WTF?!: What the French? by Olivier Magny


In France, the simple act of eating bread is an exercise in creative problem solving and attempting to spell requires a degree of masochism. But that’s just how the French like it—and in WTF, Oliver Magny reveals the France only the French know. From the latest trends in baby names, to the religiously observed division of church and state, prepare yourself for an insider’s look at French culture that is surprising, insightful, and chock full of bons mots.


WTF?!: What the French 
by Olivier Magny

Published August 23, 2016 by Berkley
Format: Netgalley e-book; 288 pages
Also By This Author: Stuff Parisians LikeInto Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure
Author’s Website | GoodreadsAmazon
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥


This book gave me serious homesickness for France! The author is a French native and who is all too familiar with the embarrassing and frustrating cultural barriers that can happen when one visits France. Although I thought WTF?!: What the French was an enlightening and entertaining read, I’d recommend it more to people who have visited or are planning to visit France. You will probably appreciate this book much more if you can compare the author’s opinions with your own personal anecdotes.

The book is divided into 50+ short chapters, each dealing with a specific topic ranging from pop culture to food to politics. Some of these topics are comedic (and will cause you to laugh out loud more than once), while others offer insight into current political events in France.

Here were some of the most noteworthy chapters for me:

Blowing Air – If you aren’t too accustomed with French people, you may think they’re seriously annoyed when they let a small huff of air out of their mouths. Chances are it’s only mild annoyance, but it has become one of my favorite French things to imitate.

La Rando Especially where I lived in the French Alps, family hikes are common weekend or even late afternoon activities. There are plenty of small walking routes to be found, and sometimes you even discover medieval castles on your journey.

“The French like to walk around with no precise goal other than that of enjoying life.”

Ça Va & C’est Pas Possible! The two most used phrases in the French language

“Liberté, égalité, impossibilité”

The English Despite what you may have heard from friends who have visited France, French people are very welcoming and hospitable, and I’ve encountered many natives who will switch to English when they speak with you, or who will be patient and helpful when you’re trying to practice your French.

Eating Rules The 4 hour French meal is not an exaggeration!

I can’t tell you how many times I was laughing out loud while reading WTF?!: What the French. I would constantly stop to reread chapters aloud to my (French) husband, who would proceed to confirm the author’s opinion by doing the exact thing laid out in the chapter. Then we’d both laugh and talk about how much we miss our colorful & expressive France. I only wish this book had been written before I moved to la France in 2012; it would have helped me adapt to and fall in love with the culture much earlier!

Read This Book If…

…you’re a francophile.
…you are open minded to learning about new cultures.
…you’ve ever experience a culture barrier.
…you enjoy books about food and travel.

Final Musings

I will leave you with a couple of hilarious quotes from the book:

“People think of France as the country of cheese. Really, it’s the country of yogurt.”

(There are SEVERAL aisles of yogurts and pudding desserts in French grocery stores)

“Across the globe, countless people view the French as always being on strike, which is unfair. Sometimes; they are on vacation.”

The Low-Down on French Parties

Yesterday Matt and I were at a surprise 30th birthday party for one of his longtime friends. Now, I have been living in France for a year and a half, and one thing I doubt I will ever get to used to about French culture is the fact that their parties, holiday meals, group gatherings, etc. last for hours. The problem I have with this is that most of that time is spent sitting at a table, and usually there are long waiting periods in-between courses (of which, there are 4-5: the aperitif, the main course, cheese, dessert, and coffee). I get restless very easily, so after 3+ hours sitting in the same seat, I become very agitated.

But this is part of French culture. Their culture is very strongly focused on their food, and it is quite normal and expected that when you go to someone’s house for a meal, or when you go to any type of party, you will be sitting, eating, and talking for hours on end. Americans do not do this. We are too fast-paced for this kind of lifestyle. This is why our culture is more focused on activities and shared experiences. All of our holidays involve eating, yes of course, but what else do we always do? We go places…we go see fireworks on the 4th of July, we go trick-or-treating for Halloween, we play football in-between our Thanksgiving Day courses, we go shopping or go to the movies during Christmas time. We never stay at the table from 1-7pm.

I love France. I love the more laid-back lifestyle and the adventuresome and travel-minded attitudes. I love the food! And I would love to one day even enjoy their table-dwelling parties and mealtimes. But right now, I prefer American celebrations, and that’s ok in my opinion since I am, you know, American.

And one last thing–I had a wonderful time at the party we went to yesterday, and that is probably because it was outside and we were free to get up and walk around! Plus we were able to catch up with some other friends whom we haven’t seen in a while. But I can definitely see myself slowly growing more accustomed to the “French way”, and that makes me very happy :)

(And another aside–French wedding receptions are much much more enjoyable, because there are plenty of games and activities throughout the night. I would even go so far as to say that they are probably a lot more fun than American weddings in that regard. I had an absolute blast at our French reception and at the only other French wedding I have attended. I just don’t want anyone to think that I find French parties, meals, celebrations, etc. to be awful because that couldn’t be further from the truth–I am just describing a part of the culture that is hard for me to adapt to. Ok, end of disclaimer!)


Matt and I at a friend’s birthday party yesterday.