You Don’t Have to be French to Enjoy Life, But…

… you do have to make room in a busy life for it.

Food for Thought

When I first left the workforce to be home with my children over thirty years ago, it was because I believed that our culture was missing something. Maybe it was something I found in my reading or from another kind of awareness of life around me, but it seemed to me that the everyday mundane things we do for each other are more important than financial wealth. Our family took a huge hit financially, but I have never regretted it. What we gained in family cohesion and mental health was worth it. I understand that what I did is difficult to achieve today, but I believe it is still possible to improve our daily lives in little ways.

I came across this book this morning and ordered it. It looks interesting because it seems to share that same view from a different perspective. And well – since life is an art, not a science – we can always use pointers. The French don’t really live this way anymore – just like the rest of us, but that should not deter us from trying. And also, I bought if for the recipes and for some encouragement to drop snacking – a very bad American habit I am guilty of. One can never have too many good recipes in life.

Below the book link, I have included a realistic review that I found in the Amazon reviews which is worth reading. Enjoy!

Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday by Robert Arbor

Pleasure in Life

Reviewed in the United States on April 23, 2005

Arbor’s book is an evocation of a way of life that only a few French people today achieve (especially in Paris, which is now about 65% wealthy executives and a lesser assortment of truly poor people). But social reality is not the point of the book. Arbor does really capture what many French people imagine their lives to be, despite the messy reality that includes: infuriating customer service and poor availability of products and services (even French people often get angry, when they are not stuffing it inside), open social conflicts and overt racism that many “apolitical” Americans would find exhausting or shocking, and extreme cultivation of privacy and disregard for others in public. Actual French people are as varied as we are–and the stories they tell to themselves (and Arbor translates one important one here for us) are interesting to hear and we can learn from them–both as a clue to French ideals of the pleasure-filled, simple life and as a restorative from our own excesses.

It is, I believe, true that many French executives have a much more relaxed life than the American bourgeoisie, although many are also nervous, stressed and unpleasant. There are wonderful food choices (if you can afford them, something increasingly difficult for working French people). “Low-fat” IS under 20% for many foods. I actually found many French people to be too skinny and to look unhealthy and washed out–and of course some are fat but not normally as obese as we are used to seeing here. More importantly, the ideal that Arbor describes circulates widely in France and accounts for some of the different choices in life that the French make and the different emphasis that many place on their experiences.

I read Arbor’s book before living in Paris for six months and, indeed, my consumption of his evocations and internalization of his values caused a few French people to remark on how well socialized I was (until they knew me and my heathen ways, of course). I realized that France is as far from Paradise as here, but in a slightly different direction. The ideals that Arbor sets out here in a lovely, idealized style have something to do with this: Arbor’s “France” and his suggestions are healthy and even wholesome–why shouldn’t we all live a ‘beautiful’ and slower-paced life? Why not incorporate a sense of beauty and the love of pleasure as a fundamental? And, as Arbor suggests, this has more to do with emphasis and choices already available than with running to France to smell the lavender (although that would be nice!). A “really good fried egg” tastes as good in Kentucky as it does in Paris. One should also remember that not all aspects of American life are worthless–our cultural struggles for convenience and accessibility has led to much better services and access for handicapped people than will ever be possible in Paris. If you are wheel-chair bound, or have a hard-time walking (or anything), you can pretty much write France off the map; French handicapped people look to the US as a Mecca for such services as we make available here.

While “plaisir” is overused in France as a marketing theme for everything from cheap sandwiches to toilet tissue in the same way that images of home and reconstructed families are overused in the US, “plaisir” and “joie de vivre” points to something that many Americans could really learn from–the cultivation of pleasure, individual and shared, as an everyday ethic, if not always an easy reality. One could go further as an American and notice the areas of our lives that ARE similar and full of pleasure–such as the Thanksgiving meal, which is an important ritual of pleasure, togetherness, sharing and abundance, and extend those values into everyday life. In Joie de Vivre, Arbor highlights the contrasts between a life focused on pleasure (not indulgence) and the sour Puritan, production and “necessity”-driven life we overvalue here. As Voltaire suggested, “let us cultivate our garden,” a garden that is always in front of us. In “Joie de Vivre,” Arbor translates that ethic for his American readers, who are so obviously looking for a moment of respite. If you are looking for a reminder to cultivate the good things in life, this book is a charming choice for a relaxing read.

JFT – amazon review