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“Exaggerating our anecdotes is second nature to the French” Why life stories are better in France

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Audrey Diwan

Editor-at-large of Stylist France, Audrey Diwan reveals the secret to becoming a little more French

10 of the most captivating books set in France

I don’t like real liars, people who magic stories out of thin air just to get attention. What I’m in fact writing about this week is open to interpretation. Call it autobiographical fiction – taking artistic licence with what happened or, in the most extreme cases, might not have happened at all. The nuance is subtle, I agree, but little white lies are sometimes essential because they allow you to deliver a much more poetic version of your story without being a complete betrayal of the truth. And to be a little more French, you must embrace the more poetic version, always.

Being naturally curious, I love meeting new people and questioning them about their lives. And for a long time I felt that all (or nearly all) Parisians had an incredible story to share. A hundred times, I’ve been wandering around Paris and happened to bump into someone who at first seemed completely unremarkable but who ended up whisking me away with them in the passionate recital of their life. At first, I thought Paris had a kind of centrifugal force that naturally attracted people who have lived remarkable lives. Then I came to understand that there is, in fact, a recipe for this extraordinary phenomenon.

From a very young age, the French must learn to love literature. We define ourselves as a nation of book lovers and one cannot be considered a truly accomplished adult until you have flirted with Proust, Zola, Balzac and friends. A seed is planted in us, at an age when our imagination is still fertile, of this intimate relationship with narrative. We learn that French literature is an acute analysis of the movements of the soul and that we all carry hundreds of anecdotes worthy of being recounted, just as long as we know how to deliver them.

Tall tales

To regale someone with a story like the French do, remember: there are no lies, just a way of setting the scene. We choose an angle and effect, comic or dramatic, that we wish to create for our audience. So, we’re not lying, we’re exaggerating. As a preference, we choose moments with a link to the classic themes (love, death, betrayal). Once the rough memory has been extracted, you need only to emphasise the highlights and adjust the lighting – just like the filters we apply to photos before posting them online. So my advice, if you still strive to be French after all these weeks, is to never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The result is astonishing. The more the anecdote is repeated, the more it etches itself in your memory. So much so that one day, it overwrites the hard drive in your brain. It becomes part of your history. The story is no longer a fabrication, it has become a memory engraved forever in your brain as a fascinating fragment of your past.

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