The books devoted to this legendary woman all fall into three basic categories. One: Wise Frenchwoman, dismayed by American crumminess, deigns to share her wisdom on, say, how she and her countrywomen don’t get fat. Two: North American schlub marries Frenchman, becomes expat and learns secrets of life, home décor, child rearing and bras from French fairy godmother. Three: The sad-sack protagonist has passing experience of idealized France — generally a year abroad — and brings back superficial lessons to transform the lives of fellow sad-sacks.
In these books, we Americans are portrayed horribly — somehow simultaneously slovenly and uptight, perpetually dressed in spandex yet overweight, arrogant yet superficially friendly, impervious to pleasure and obsessed with mammon. Lacking cultural wisdom and any sense of our own history, we just want to make war and wear old sports bras. (We love wearing old sports bras. The grayer and saggier the better.) Indeed, Americans are so repulsive, it’s a wonder any of us managed to be conceived, let alone nab these suave French partners.
This is the part I love. While it is the Frenchwoman who is the ostensible protagonist of these stories, it’s the wretched North American slattern we really get to know. And in an era when we’re told to practice self-love, there’s something perversely glorious about wallowing in such a cesspool of self-loathing. We cheer for her. We want her to succeed — impress her mother-in-law with her children’s palates, lose that excess weight by limiting herself to only the finest pastries, prune her closet to beautifully curated investment pieces. By the end of the book, the American or Canadian has learned what’s important, looks chic and despises her own kind with the zeal of a convert. It’s as satisfying as a makeover montage and as predictable as an episode of “SVU.”
In recent years, the genre has grown to include hygge (how to be Danish) and lagom (how to be Swedish), and guides on being Greek and Italian too. The crazier things get here at home, it seems, the more certain readers long to escape into a culturally homogeneous fantasy Europe where everyone shares the same values, works a 30-hour week and is nourished by deep roots and routines that are also, somehow, supposed to be welcoming and inclusive — learnable by the likes of you and me. As a friend once pointed out, the implied subtitle of all these books is: If we only had a system!
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-live-like-a-french-woman-books.html