France on Friday Returns
(This book will be one of those given away in my Bastille Day giveaway, along with a French Collection of reading. Just be the most prolific commenter between July 1 and July 14.)
Destination: Brittany, France
Book: I’ll Never Be French (No Matter What I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany, (2008) by Mark Greenside
I thought this was a very funny and revealing piece of travel literature, but there was a bit of difference of opinion from the other side of the household.
I had sworn I would never again read about some English-speaking foreigner moving to a European country and buying, remodeling, and shopping in the local market. Why? Because I do not like those books’ condescending tone. They quote the attempts of poor benighted French or Italians or Spanish or whatever to speak the only language that counts–English– as they bemoan how long everything takes and how screwed up the bureaucracy is. But faithful reader Richard recommended this one, so I decided to give it a try.
I’ll Never Be French won me over because Mark Greenside makes the Bretons the heroes and heroines. Instead of “Isn’t it cute how inept they are,” his book is all about what a dolt he is. The book does explain a lot about French/Breton culture, but also a lot about being an American in a foreign place.
Ken objected to the book going on for several pages about the filfth in the first house the author rented, and several pages about French methods of tidying up. He would have pulled up stakes and found a different place to stay in about 15 minutes. So Ken pulled up stakes and moved to a different book.
Greenside no doubt exaggerates for comic effect, but I could go along with that because he’s the butt of the jokes. His travails with the language tickled me more than anything, and oh, how I recognize myself. He practices his little speech on the way to the grocery store, then gives us both the mangled French that emerges and a direct translation. When he wants a free-range chicken, for instance, he asks, “Monsiuer, avez vous une poulet au beaucoup de promenade?” (roughly, Mister, do you have a chicken that takes a lot of walks?) It reminded me of trying to get some “facial tissues”, aka Kleenex™ in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I tried “papier por le nez” with no results. I’m better prepared now with a French language blog to help.
Greenside is astounded by many things he encounters,but he sees these differences as just that–different ways of doing business–not inferior to American ways.
While Greenside is getting used to life in Brittany, he is sharing valuable hints for visitors as well as ex-pats. He even has the time to take us on some meanderings , mostly in the part of Brittany sticking out into the Atlantic. His story, like the chick-lit variant of travel memoir, starts with a doomed romance and ends with a successful one, just part of the personalization of his story.
The lovely pictures all come from Mark Greenfield’s page,where you can find more photos of his house and Brittany. Other travel memoirs here: Sweet Life in Paris, Paris to the Moon, one about Kentucky,Sri Lanka, and many more. Check the search box for more on France.
So be warned–a mixed review from this household. But I think Greenfield is worth adding to your French travel library. Have you been to Brittany? Any suggestions for places not to miss? We actually don’t plan on going all the way to Finisterre, but want to see the megaliths and artists’ haunts on the south coast. But we would love suggestions. Or why don’t you talk about travel memoirs you love?