The Bonjour Effect by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau

Review published on July 31, 2017.

Looking at the cover, I assumed this was going to be a humorous and perhaps rather superficial account of problems the arise when you try to communicate in France. Well, there are some funny anecdotes, but a lot more besides. There is a wealth of information about French culture, politics and behaviour, with the underlying theme of language usage.

I’ve learnt that you can never say too many bonjours and indeed you must say it at the start of any interaction. And then non doesn’t necessarily mean non and you should keep talking till you get a oui. You can learn the language but you also have to learn a complex system of rules, codes and conventions.

The book also covers French attitudes to politics, the education system, food and meals, art, jobs, sex, and parenting. There are also interesting digressions. I particularly liked learning about French salons and how the culture there raised conversation to the level of an art so that still today the French converse rather than just communicate.

The norms and standards of the French purists are still the basis of the education system, but everyday spoken French is changing with a growth in the use of English words and new coinings. Anti-Americanism seems to be waning as the EU has become the new scapegoat for political and economic problems.

There is a useful epilogue with guiding principles and some Dos and Don’ts of French conversation. The book is written in an engaging and readable style. It is a practical guide but so much more than that and would be enjoyed by anyone interested in French culture and language.

Berwyn Peet 4/1

The Bonjour Effect by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 9780715652190 pbk Jul 2017

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