After backpacking her way around Europe journalist Sarah Turnbull is ready to embark on one last adventure before heading home to Sydney. A chance meeting with a charming Frenchman in Bucharest changes her travel plans forever. Acting on impulse, she agrees to visit Fredric in Paris for a week. Put a very French Frenchman together with a strong-willed Australian girl and the result is some spectacular--and often hilarious--cultural clashes. Language is a minefield of misunderstanding and the simple act of buying a baguette is fraught with social danger. But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from the sophisticated cafes and haute couture fashion houses to the picture postcard French countryside, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: passionate, mysterious, infuriating, and charged with that French specialty--seduction. And it becomes her home. "An engaging, endearing view of the people and places of France." --Publishers Weekly
She ejects her itinerary and follows him to Paris.
And the payoff (for us) is this lovely book.
Sarah has a view of Paris and the French as an expat who is living with and eventually marries a native. It's an outsider's insider view and it provides a nice contrast to Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon.
While she can't avoid hobnobbing with some expats (although she tries mightily to avoid it), Turnbull's Paris, because of her intimate relationship with a Parisian, is filled with experiences and affectionate insights about the ups and downs of trying to fit in as a unpretentious Aussie in the hierarchical, class based world of Paris.
Turnbull is honest enough about herself to allow the reader to get frustrated with her tendency to take personally what are essentially cultural differences. She is also fond enough of the French to provide believable explanations for their abominably rude behavior.
I finished Paris to the Moon feeling that while Paris is a nice place to visit, I wouldn't want to live there.
I finished Almost French feeling that in the right circumstances, I could probably enjoy living in Paris too.
I recommend it for people who love France, Paris, or French culture (clothes, cooking, dogs, art). I especially recommend it to anyone getting ready to travel to France and who expects to stay for a while.
Sarah has a lot of problems with the language, the politics and each chapter is mainly about various facets of her life in France.
Frederic does not live in Paris proper, so eventually he and Sarah buy an apartment in the city and we learn the intricacies of French real estate. When they decide to have a window put in, they have to do it on the sly to avoid all the red-tape and then pay off any neighbors that complain.
I skimmed most of the politics stuff, but I enjoyed all the food discussions and her foray into fashion journalism.
My favorite chapter was when she and Frederic decide to get a dog, Maddie. The French may be very reserved but not when it comes to their pets. Sarah finds her fellow Parisians become very talkative and interested in Maddie. I love that dogs are welcome in all the cafes, shops, and even the butcher shops. And they have lots of very fancy dog groomers that are not just for the rich but anyone that does not want to be scorned and yelled at for not taking proper care of their dogs.
This was billed as a look at love and life in France but it is much more life than love. Which is fine, no one needs another sappy, romantic memoir. I enjoyed this very much and is a great addiction for any Francophile.
my rating 4/5
I enjoyed this book from start to finish, wonderously funny and with some useful tips for being accepted by the french.
I did however find it took a little while to read - it was written in a very journalistic way - which i tended to get a bit tired of.
But Beautiful all the same. Read it! Especially if you are interested or are going to France!
Oh, and i am Australian too. I found it interesting to see how the French treat the Australians.
Sarah Turnbull has taken time off from her job in Australia to travel Europe -- she figures that she might as well do it now since she can afford to take the time and she has no commitments -- after all, why wait until much later in life when work and family obligations might get in the way? Off she goes to Europe, and while in Bucharest, she meets Frèdèric, and decides to do something different than she's ever done before and completely change her plans -- go to Paris to stay with a guy that she only met for a few days in Bucharest. Throwing caution to the wind she goes -- and settles into Paris and tries to find her place within the culture and the job market.
This book is a hit in Australia and it was definitely a really pleasant read. I enjoyed her moments of confusion in trying to understand fashion and language, and there is one particular moment that I spluttered my coffee out with laughter for my combined shock and for feeling the author's complete embarrassment -- a simple moment in which she asks her new boyfriend in front of his friends if he would like his smoking pipe, when she mistakenly really asked him if he, ahem...would like a something sexual to occur. I felt for her trying to fit in and get used to it all, and as I've traveled quite a bit in my life and lived in multiple locations, I felt my understanding and my frustrations for her experiences grow as I read each page. It's tough to fit in sometimes!
The only aspect that found me a little wanting was that I felt she wrote with such great detail on so many events and moments, but she skipped quite a bit on the love she had with Frèdèric which was the ultimate reason which compelled her to move to Paris in the first place. Perhaps it was out of respect for their intimacies (completely understandable) and perhaps I'm just an old romantic at heart, but I felt a tad removed from the blossoming love that they experienced within their relationship that would so compel this grounded and logical woman to completely forgo her plan to travel all of Europe and instead, after one week of meeting with a man, to move instead to Paris to begin life anew.
Sarah Turnbull's descriptions of Parisian life, the eccentric characters she meets in a new neighborhood, and her ability (or lack thereof) to fit in fashionably at first, were quite endearing and offered a fun snapshot into her life. I cheered for her to find the right job, and enjoyed her journalistic cadence as Turnbull related each event with sometimes a distant voice and sometimes with close up scrutiny, one that ultimately turns into quite a fun trip into Parisian culture!
Fitting in, Turnbull concedes after several years in France, is virtually impossible for anyone born and raised somewhere else. Marrying her boyfriend helped, but she knows she will always be regarded as the Anglo-Saxon outsider who is almost, but not quite, French.
In chapters covering such subjects as French fashion, food, bureaucracy and attitudes toward people of other countries, Turnbull explains how she has learned to understand, if not always accept, the French way. French women, she discovered, tend to have few female friends because, more so than in other cultures, they feel they are in competition with one another. Because French red tape is so burdensome -- just getting married, she finds, can take several months of paperwork and waiting -- most people ignore the law most of the time. (And the law ignores most offenders most of the time.) French people tend to be cold to strangers and unusually blunt -- if they don't like what you are wearing or how your dog is groomed, they don't hesitate to tell you. What you wear and what you serve your guests are vitally important to the French, and many of Turnbull's funniest stories have to do with her failures in these areas.
"Almost French" is an entertaining and revealing book that should be required reading for anyone planning to spend much time in France.
Another one promoted up the TBR so I could read and leave, although I have realised to my absolute horror that I was meant to send it back to the original owner – sorry, Sandy!
A really well done expat book written by an Australian woman who falls in love with a French man, only to have to transform herself from a shorts-wearing, direct and friendly girl into a composed, well-dressed and distant almost-Frenchwoman, complete with groomed and whitened pet dog. It’s honestly put, with no self-pity and a lot of humour, and naturally structured rather than in themed chapters. Social gatherings and both people’s friends and families are particularly well portrayed, and it feels like it truly is a reflection of life in France.
Fortunately this is only one side of the story and Ms. Turnbull does a good job of finding and maintaining balance in her narrative. Perhaps it's a journalistic trait, to examine the subject from all sides and report on both the positive and the negative. Or may be it's that life's full of both. In a way Almost French is like a Cinderella story: an Australian girl risks it all by moving to France, has a terrible time of it at first, then finds her stride, learns the language and how to navigate the society, and settles in to a happy life in a city she loves with a man she adores.
The book is full of stories of how all that happened, from the desparation of not being able to find work and eating all the chocolate in the apartment, to the exhilaration of telling off a rude stranger without missing a beat, to the surprise of being overshadowed by her own dog, and they're all written in a fun, engaging way that's personal without becoming too sentimental or giving too much information. There are times when the author sounds a bit whiny, or somewhat pushy, but fortunately those times are fleeting.
One of my favorite things about this book is that it doesn't focus only on the usual subjects of fashion, food and seduction but ventures beyond to the issues of actually living in the city, meeting new people, growing to love the villages and towns beyond Paris, learning to appreciate all the different layers of society in one's quartier and getting things done despite the many rules and regulations that come with living in a coveted zip code. When I finished it I felt like I've actually seen some of the reality beyond what tourists usually see, or what the other two authors either didn't experience or didn't choose to share with their readers. It's a nice to have a differet view even though Ms. Turnbull writes about Paris and France in the 1990s and things may have changed, although I am confident that whatever changes took place they didn't radically alter Paris, France or the French.
Chapter by chapter, Turnbull looks at the obstacles that she had to overcome, some of the ways in which she was able to adapt and others in which she decided "to clash", as the prerogative of being an outsider. All of her experiences ring very true and I've had similar observations and reactions, playing on my two nationalities or sometimes simply forgetting some of the intricacies of French living.
Although Australian, I think this book will resonate with Americans and Canadian alike, having similar roots.
I always enjoy seeing my other country through other eyes to get another reflection of how we are perceived.