sun dappled Provence in 1990 and pocketed a pile of dough in the process, many a selfrespecting hack with a smidgeon of French culture has followed in his train. Most have been purveyors of what the tastily named Piu Marie Eatwell dismissively terms 'Froglit':

A highly commercialised and formulaic genre of lightly humorous fiction or non-fiction, generally written by Anglo-American expats living in France and usually with an autobiographical bias, dedicated to eulogising, elucidating, satirising or otherwise promulgating stereotypical ideas about the French.

With They Eat Horses, Don't They?

(yes, they do) Eatwell's intention is to set the record straight about our Gallic brethren. A former lawyer who made France her home ten years ago after falling in love with a Frenchman (as you do), Eatwell, who is of mixed Asian/English descent, does a fine line in waspish commentary and schoolmarmish erudition. Backed by the results of a battery of contemporary surveys and a host of native French wits, she sets about her task with a communicative relish. Split up into ten chapters with subheadings like 'French toilets are repellent' or 'French women don't shave', Eatwell cheekily grades her findings with Michelin-style stars. The former gets two stars for veracity (apparently French toilets are only pipped to the post for foulness by Indian and Chinese ones) while the latter is deemed altogether false and gets just the one.

This is all very well, but where does it effectively lead us? Well actually either through hindsight or sheer blind luck it becomes an intriguing portrait of just how much France has changed over the past 50 years or so. Take French wine consumption, for instance, which has plummeted in the past 30 years, decreasing from 50 billion litres in 1980 to 32 billion litres in 2008. Far from heralding a new nation set in the image of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy's teetotal ways, so-called binge-drinking (or le binge-drinking as it has come to be known in France, much to the French Academy's chagrin) has rocketed among younger tipplers. …

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