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Why Are Books on French Women so Successful in the U.S.?

American writer Sadie Stein has no shame about it: she delights in art de vivre manuals and other self-help books à la française. These guides explaining how to behave, talk, dress, work, eat, flirt, decorate your home, or raise your children like a French woman are increasingly popular in the U.S.

“The crazier things get here at home, it seems, the more certain readers long to escape into a culturally homogeneous fantasy Europe,” writes the New York Times columnist. However, “the Frenchwoman in these books is always the same person”: Parisian, insouciant, chic, white, wealthy, and untouched by any hint of sexual, political, or ethnic strife. A rather conservative image.

These (often contradictory) pieces of advice, however, paint a horrible portrait of American women, “simultaneously slovenly and uptight, perpetually dressed in spandex yet overweight, arrogant yet superficially friendly.” Frenchwoman how-to books, argues Stein, “touch something real in us […], a longing for order but, beneath it, an urge to rebel.”

Read more at the New York Times

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