Published in 1987; 147 pages; ★★☆☆☆
“Of course, we are all human. But we speak thousands of different languages, which makes us no less human, and do not find it inconceivable to learn a variety of “foreign” languages. Yet we refuse to accept the idea that we communicate with others through something similar to languages, “languages” of which we are unaware – our cultures – despite the fact that we speak a great deal today about cultural differences.”
Raymonde Carroll presents an intriguing and thoughtful analysis of the many ways French and Americans—and indeed any members of different cultures—can misinterpret each other, even when ostensibly speaking the same language. Cultural misunderstandings, Carroll points out, can arise even where we least expect them—in our closest relationships. The revealing vignettes that Carroll relates, and her perceptive comments, bring to light some fundamental differences in French and American presuppositions about love, friendship, and raising children, as well as such everyday activities as using the telephone or asking for information.
This review requires a preface: I am thoroughly aware that a lot of my perception of this book is, ironically, shaped by cultural premises. For one thing, American standards of scholarship are different – it would be unusual to see an American scholarly book with no list of references or index. A text lacking these acknowledgements of other research reads, to me, more like an opinion piece than true nonfiction.
With that said… fundamentally, I found there to be a kind of irony here. On the one hand, I’m fairly convinced that Carroll wrote this in good faith; that she believes in the power of cultural analysis to resolve misunderstandings; and that she’s earnest in her desire to understand different perspectives. On the other hand, there’s very little indication in this book that she actually sought out American viewpoints, and her analysis ended up feeling one-sided and shallow.