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French or Foe? Getting the most out of living, visiting and working in France.

French or Foe? guide book for living, visiting and working in France  

The only book you really need for France. Why? Because it's the only one that tells you how to deal with the French.

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French or Foe? by Polly Platt -- The all-time non-fiction best-seller in English at W.H.Smith and Brentano's in Paris, and ranked as the #1 book on French Culture on About.com... Over 200,000 copies in print. Now in its third edition and 13th reprint!

Perennial international best-seller since 1994.
Translated into French (Ils Sont Fous, ces Français, Bayard Editions, 1997) and into Japanese (TBS Britannica, Tokyo, 1998)

  • Required reading in global companies and at U. S. universities
  • Acclaimed by American business families, tourists and exchange students

French or Foe? is the essential reference -- as entertaining as it is instructive -- for visiting France or dealing with and/or living among French people in France or the United States.


Why does the French greengrocer sell you rotten pears?
Why does your French boss never praise your work?
Why don't French people introduce you?

What should you know about the French to change this?

The splendors of France make it the most frequently visited country in Europe -- 73 million foreigners in 2000, including 13 million English-speakers -- and yet the French themselves provoke such angry reactions.

Why is it so hard to get things done in France?
What does it take to do business effectively?
Why are the French so difficult? Are they really so difficult?

Polly Platt maintains -- and proves -- that it's NOT hard to get things done in France (though it takes longer) and that the French are NOT difficult -- but different, very, very different....

In French or Foe?, Platt takes you, step by step -- peppered with funny real-life anecdotes -- through the things you have to know in order to interact comfortably with French people and to do business effectively with them, from explanations of the Six Politeness Codes to buying bread and dealing with the bureaucracy to, finally, what happens in French companies and why it happens, and why...

      ... why French meetings don't end in decisions
... why you're better off not saying "tu" at the office

French or Foe? explores the cultural hurdles to understanding French people...

      -- When and why they might be late
-- Why they seem to be pushing you off the sidewalk
-- Why foreigners say they're rude and arrogant

You get to see Americans and other foreigners at work in France and hear their tales...

You learn how to be an effective "trailing spouse" at the market and at the bank...

Learn The Six Codes, including the Magic Words, for dealing with the French:

     1.  Don't smile!
  2.  Flirt!
  3.  Use the Ten Magic Words!
  4.  Add "Monsieur" or "Madame" after "bonjour," "au revoir," etc.
  5.  Shake hands!
  6.  Watch out at the door!

Sample text no.1, pp. 64-65

One of Three Tales of Newcomer Bungles:
Bret at the Bakery

with author's comment on what went wrong:

"I was in a boulangerie, buying a loaf of bread," said Bret Moran, a banker from Boston. "It was the first time I'd ventured into a bakery on my own, with my dusty French. I was very polite and said, 'Bonjour,madame,' the way you told us last week, and ordered 'un pain de seigle, s'il vous plaît.' The boulangère wrapped it up in a tiny square of tissue paper, which she twisted together at the ends, and thrust it at me. I asked for a bag. 'Un sac, s'il vous plaît.'

"She refused! And snapped at me in a waterfall of French nastiness! The bitch! To refuse me a bag!"

"I was so hopping mad when I got out to the sidewalk, with this bare loaf in this ridiculous piece of tissue paper, that of course I forgot to watch out. Someone knocked into me. The bread fell down and rolled in the street, losing the tissue paper on the way, and ended up -- guess where -- in a dog mess."

Furious, Bret went back to the boulangerie and ordered another loaf of bread. He refused to pay for it, claiming that it was the boulangère's "fault" that the first one was ruined, and again insisted on a bag: "Un SAC! J'ai besoin d'un SAC!"

His anger triggered a French fit that made the first "waterfall" seem like a love song. He not only did not get the bag, but the boulangère screamed at him that she'd get the police if he didn't pay. And added that he should never come back to the store again.

At home he discovered that the loaf was three days old and hard as rock. "At this point, I hated not only the boulangère but all of France and everyone in it," he went on. "But not as much as my wife did. She'd had to hang around all day waiting for the plumber to fix the washing machine -- who never showed up. She'd had to cart all the wash for a family of six to the laundromat -- where she got in a row with the laundress and had to wait for five loads before she could have it washed. When I got home, she went for me -- a tantrum such as I'd never seen. She was ready to dump me and the kids for good and clear out of France right then and there. We were up half the night roaring at each other."

After a moment he added, "The next day at the office I thought my head would split open. Luckily nothing much was going on."

Bret may sound unusually bad-tempered. He's not. Lots of managers with frayed nerves at the end of a day of frustrations explode like this.

Bret's Blunders:

  • He didn't make himself known to the boulangère before doing business with her.
  • He didn't grasp the inappropriateness of his request (for the bag) and then devise a strategy for obtaining something he was not entitled to.
  • He blamed the boulangère for something. This is always fatal. See Chapter 6.


Sample text no.2, p. 225:

Gallantry at the office

The attention given by men to women at the office can surprise an Anglo-Saxon. Mike Johnson, after his year in Paris as editorial director for Groupe Teste, wrote in Management Today, "In the office, it is always open season, at least verbally. Legs, lips, bottoms, breasts, necks and knees are fair game for the men's respectful consideration. Aside from cheek-pecking, the fooling around rarely becomes physical. Only once did I witness an exception. One of my managers playfully grabbed the left buttock of an art-department mother-of-two... there was a little yelp (more like a yes than a no) from the woman. The man explained to me and to her that he was only expressing his admiration for the roundness of the object, an unavoidable impulse on purely aesthetic grounds."



E-mail: pollyplatt@starrimages.com
© Polly Platt. 2000-2011.
French illustration by: Géraldine Guinard