There is plenty to love about Debra Ollivier's Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, but you have to take it with a grain of sel.
French women are justifiably famous for their poise, style, and general savoir-faire, so there is appeal in a book that sets out to teach American women how to emulate their Gallic sisters. But the sisterhood Ollivier holds up as a model is laughably elite. The "French girl" she describes lives in Paris, works at some chi chi job like "restor[ing] the muted shades of an eighteenth century fresco," and has a family chateau in a medieval village in Dordogne. That would be like saying a typical "American girl" is a San Francisco magazine editor with a family vineyard in Napa, or a handbag designer in Manhattan who escapes to the 25-room family "cottage" Down East for the summer.
But if you can accept Ollivier's idealized vision of the emblematic French female – which spills over to a generally romanticized view of all things French, especially its socialized economy – you can appreciate her suggestions on how to attain the je ne sais quoi French women do seem to enjoy.
For instance, Ollivier discusses how to develop a sense of self-possession French women demonstrate, how to appreciate life more sensually, how to value quality over quantity, and how to cultivate a deep discretion about your personal and family life. Ollivier discusses these qualities as they relate to several areas, including personal satisfaction, friends and entertaining, and careers.
Most enjoyable were the sidebars throughout the book that provide mini-biographies on French women, film and book recommendations, suggestions on how to follow the example of French women, and information about French life and customs.
There is an inherent irony a self-help book purporting to teach American women to be more like French women who, Ollivier tells us, are so bien dans sa peau – comfortable in their own skin – that they would never read a self-help book. C'est la vie.
I enjoyed this book so much it inspired me to create a French Connections book list.
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