Monday, September 12, 2016

Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Every Frenchman Has One
by Olivia de Havilland
Crown Archetype
2016 Reissue
ISBN: 9780451497390 - 144 pages
Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

Imagine sitting down for a nice long chat with actress and living legend Olivia de Havilland. Unless your Robert Osborne or some lucky soul, de Havilland’s book Every Frenchman Has One is as close as you’ll get to that experience.

Originally published in 1961 and reissued for Olivia de Havilland’s centennial year, this book explores the actress’s early days living in France during the 1950s. Why did she move to France in the first place? It all started when she was invited to the Cannes Film Festival to promote My Cousin Rachel (1952). She was in the middle of a divorce with her first husband Marcus Goodrich and thought a continental adventure would be a nice change of pace. She accepted the invitation but on one condition, that she would be able to bring her 3 year old son Benjamin. Little did de Havilland know that she’d soon meet her next husband Frenchman Pierre Galante. The two married, had a daughter Gisele and settled in France. De Havilland stayed long after both her children grew up and after she divorced Galante. But those first years in France took some getting used to.

Every Frenchman Has One explores all the stages of culture shock de Havilland experienced as she settled into her new life across the pond. Each chapter is an essay on the cultural differences between France and the USA and how she dealt with them. Topics include: nuances of the French language, traffic in Paris, French medicine vs. American medicine, the metric system, French stubbornness, living in old houses, hiring a French maid, Protestantism vs. Catholicism and more. Even though the subjects seem serious, de Havilland explores them in a jovial way. Each chapter is full of humorous and thoughtful anecdotes. When I read this I felt like I was transported back to 1950s Paris and was living these experience right alongside de Havilland.

Olivia de Havilland - Every Frenchman Has One

This book is only 140 or so pages and can be read in a day. The publisher Crown Archetype (an imprint of Penguin Random House) reissued the book in a slim and petite little hardcover edition that can practically fit in your pocket. It also has a gorgeous self-cover. For the 2016 edition, they added a very short interview with de Havilland about the book. It’s not the best interview. It doesn’t say who conducted it or what the circumstances were. It’s obvious the interviewer hadn’t read the book because the initial question would have been answered by reading the first chapter.

This was such a fun read and I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Olivia de Havilland or French culture. I particularly loved reading about converting Fahrenheit to Celsius (it caused quite a stir when she wrote a piece for the New York Herald Tribune about it) and I was laughing out loud at her story of her disastrous home remodel. Her writing is sharp and witty and very entertaining. She's self-deprecating in the most charming way possible. A must read.

This is my fifth review for the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

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