I knew from the start that writing anything about France is to venture into a literary minefield. We know it is one of the most studied places there is. Whatever you put on a page is bound to irritate somebody. (“What’s he on about? It isn’t like that! This guy thinks he knows everything!”)
Ah, but in focusing on selected individuals, you are not attempting arrogantly in 400 pages to paint the totality of the national experience. You are writing about these people. Sticking to that framework is vital.
For example, we learn in one blurb regarding Virginie’s au pair sojourn in the U.S.:
….She detected also that American men were fascinated by French girls, some creepily so. In time she stopped going out Saturdays with other au pairs because she was revolted by the guys who tried to pick her up. She did not know what American girls did, but American guys seemed to fantasize French girls routinely had sex with men they had just met in bars.
Yet she had enjoyed her year overall. She knew France was not wildly popular with many Americans, but no one was ever nasty to her. She found Americans friendly and curious about her country….
Virginie is a twenty-something Frenchwoman who did not perhaps fit many Americans’ preconceptions. She spoke English solidly, and was eager to make friends and learn about America. In all that, she surprised her American new acquaintances.
But, back in France, Virginie does jokingly also reveal one type of narrow-mindedness:
“I’ve told you,” hacked off, [Isabelle] reminded Virginie, “I met him once with Alain for lunch. Another guy who’s desperate to get married. Why don’t you go out with him?”
“You know I don’t like short guys,” Virginie chuckled.
“Fine,” Isabelle replied. “I know, maybe I’ll tell Alain that Béatrice would be perfect for him.”
“I think you’ve got it,” Virginie approved. “Introduce Silvain to her…. then he’ll be the one running to America!”
I worked in London with a Frenchwoman who had emigrated to the UK and eventually married a British man. (There is a large French expat community in London.) She was also regularly full of praise for the United States. She had been to America only once, but she knew so much about it, and was so fascinated by it, I was frequently taken aback.
Mesmerized as U.S. media and literature are by the stereotype of the “ugly Frenchman” recoiling from modernity, full of disdain and even hate for things American, French people like my former colleague, and our fictional Virginie, rarely get much recognition. They deserve some. My little novel seeks to give them a bit.