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This book helps North Americans better understand the French by taking an in-depth look at French culture, and using history and cultural anthropology to illuminate the present. It offers an interpretation of some historical roots of French attitudes and institutions, as well as the changes in French society over the past three decades, to suggest and predict patterns of behavior. Offering a comparative outlook, this book provides a framework—for those with an advanced command of the French language—to describe France and the French in relation to others and to themselves. Chapter topics explore French points of view, family structures, the structure of society, religion, and more. For individuals with a good understanding of the French language—looking for a better understanding of everything else French.
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Les Français was published in its first edition in 1970 to help North Americans better understand the French people. In order to provide depth of perspective, Drs. Wylie and Briçre offer an interpretation of some historical roots of French behavior and institutions as well as the changes in French society over the past three decades to suggest and predict patterns of behavior. Offering a comparative outlook, Les Français attemps to provide a framework that post-intermediate students can use to describe France and the French in relation to others and to themselves.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Preface to the 2001 edition
This third edition of Les Francais has been written, like the previous two editions, to help American students better understand the French people. It is designed for students who have an intermediate- or advanced-level command of the French language. It assumes an interest in French culture on the part of the reader, but no previous knowledge of it.
The basic structure and approach of the 1970 and 1995 editions have been kept. The text As been updated. A chapter on the European Union has been added. Some illustrations are new. A selection of useful "gateway" web sites has also been added. Statistical data have been kept to a minimum as they become quickly outdated and often do not mean much to students, especially if no corresponding data from their own country are supplied. Unless specified, statistical data included in this book were drawn from Quid 2000 and Fancoscopie 1999. A set of questionnaires and suggestions for assignments is provided for each chapter at the end of the book; instructors may use them as needed.
Many textbooks on French culture put excessive emphasis on the present, assuming that only l'actualité will elicit students' interest. Les Francais does not follow that path. We believe that focusing exclusively on present-day France prevents students from truly understanding it. Adults who live in France today were not educated in French schools in 2000, but in 1930, 1950, 1970, or 1990. To understand what made them who they are, it is more illuminating to look at school textbooks of 10 or 20 years ago than at today's textbooks. In order to provide a depth of perspective, we have given much attention to the historical roots of French behavior and institutions as well as to the sweeping changes that have taken place within French society during the last four decades. Many textbooks on French culture also fail to provide a comparative outlook, making it difficult for students to see where France and the French stand in relation to their own country and to themselves. This new edition, as the previous ones, emphasizes comparisons between French and American cultures.
Preface to the 1995 edition
When I was growing up in southern Indiana in the 1920s, we lived in one small town after another because my father was a Methodist minister. We assumed that since we had the habit of living in different groups of people we would be able to get along with all kinds of people anywhere we might live. Then in 1929 I left Indiana University to spend a year in France. What a revelation it was to live in the midst of a people who behaved so differently and thought so differently from the folks back home in Indiana!
Then when I graduated in 1931 and had to get a job to support myself, I found there were no jobs to be had! We were in the midst of The Great Depression. Unexpectedly the Romance Languages Department at Indiana had a vacancy and offered me the job teaching Beginning French for five hours a week at $1,000 a semester if I started working for an M.A. at the same time. I eagerly accepted. Why not? I had never thought I would be a teacher, but after I began to teach I discovered I really enjoyed the experience. So I have spent the rest of my life teaching.
But then gradually as I became used to this profession I realized I was not so interested in studying and teaching language itself as in helping people understand other people of different cultures get along together. Then finally I discovered that my own experience in France helped me. I began to ask myself why I had found that the French people act so differently from the folks I had considered normal people back in southern Indiana? In fact, by that time I lived in New England and began to ask the same question about the difference between Hoosiers and New Englanders! Indeed my aunt in Paoli, Indiana, asked me: "Laurence, why do you talk so queer now?" While in Boston people would ask me, "What part of the south do you come from?" It was not just a question of my accent.
My main problem in teaching was in trying to help students get over the discomfort of being in a French class and asked to read a textbook on French Civilization. The truth was that I, too, was bored by whatever textbooks I found. There was just something about books on "French Civilization" that turned me off. I too, could not get excited about French geography, history and art, which were the basic subjects of these books.
I felt frustrated also because Americans often asked me about little events that happened to them in involvements with French people. For instance, a friend here in Cambridge asked me about an incident involving a French family in a town near Gren0le where she had sent her daughter for the summer. The daughter was there only a few days when our friend received a cable from the French woman saying she could no longer keep the American girl. She had sent her off to stay with friends in Switzerland for the rest of the summer. It was all a mystery to the American family. They had heard I was going to France soon. Could I find out what this was all about? I arrived in France the next week and right away I phoned the French woman. She replied very calmly that the American girl was so badly brought up that she was setting an unacceptable example for her own children. "What did she do that offended you?" I asked. I was told that every morning when she got awake she took a shower and washed her hair. Then she would walk through the house scantily dressed, still brushing her hair. She would go to the kitchen without getting dressed, take whatever she wanted from the refrigerator, carry it upstairs to her room and eat all alone. Now, I must agree With her, didn't I, that no one like that could live in a well-behaved family? I tried to get out of this by saying that although this behavior might seem a bit extreme, it was not so unusual for a well-brought-up American girl. Now this type of incident is often the cause of cultural misunderstanding, and it does not help an American to know about geography, history, and art!
An unexpected event brought me indirectly a better understanding of my problem. An anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, came to Haverford College, where I was teaching by that time, and gave a public lecture on modern "cultural anthropology" which I attended. I was amazed. When I had been in college, anthropology was known only for its studies in archeology and geological history—nicknamed derisively by students as the study of "stones and bones:" But there was now a newly emphasized sort of anthropology, cultural anthropology, a study mainly of family life and childhood. The word "culture" was used to refer to the whole pattern of living of any group of people anywhere.
Montagu's point in his lecture was that a human being could not live without, unconsciously at least, forming a conception about three phenomena: the nature of time, the nature of the space around us, and the human nature of living beings. These conceptions differ from one culture to another, and we can have no fundamental understanding of a culture unless we know what are the basic beliefs of the people formed in childhood in these cultures and how these differ from those of other cultures. The analysis of these problems was the basis of the new anthropological studies of scholars like Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict that had become so important. The importance of child training is so overwhelming in the formation of character that the whole character of people in a culture is based on it. So the purpose of studying the geography of a culture is to learn not the basic facts of geography but people's conception of space and their activity relating to it. And the best way to comprehend how a culture is formed is to live among a people and study the way children are brought up and form these conceptions.
After listening to this lecture and reflecting on its relation to my personal and professional problems, I read several studies by the anthropologists he mentioned and others. I decided my plan should be to study cultural anthropology and then try to undertake a cultural study (in the anthropological sense) in France, but meanwhile I needed to learn more about the theoretical structure involved. A handy electric trolley could take me into Philadelphia easily, so I attended cultural anthropological courses of A. Irving Hallowell at Penn U., without its preventing me from doing my usual teaching. As a matter of fact I was feeding a bit of my learning back into the courses I taught.
After two years of study I decided to try to put what I had learned to use in advancing to a new stage: I would take my wife and two little boys (ages two and four to live in a village where I could observe how average French people lived and raised families. The problem was finding money to carry out the plan. It was a difficult problem because foundations, which provide funds for such research, are largely run by professional organizations, and professions are parochial about the use of funds: Foundations governing the funds for research in the humanities do not like to distribute them for use in social sciences; foundations governing funds for the social sciences do not like to provide them for a scholar with a Ph.D. in language and literature. Finally the Social Science Research Council was persuaded to grant me the money to pay for a year's residence in a southern French village. So I spent the next few years living in Roussillon, taking copious notes, then writing about my research and getting the book published. My next sabbatic leave we spent in a very different kind of village, Chanzeaux.
Meanwhile the new book about Roussillon, Village in the Vaucluse, was more successful than I had dared hope. But now I faced a new problem: What university would provide room for me to teach a social science course in a language and literature department? I needed to work on a course where I could teach an understanding of French behavior as I had explored it. But then came a big moment in my life. One morning my phone rang and a voice said, "This is McGeorge Bundy, dean of the college at Harvard. We were wondering if you would come to teach in the new Dillon Chair of French Civilization ...." Later I learned that this new chair founded by the Dillon family was beyond control of a traditional department. I was to be in the Social Relations Department, a new interdepartmental department! Dean Bundy had aided in its foundation because he liked to sponsor new features in university life. I loved Haverford, but the new opportunity was too good. We moved to Harvard, and I spent the rest of my career teaching there. I taught a seminar on French village organization and gave a lecture course in General Education on French Civilization.
My big course was the lecture course and it was right away quite popular. Publishers became interested in publishing a textbook for courses on French Civilization. Dr. Garcia-Girón of Prentice Hall insisted on my writing one. I said I was going off to France to serve as Cultural Officer at the US. Embassy and could not write it for the next two years. Garcia-Girón then proposed that we have my lectures of that very year taped and typed. This was done, and then he persuaded Professors Armand and Louise Bégu#&233;, of Brooklyn College, to translate the manuscript and edit the book, providing vocabulary, questions, etc., for use by students of French in this country. The book, Les Franfais, appeared in 1970 and has been successful for years. Now, hélas, the B#&233;gués have both disappeared, I am sad to say. And the book is dated!
However, I am extremely lucky to see Jean-Francois Briere, Associate Professor of French Studies at the State University of New York at Albany, perpetuate the book by rewriting and modernizing it. It has been wonderful working with him: He was born and educated in France and, as a member of the generation after mine, he is more acquainted with a more recent France. He also knows the United States, since he is married to an American woman and teaches Americans. He writes about both cultures with V sound grasp of all he speaks. At the same time he uses what I have written when it is pertinent, and he utilizes my structure which I learned from cultural anthropologists. I am proud to share this book with him and to have my name listed alongside his. I predict that this book will be a leading textbook for the next twenty-five years, and I hope he then finds a collaborator worthy of him to continue the work in the future.
The author would like to thank the following reviewers for their participation in the revision process and for their many helpful comments and suggestions:
Marie Ponterio, SUNY College at Cortland; Mary Ekman, SUNY New Paltz; Edward Knox, Middlebury College; Michele Bissiere, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Raymond Eichmann, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
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