How to Be (Almost) French

Eiffel Tower at Sunset by Danee, all rights reserved.

Destination: Paris

Book: Almost French; Love and a New Life in Paris (2004) by Sarah Turnbull

As I spend my last two days in Paris, A Traveler’s Library reprises France on Friday with a look at a cautionary book for the traveler’s library.

GUEST POST by Danee Gilmartin, the Museum Chick

Searching for adventure and cultural enlightenment led my husband and me to an exchange of country-naming to pick which country we should explore for one whole year. Bhutan was my first choice but my more sensible and less adventurous husband declared that France would be a better fit for us two New Yorkers. Four seasons in a foreign land sounded exciting and overwhelming to pack for. Only visiting Paris for one week on vacation didn’t inform me much on the cultural differences I would encounter, some to be cherished and others that would vex me.

Looking for a little insight on expat experiences in Paris, my Francophile boss turned me on to the memoir, Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull. Throughout my year as an expat New Yorker in Paris, Turnbull’s wit and confidence replayed in my head as I had similar experiences to those which she describes in her book. However, it was Turnbull’s sentiment of the agony of forever being in love with two places that stuck in my head the most as I fell in love with Paris while at the same time missing New York City.

Louvre at Night by Danee, all rights reserved

In her memoir, Turnbull, an Australian journalist, invites the reader to share in memories of her romantic experience falling in love with her husband, a Parisian named Frederic. She met him on a visit to France and made her way into his life shortly after meeting him by moving into his small Paris apartment and learning the Parisian way. She made me laugh as she floundered at dinner parties, got the cold shoulder from her husband’s acquaintances and learned how Parisians always seem to look chic.

In one of the laugh-out-loud moments in the book, Sarah is leaving the apartment to get bread at the bakery in her sweatpants. Alarmed at her ensemble, Frederic stops her, saying it is “not nice for the baker” for her to be wearing such casual clothes to the bakery. This scene in the book replayed in my head through my year living in Paris whenever I dashed out the door, disheveled, for an errand. On one occasion I thought, “am I dressed ok to go buy a plunger?”

This charming and witty memoir which recalls culture clashes and misunderstandings with an inescapable love of Paris helped prepare me for my year as an expat and leaves readers living vicariously through Turnbull’s adventures in becoming almost French.

Danee Gilmartin

Sounds like a book I should have read before I left for France. Thanks Danee, for a look at a fun book and how it affected you. And thanks for those luscious photos, too.
Readers, aren’t you lucky to be able to meet all these new writers? Next Week Three more guest posts visit Italy, Maine and Africa. Be sure to tell your friends on Twitter, or by e-mail. Just use the little buttons below to share the love.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Travel and lifestyle writer, wife, mother and grandmother. Publisher of A Traveler’s Library and Ancestors in Aprons>. Also co-authored a biography of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


11 thoughts on “How to Be (Almost) French

  1. While I have not been so bold to try Paris for a year, I did go to Hawaii for a year. Believe it or not, it does have lots of cultural differences.

    While you cannot be under dressed, you can often be overdressed. While I was there, I longed for a donut. I dreamed of running to the corner market for fresh bread. While I fell in love with Hawaii, I was torn with all the conveniences of home.

  2. How was Paris or did you get kidnapped by a Parisian “Beau” ??
    I have just arrived tonight in Paris to check out hotels and so far found the spot where Henri 4th was murdered on his way to the Queen’s Coronation – not bad for being in the dark when I found it!!
    Wonder if I will get kidnapped by a “Beau” !!! What a book that would make!!

  3. This reminded me of a story one of my students told me about Dallas, Texas. After she moved to Austin, she told me she preferred the latter since it was not a horrible thing if she went to the grocery store in her curlers! :-)

    I really like it that the mentality about proper dress is not so much centered about the quality of the person dressing, but in the message sent to another. It is rather sweet that it is about complimenting someone else by taking the time to look one’s best.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I have already made a request for this book at my local library. Yes, we still have an active library.

  5. I’ll never be almost French, still I would like to visit and see what I’m missing. (I heard the food isn’t bad. . .)

  6. thanks, Danee and Vera. I wonder if either of you know Kathleen Flinn’s book The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry? it is as much about the challenges of being an American living in Paris as it is about going to cooking school.

  7. Hah! I understand this dual love. My favorite line in this was “am I dressed ok to go buy a plunger?” I will have to check out Sarah Turnbull’s “Almost French; Love and a New Life in Paris”

  8. thanks for the post Danee. I’m typing as I munch a macaron and drink some tea at Paul’s in the 6th arrondisement–outdoor cafe of course.Among the Paris myths that are not ALWAYS true, are surly waiters–but then I don’t go to expensive joints, either.
    Avoir, tout le monde.

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