Letters from readers
  • Letters from readers of French Toast and letters from readers of French Fried
 Emails from our Web Page visitors (thank you for writing!)    Some rather aggressive messages....
  • Mary : I am finding your website to be very amusing, but cannot decide if it is "tongue-in-cheek" or factual. (April 2013)
  • "I've read it over and over and am still fascinated" (April 2012)
  • Dani : "I have recently happened upon your website and sincerely wish I had found it before my first, and even second trip to Paris.  It has definitely helped to explain some of the behaviors I found incredibly odd while there.  I now see it is truly the cultural difference.  Thank you for putting the site together and providing the insights you have" (Oct.2011).
  • Annie wrote : J’ai trouvé votre site par hasard, et je l’apprécie énormément. Préparant un cours de civilisation française, grand nombre d’informations que vous présentez me seront utiles. La manière dont vous présentez de nombreux thèmes engendre le dialogue, et procurera beaucoup d’animation dans mes cours, j’en suis certaine !" (Aug.2011)
  • "Your educational resource has been linked to from the ide@s Portal Web Site. ide@s is a searchable database of high quality educational resources for Wisconsin's PK-16 educators to access for integration into curriculum and classroom instruction. Thank you for your commitment to high quality education....." (July 2011)
  • Jeanette (British Columbia) wrote : "With films, histories and literature, I have worked towards understanding what I experience in France.  Your website is a tremendous help, and I appreciate your broad, balanced, often witty point-of-view". (Jan.2011)
  • Thomas A. : "This site is very helpful for me when dealing with my French manager and the French management team." (Sept.2010)
  • DK (Canada) wrote "je n'ai rien trouvé de plus riche ni de plus amusant pour moi comme pour mes étudiants que votre merveilleux site. Je vous en remercie profondément." (Sept.2010)
  • Dr.Antoine S. : " I teach French culture at Mount Royal University…....I found your site about Understanding France very informative and well written. I believe it is one of the best and most comprehensive sites I know of about French culture and society." (May 2010)
  • Hilary G. wrote : "the very best website I have found not only for helping us prepare for our trip but in giving me insight into another culture, and I spent a very pleasant and informative hour today learning about food, attitudes, and lifestyles, …..Thank you so much for your website - I wish everyone could read what you have to say, for I feel your approach something that is desperately needed if the world is ever to get along…." (Jan.2010)
  • Joff wrote : "What a great site. I get really hooked when I start reading and spend a lot of time on it. I'm an Asian who grew up in the United States and have been teaching English to French people for three years now. Your website really helps me understand the French culture better and makes me more interested in it." (Dec.2009)
  • Robert F. (North Carolina) : "...And you can be sure I will be trying to get Americans (who mostly know nothing of the rest of the world) to look at other lifestyles and cultures and consider if we wouldn't do better to try to learn something new! ..." (Aug.2009)
  • Anthony (a Frenchman) wrote : "I read you site with one of my (American) francophile friends. He said it is full of insight into the French psyche and that it helped him actually to get an idea about his own behavior and response towards some of my ways in our friendship" (2009)
  • Patricia wrote (after several nice comments) : "...two little pieces of constructive criticism : I wish the pages were better designed, so that they would better represent your country (center of fashion, beauty, etc...). I also wish the content of the link to "current issues in France" were updated a bit more recently. I'm sure you have a limited budget which does not allow for a full-time editor to update such things but nevertheless..." (2008)
  • Evan wrote "...the information is presented in beautiful way (NDLR : this is very indulgent!) much like walking though the streets of Paris, this information is gleaned as I navigate through the pages and links. As a new expat, it is very helpful in so many levels..." (Nov. 2007)
  • Isabelle wrote : "I'm a French woman living in Montreal .... and I want to tell you that I really enjoy reading it! No clichés and judgements. Respect of both cultures (French and American). It's really refreshing. It helps me accepting my own culture (French) and the North American culture as well. And when I read what you write about the US culture, I see many similarities with the Quebec culture. I think there are many common aspects in North America. It helps me a lot to understand the relationships I have with my Quebec and Canadian colleagues. It's hard to tell you how I feel excited by reading your website. For example, I really appreciate when you say:
    - "For the French, the prohibition of the Islamic veil in schools (2004) is NOT a law AGAINST religious freedom, it is a law FOR religious freedom".
    - "Warning ! Working few hours does not mean working badly (the hourly productivity in France is one of the highest in the world) or working poorly (the quality of manpower is good and working well is prestigious"
    These statement go beyond the stereotypes people have. They help me not to be ashamed of my own country, France. It's a GREAT job!! To me, this website really helps to create peacefull relationships between cultures by accepting each other differences without judging them or comparing them in terms of inferior/superior.
    "
  • Angelica C wrote : "I came upon your site by accident, and I am so glad I did!I cannot express how many times someone has approached me asking the same questions or making the same generalizations that you respond to on your site. It is always difficult to try to answer these questions in only a few words so now that I know of your website, the next time someone asks me a question or makes a sterotype, I will be sure to refer him or her to your site!"
  • Mary D. : "I love your site, which I fell upon & have just about every article tagged to print & read at leisure before our next trip.
    What I find amazing is the reaction of people to your site!! Travel surely is about experiencing the differences in the world,
    not looking for the similar, familiar & "safe
    ".
  • Marilyn G., from California wrote to her Congressman : " Dear Congressman Cox: The closing of the American Cultural Center in Paris -- a most-visited city in the world -- is truly a sad occurrence. How can we just walk away from all those opportunities for cultural and educational sharing with people from all over the world? Surely, education is still the key to understanding among people? How can we get started on reopening the American Cultural Center? All best wishes for a world characterized by knowledge and understanding,"
  • Xavier B. (a French student at Harvard) : "Je viens de le parcourir dans tous les sens et le trouve remarquable, tant dans sa pondération que dans sa profondeur. Je vais m'efforcer de le faire découvrir à mes camarades américains (...) : beaucoup me sidèrent par leur incompréhension de la France et leur fréquent dédain. " ("I just went all over your site and I think it is remarkable in its moderation and its insight. I'll try to have my fellow students visit it : many of them amaze me by their poor understanding of France and their frequent contempt of it".)
  • Jenny P. from Australia : "I am a French teacher in Australia and have enjoyed your Letters for several years. From time to time my students read them to learn about the French way of life. Each year I visit France and in alternate years I bring a group of students, spending a week in Paris, a week at our sister school in Brittany and a week in another region. Of course they all fall in love with France and can't wait til they're older and can return independently. Have on ly recently had time to visit your website - wonderful. Will be recommending it to my students. Thanks so much for helping me "keep in touch" between my visits."
  • Julia T. from Sète : "As a French woman married to an American ...... I have been thoroughly disgusted, depressed and, mostly, hurt (basically feeling betrayed) by the anti-French diatribes and "jokes" (are they actually funny?) coming from the other side of the Atlantic. ...... So I just wanted to tell you that your site helped cheer me up a little. Thanks! I'll be sure to pass on the link to my remaining friends in the States (yes, I even lost a couple American friends, both usually nice, college educated people who came all the way to France for our wedding ten years ago, after I got nasty emails from them, on of which said that "the next time we invade France, it won't be to save them!)."
  • Ron R. from Oakland CA : "I was working for Harvard University on an international project that brought me every month to Paris. Since my younger and only sister had never been to Europe, I decided to bring her to Paris as a birthday present. A colleague had recommended a particular restaurant to which I decided to take my sister. My French was hardly fluent, especially when it came to culinary terms. When the menu came, my sister said she wanted veal. I saw veal on the menu and ordered it, along with a bit of lamb for myself. After the soup we were biding our time when I noticed, just at eye-level, a jiggling (I swear!) greyish-greenish mass of something sitting on a plate pass by. I remeber thinking to myself : "Lord, what on Earth?" just at the moment when the waiter turned and set the plate in front of my sister. I immediately recognized my mistake : I had ordered the Cervelle de Veau, or calf-brain, not knowing the French term in its enterity. Seeing her face blanche and her mouth grimace as she slowly but dramatically drew back from the plate, I switched dishes with her, telling myself that after all, my grandparents in Oklahoma had eaten brains with eggs for breakfast and I could do it too. I was determined to keep my dignity in the face of what I perceived at the time as French hauteur. So I cut the Cervelle de Veau into lots of tiny unrecognizeable pieces, put on a brave face, and washed it down with an excellent Bordeaux. The word "Cervelle" is forever imprinted on my memory and with all due respect, I haven't been tempted to try it since."
 

 I sometimes receive very aggressive emails which give more information about the people sending them than they do about what these people dislike (hate) in the site. I systematically answer by saying "thank you for writing, please specify the exact points you are referring to" - and I never receive an answer.....

  • From an (anonymous) American expat in Paris : "I recently read a passage on your site which struck me in the worst of ways. It was unfounded, it was ignorant, and it was at best a poorly constructed attempt at humor, at worst the ramblings of someone who is entirely out of touch with modern medicine. Yes, it was so outrageous and your prose was so crudely pieced together that I felt compelled enough to email you and make this point known." …then two full screens of harsh criticism of my column "The Ugly American Eater" …. "The only redeeming aspect of this miserable attempt at logic is that you do not shy away from your overwhelming biases against American culture, which I would find truly commendable if you had intelligent arguments to follow. Granted there are many Americans who have equally idiotic sentiments against the French as yourself, but I have yet to come across their websites. When I do, you can rest assured that they will receive an email as well." (November 2011)
  • Austin D. (California) writes : " I find your opinions in the descriptions of the cultural chasm separating America and France to be pretty much what I generally expect from about any smug Frenchman--unfortunately." (July 2010)
  • Jerica writes : "I stumbled upon your site, and though i did not see much, i am very displeased with what i found. I may be a college student, but my minor is in French, and i have read more stuff contradicting most of what you say than you probably even know about the damn country itself. plus, unlike what others have said to you in their complaints, you aren't attacking America, you're attacking France. I find the country 100% better than the US, and i haven't even been there!! How can you ruin the perspective of how ever many visitors you have of going to or living in the most beautiful city in the world!!! why don't you save time and space and just say "France sucks, don't go." that's what i get of ur site and i don't appreciate it."
  • P.N. (a British journalist) writes : "I enjoyed your website but I miss any mention of the UK. There is no bilateral relationship between France and the US; rather, there is a third planet in this solar system, with its gravitational effects on the other two, yet one which you completely ignore......Do you all live in some kind of Napoleonic bubble? .....British liberalism can accommodate French absolutism. But French absolutism cannot accommodate British liberalism. Hence our mutual attitudes: geniality versus fear .....Be careful that you export just French arrogance and not competence!.....I think the UK is more accomplished than France - our best minds are better than your best minds. But your average is higher. We encourage creativity whereas you encourage a settled style. Young French people come to London - old Brits settle in France. Need I say more? London is the capital of Europe. Paris is a lovely museum. .....You have put a lot of work into your website but I still think writing about France for Americans while excluding the UK is perverse. Well, not perverse - unfair. :) Americans won't buy it.....You French piece of shit......" (July 2008)
  • Chris B. (New York) writes : " ..Far from achieving success in your explanation, you have merely succeeded in falling into the typically caricatured French stereotype, spewing disdain and hate for the United States, US films, and the people of the US...." (Jan.2006)
  • Walter S. wrote : " as someone who has enjoyed many trips to france and looked foward to more i must say that reading your drivel has made me reconsider any future trips. although i never met people in france who appeared to have your biased views of america your comments re;religion , race are so far off base that they almost defy debate. how sad you must be to have to write such trash. oh well theres always italy ..... what do you acheive when you insult the americans you are writing to in an effort to get them to see the glories of france.must one dislike g. bush,put God on the back burner admit that the u.s. is racist ( condi rice,colin powell, mayor of new orleans) country before you grasp the reason d' etre of france " (Dec.2005)
  • Tom from New York : "After reading trough your website, I actually dislike the French more than I did before reading it. Talk about being conceited! I am not sure if this was your intention, but this website seems very biased against Americans and defiantly pro-French. I was hoping it was designed to explain the differences between the two cultures to bridge understanding, but you simple reinforce the usual stereotypes against Americans." (Dec.2004)
  • Mark S. did not like the presentation of the French vision of "laïcité" and wrote : "....I would like to point out that America is the only country in the world where there exists a true freedom to practice any religion...... Mr. Rochefort, religion and personal faith are two of the most important elements in the world that will not decline with the education of the population, but increase. Do not adapt a hatred for those who believe in God, because not only are you demonstrating a bitter disposition and a hateful one, but also an ignorant one. I recommend that you change your attitude and consider pondering your life situation for a moment, and after having done so, re-writing your piece on more intellectual grounds for your website." (Dec. 2005)
  • Julien (a Frenchman!) : "I've just visited your website... What you wrote is just mean and awful... As a French, I feel insulted by the contents of this racist site... French do like American people ! everything you say is wrong... well, actually this site made me realize that now there's at least one.... (NDLR here : a very vulgar word...) in America : you..." (May 2005)
  • Sylvie (a Frenchwoman) : "...I just want to say that 60% of your "comments" aren't true. But that's ok, you don't know France. Actually, you're full of préjugés and clichés (oh! french words!) as we are about USA. But, I wanna add, your stupid website aside, that United States and France are linked by history and by political. So, please continue to do what you can do but stop being an (expletive deleted)..." (Jan. 2006)
  • Gwen T. : "u r wrong and I hate you all" (several messages of this kind ...) (March 2003)
  • More to come (alas...)

Dear readers : OK for any letter, even very mean, if you follow the key principle : first understand, then, criticize

Some questions you asked recently (and I tried to answer when I could)

  • Anti-Americanism in France ?
  • Kissing vs handshake in corporate life ?
  • Where can I find the Museum pass ?
  • Tipping in restaurants
  • Getting married in France
  • Cybercafés
  • Playing basketball in Paris
  • The Gay and Lesbian community in Paris
  • The Jewish community in Paris
  • Fish restaurants in Paris
  • Sports-cafés in Paris
  • More questions about France and the French

Visitors' comments and suggestions

Thank you for any suggestions you'd like to make : please email us! Some of the recent comments and suggestions we received refer to :

  • More comments on history
  • Improving the updating of the site
  • Giving more prices (Metro Pass, Museum Pass etc...)
  • etc .....
  • Emilienne (Boston) wrote : "...(moving to France) would be a big change from Boston and a long way from home! I was hoping to learn a little bit more about relations between the two cultures from people just like those you've interviewed on your website. I found the site incredibly informative, interesting and reassuring". (Nov.2008)
  • Lizelle writes : "my little girl has a school project and she needs to know : why did the French put on more perfume rather than taking a bath ? Why did they not like taking a bath ? ... it is very urgent, thank you" (2008)
  • Joshua P. : "I'm an Australian student completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in History and I have a passion for Napoleonic History. Naturally this has extended to an interest in France; its culture and history. I hope to travel to France one day but I must admit I was a little nervous about the famous stereotype of haughty French citizens but after reading your website I can better understand their behaviour, its motives and hopefully roll with their punches ok :) The French certainly do seem to be very unusual people but in some manner I think I can relate to them a little bit better than I could with Americans due to my more socialist perspective."
  • PeggyMcA. : "One wonders why anyone would even attempt to drive some of the narrow city streets of Paris when the metro is so convenient ! While visiting Paris, my college-age son and I were amused by the reactions of drivers stopped behind delivery trucks, then jumping out of their cars scolding the delivery man for blocking traffic as they followed him into the store continually chastising him. America should take note in the art of blowing off steam." (June 2000)
  • Beverly Z. : "The first time we were in Paris (years ago), we had dinner at Pharamond. I don't know whether it was naivety or 'first time love', but we fell in love with the place. It seemed to our innocent eyes--so Parisian. The food was good and classic brasserie, and the service friendly without being obsequious. During the meal, they allowed a rose vendor to enter--no pressure to buy-- we felt it was charming. We plan to return ... I hope it is 'unimproved'." (July 2000)
  • Melissa H. : " I live in Tennessee in a small town and have never really travelled out of the south. I am a "woman of a certain age" whose children have grown now. I became fascinated with all things French within the last year and really started studying and learning. If my neighbors in my small southern town knew of my interest, they would laugh. So I get my French "fix" over the internet. .... Thanks for sharing yourself, your life and your experiences with all of us." (July 2000)
  • Anne S. : "I have to disagree with your article specifically with respect to certain developmental health problems. My nephew, who is 10, is "autistic." When his problem became apparent, French doctors believed that it was a psychological problem caused by his mother's rejection of him. Many years after this bunk had been rejected by American doctors, they continued, and still sometimes continue to promote these ideas. Even when they are reluctantly forced to believe this is a physical condition, they treat him and his parents with antipathy. I have come to conclude that the Freudians are politically in control of the health system." (September 2000)
 

More letters....

  • Matt B. : "Your site was very helpful for our first trip to Paris. Thank You. Must note Willi's Wine Bar (and Maceo right next door, same owner). Yeah, it's a bit pricey, but the food was amazing and the wine list extravagant and they speak English and owner Marc Williamson is a doll!!!" (January 2001)
  • Michelle M. from Australia : "Your site helped me to have a wonderful day shopping in Paris. I read an instyle magazine featuring Kristin Scott Thomas (actress) best things to do in Paris. Your site helped me to find the places mentioned in this magazine. I had a great day shopping at the Rue Mouffetard and lunch at La Closeries. The next day my friend Neil proposed in a horse and carriage at the Palace of Versailles. This was the 5th May 2001. We married in Australia where we live and returned to Paris for a week in September 2001. We boarded the Orient Express in Paris on Oct 4 and travelled to Rome. Thank you for making a dream come possible."
  • Loren S. : "Just a thank you for your column, which I always enjoy reading. I feel the same way about Paris that you do, that it is full of magical, unexpected experiences and a constant delight. Reading your colorful descriptions, always so full of appreciation for its beauty, antiquity, and formality, both brings me back there and makes me miss it terribly."
  • Sandy H. : "My husband and I didn't know what to expect when we went to Paris last year.... it was wonderful! My only hope is that French people who come to the States will be treated as well."
  • Robert P., from Japan : " Hi! Thanks for the French lesson! Very valuable information. Actually, I live in Japan, and I very much appreciate your comparison between the French and Japanese. Could you please tell me some of the reasons why you think this national trait may hold true in the two countries? Anyways, thanks again. .... Great site!" (Jan.2001 Our answer : ".... Thank you very much for expressing your appreciation of our site. From what I know of Japan (not enough) through Japanese friends, business relations and business trips, there are several important traits in common between the French and the Japanese. Among them :
    - the pride of their old culture and the importance of historical references in everyday life
    - both cultures do not like bluntness ; people prefer to make themselves understood in a more subtle and indirect way , always leaving a way to escape to the person you talk to and avoiding saying NO (but making your refusal understood by the other person)
    - certain forms of political life (not always the best ones) and local life (Japan is the only country in the world which has, with its --rather unsuccessful!-- Third Sector something that compares with the French Economie Mixte)
    - etc...
    "
  • Alex H. : "I just ran across your web site, and I wanted to thank you for setting it up. I'm trying to figure out how to move to France, and am having a bit of trouble figuring out the legal situation there. Your tips and bibliography are very much appreciated." (Oct.2000)

 

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

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