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Expat memoirs

Thinking of moving to France or just want a laugh? Expat memoirs are good for both. Learn from those who have gone before you and have lived through the trials and jubilations of expat life in France. You can learn from their mistakes and enjoy their anecdotes “right from the horse’s mouth”. Or just commiserate! There are a lot of  English-speaking expats living in France, and many have written memoirs. Doing this is easier than ever now with self-publishing options. The currently trending expat memoir has been around for a long time though beginning it’s upward climb as a genre with the still wonderful A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle published in 1989.

expat memoirsFrench License by Joe Start

Another book about adapting to life in France, but this time from the perspective of the Paris suburbs and through the trial of getting a driver’s license. In fact the whole book is one long road trip. We are so relieved when after 262 pages, 10 years or mille bornes Joe finally gets his French license. He’s made quite a journey over those 10 years and in retrospect sees the process with humor, but it certainly wasn’t fun at the time. His collection of anecdotes, sometimes nearly burlesque, centered around driving in France but touching on all aspects is a fun and informative read. You feel solidarity with Joe as he adapts and deals with the administration. You also learn about all things “car”.  The differences in car culture here and there, administration, navigation, insurance, signage with all their related anecdotes.  It is hard to believe it took Joe 10 years to get a driver’s license, but it really did. He had plenty of bad luck and a little too much hubris. This story is his inner journey his personal adaptation to France and is a worthwhile read for those arriving in France or those here for many years already. Order French License on Amazon

 

becoming french90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French by Shari Leslie Segall and Lisa Vanden Bos, published by FUSAC

A just-for-fun little book but full of perspicacious cultural observations: an amusing way to appreciate or measure your acquired “Frenchness,” whether you’ve lived in the country for a few weeks or a lifetime, or merely studied its language.This 10-by-10-cm book, written by long-term expat Shari Leslie Segall is a great gift that gets the party rolling. Everyone wants to read it cover to cover right away. Laughs and “Oh, so true!”s guaranteed. Learn where to find the book in Paris on www.becoming-french.com

Books about FranceMa Langue au Chat by Denis Hirson, Publisher : Editions Points

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s the personal experiences of an anglophone using the French language described poetically with humor and insight – something many of us can relate to. The subtitle of the book says it all “Tortures et délices d’un anglophone à Paris”. Denis Hirson, a professor and writer, came to France from South Africa 40 years ago and has been learning and playing with the French language ever since. His recent book is a collection of anecdotes and reflections on French in French that can be appreciated by all of us who have learned the language from the bottom up and continue to learn each day. It’s a wonderful read! French readers will lift up their eyebrows and see their own language from a new perspective. Anglophones will say “Moi aussi, been there, done that”. To whet your whistle here’s a selection of a few titles of Mr Hirson’s vignettes:

Trous en formation (my personal favorite)
Etapes dans l’apprentissage de la langue française
Passer 24 heures dans la peau d’un Français
Mon petit accent

Résumé : Une soixantaine de textes courts empreints de poésie, véritable déclaration d’amour à la langue française. « Ma langue au chat est le premier livre de Denis Hirson écrit directement en français. Il observe, constate, s’étonne, et s’étonne de ce qu’on ne s’étonne pas. Les Français ne s’étonnent jamais assez ; s’étonner c’est reconnaître qu’on ne sait pas tout d’avance, c’est en quelque sorte un aveu de faiblesse, et les aveux de faiblesse ne sont pas le fort des Français. « Vous désirez, monsieur ? – Oui, madame, je désire. » « Vous êtes un particulier ? – Euh… et vous, non ? » Le ton n’est jamais cinglant ni agressif. Hirson vient à la langue française à sa manière inimitable, délicate et délicieuse, tel un Pan flûtiste sur la pointe des pieds. » Nancy Huston Né en 1951, Denis Hirson est anglophone et a grandi en Afrique du Sud. Installé en France depuis 1975, il est aujourd’hui maître de conférences en anglais à l’École Polytechnique et écrivain. Né en 1951 à Cambridge, Denis Hirson a grandi en Afrique du Sud, où il a suivi des études d’anthropologie, avant de s’installer définitivement en France en 1975. Il est aujourd’hui maître de conférence en anglais à l’École Polytechnique et écrivain. La plupart des sept livres qu’il a publiés portent sur la mémoire des années d’apartheid. Order Ma Langue au Chat on Amazon

A humorous and honest account of an ex-pat reporter’s life in the south west of France. Packed with amusing anecdotes and true stories about the characters and places of the region. A must for anybody even thinking about crossing the Channel for the good life in rural France!

Every summer thousands of Brits and other Europeans head to the south west of France for bliss, beauty and freedom. It’s great for a holiday – but what’s it like to actually live and work there? That is what reporter Chris Bockman decided to find out when he set up a Press Agency in Toulouse. His project was doomed (apparently) – he was constantly told by industry sages that nothing goes on there out of season. But he soon discovered that the strange characters, ambitious local politicians, vain sportsmen and yes, badly-behaving foreigners provided more than enough material to keep newsrooms happy.

There are the politicians preaching the benefits of Brexit while living a grand life in France. There is also one village in the Pyrenees where many flock believing when the inevitable end of the world comes, it will be the sole place that will survive. More stories include treasure-seekers convinced of a Catholic Church cover-up, the downright dishonest practices in the truffle markets and other inhabitants of the region who have included ex-terrorists and murderers on the run.

This is an inside look at the peculiarities of human nature and life on the other side of the Channel, with characters and places you’ll love, Are You the Foie Gras Correspondent? is a book for anybody thinking to pull up stakes and moving to where life is “slower-paced” or has a fascination with the true life in France’s southern provincial cities and countryside

By : Chris Bockman

Publisher : Matador
Order The Foie Gras Correspondant on Amazon

Pancakes in Paris by Craig Carlson, Publisher: Sourcebooks.

Imagine going to the planet Mars. The chances of that happening to you are inexistant. Now think about getting in between a grizzly bear sow and her cubs while out hiking the backcountry of Wyoming. Your chances of coming away from that bruin encounter unscathed are slightly better. But slim, very slim indeed. Now ponder starting a food-related business from scratch in France sans funds, sans restaurant experience and for all knowledge of the country’s culture and language consisting of a meager college junior-year-abroad in pretty, provincial Rouen. The chances of coming away from such an entrepreneurial folly are about the same as those of the grizzly attack. Slim, very slim indeed.

Enter Craig Carlson, the pancake kid from Frenchtown USA.
His fantastic story of building Breakfast in America, a trio of American-style diners in Paris, is nothing short of remarkable. Craig prevails but it nearly kills him. In his first book Pancakes in Paris. Living the American Dream in France (a second would be welcome) Monsieur Carlson, laden with a prénom unheard of in the land of the long bread, becoming Craque, Greiig-err, Crec, Greq, or Grack, skillfully and humorously recounts the challenges he faced. And no doubt continues to face — nightmarish contrôleurs, nasty lettres recommandées, kafkaesque employment laws, insane language police leading to numerous panic attacks . Sacré merde !
Sacré bouquin ! This fun and fascinating account of one man’s passion for pancakes, one man’s eternal determination and one man’s huge dose of luck in the City of Light is highly entertaining and will have you headed over to Breakfast in America to enjoy the results. With a little luck of your own you’ll run into “Grack” himself. Review By John Vanden Bos. Order Pancakes on Amazon

Books About Paris

A Paris All Your Own by : Eleanor Brown, Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons

A collection of all-new Paris-themed essays written by some of the biggest names in women’s fiction, including Paula McLain, Therese Anne Fowler, Maggie Shipstead, and Lauren Willig—edited by Eleanor Brown, the New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters and The Light of Paris.

“My time in Paris,” says New York Times–bestselling author Paula McLain (The Paris Wife), “was like no one else’s ever.” For each of the eighteen bestselling authors in this warm, inspiring, and charming collection of personal essays on the City of Light, nothing could be more true. Order A Paris All Your Own on Amazon

My Good Life in France by : Janine Marsh, Publisher : Michael O’Mara Books

One grey dismal day, Janine Marsh was on a trip to northern France to pick up some cheap wine. She returned to England a few hours later having put in an offer on a rundown old barn in the rural Seven Valleys area of Pas de Calais. This was not something she’d expected or planned for. Janine eventually gave up her job in London to move with her husband to live the good life in France. Or so she hoped. While getting to grips with the locals and la vie Française, and renovating her dilapidated new house, a building lacking the comforts of mains drainage, heating, or proper rooms, and with little money and less of a clue, she started to realize there was lot more to her new home than she could ever have imagined. These are the true tales of Janine’s rollercoaster ride through a different culture—one that, to a Brit from the city, was in turns surprising, charming, and not the least bit baffling. Order My Good Life France on Amazon

L’appart, By : David Lebovitz, Publisher : Crown

Author and  chef David Lebovitz continues to mine the rich subject of his evolving ex-Pat life in Paris, using his perplexing experiences in apartment renovation as a launching point for stories about French culture, food, and what it means to revamp one’s life. Includes dozens of new recipes.

When David Lebovitz began the project of updating his apartment in his adopted home city, he never imagined he would encounter so much inexplicable red tape while contending with the famously inconsistent European work ethic and hours. Lebovitz maintains his distinctive sense of humor with the help of his partner Romain, peppering this renovation story with recipes from his Paris kitchen. In the midst of it all, he reveals the adventure that accompanies carving out a place for yourself in a foreign country—under baffling conditions—while never losing sight of the magic that inspired him to move to the City of Light many years ago, and to truly make his home there. Lebovitz’s first book was The Sweet Life Paris. Order L’Appart on Amazon

A moi les petits français! By : Louise Ekland, Publisher : Editions du Rocher

La France et l’Angleterre : les deux « meilleurs ennemis du monde » ? De la guerre de Cent Ans aux épiques matchs de rugby entre les deux nations, on le croirait volontiers. Et pourtant, Français et Anglais s’adorent comme deux frères chahuteurs. De cette rivalité, Louise Ekland – « petite Anglaise » de Liverpool vivant en France, et mariée à un Belge ! – s’amuse. Elle prône l’anti « French bashing ». Son ton pétillant et son humour so British, toujours, font des ravages. Si elle épingle quelques travers hexagonaux, c’est toujours pour mieux saluer la french touch de son pays d’adoption. Bien sûr, elle préfère les Beatles à Johnny et Marks & Spencer à Monoprix. Mais quand Natalie Portman critique la France, Louise Ekland dégaine. Elle défend les vins et la gastronomie française, notre système de santé et notre art de vivre. Louise Ekland, comme elle le dit chaque matin sur Europe 1, a la France chevillée à l’âme et au corps. Pour elle « les Français sont formidables »… Order A moi on Amazon

Uncorked, by : Paul Shore, Publisher : Sea to Sky Books

Ma môme, ell’ joue pas les starlettes
Ell’ met pas des lunettes de soleil
Ell’ pos’ pas pour les magazines
Ell’ travaille en usine
A Créteil
….
On va pas à Saint-Paul-de-Vence
On pass’ tout’s nos vacances
A Saint-Ouen ….

Jean Ferrat «Ma Môme»

Saint Paul de Vence, a picture postcard village near Nice, is a far cry from lugubre Créteil, both physically and culturally.

Saint Paul de Vence: You can imagine the vintage sign at the entrance to town:

Saint Paul de Vence: ses remparts, son pontis, sa tour seigneuriale !

There is the swanky auberge de La Colombe d’Or which houses art works by Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Modigliani, Braque, Léger, and Chagall. Chagall lived in Saint Paul for almost 20 years and is buried in the local cemetary. La Foundation Maeght in Saint Paul is a mega mecca of modern and contemporary art. Numerous writers and cinema stars have frequented le village, among them Jean Giono, Jacques Prévert, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, our own James Baldwin, Lino Ventura and Bernard Blier. Get the picture. An immense world-class cultural heritage.

Onto this stage enters Paul Shore, a 30-something tech wizard working out of Nice’s silicon valley known as Sophia Antipolis. He wants a quiet place to sleep away from the bustle of Nice and ends up renting a cave-like apartment in Saint Paul. The action takes place in 1997 / 1998. His year in Provence in about to begin. The thread he is going to pull in order to make sense of life in the land of the long bread and to become accepted there is a sport many have heard of but few have practiced: la Pétanque.

Paul doesn’t know it yet but playing boules in front of the mythic Café de la Place is unthinkable for any foreigner, let alone a naïve, sophmorific Canadian with very broken French. To say Je parle français comme une vache espagnole would be a stretch for him. And he knows nothing of the game itself. Cochonnets, boule devant, boule d’argent, pointeur, tireur, all Greek to Monsieur Shore.
He’ll learn of course, but not without help, and the help of precious Hue – Bear (Hubert) a quirky neighbor, is key, along with assistance offered by other gentle souls – Geneviève, Simone, Sabine – met along the way. He was very lucky to have met them. And he knows it. His luck and chutzpah will help him break into the arcane French culture, and this transformation to almost-French status, becoming a riverain, is the leitmotif of Uncorked. It is a light-hearted story well told. Puffs of smoke waft through the air. Balls are purchased. Games are won. Pastis consumed. Chagall contemplated.

I should confess I began the book skeptical of being entertained and edified by yet another tale of someone’s year in France. My doubts proved unwarranted. Paul Shore has written with joie de vivre a shining homage to Saint Paul de Vence, her eccentric inhabitants and to the game of Pétanque. You’ll never think of visiting Créteil again. Order Uncorked on Amazon

bonjour-effect

The Bonjour Effect by : Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoît Nadeau, Publisher : Duckworth

Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau spent a decade traveling back and forth to Paris as well as living there. Yet one important lesson never seemed to sink in: how to communicate comfortably with the French, even when you speak their language. In The Bonjour Effect Julie and Jean-Benoit chronicle the lessons they learned after they returned to France to live, for a year, with their twin daughters. They offer up all the lessons they learned and explain, in a book as fizzy as a bottle of the finest French champagne, the most important aspect of all: the French don’t communicate, they converse.

To understand and speak French well, one must understand that French conversation runs on a set of rules that go to the heart of French culture. Why do the French like talking about “the decline of France”? Why does broaching a subject like money end all discussion? Why do the French become so aroused debating the merits and qualities of their own language? Through encounters with school principals, city hall civil servants, old friends and business acquaintances, Julie and Jean-Benoit explain why, culturally and historically, conversation with the French is not about communicating or being nice. It’s about being interesting. After reading The Bonjour Effect, even readers with a modicum of French language ability will be able to hold their own the next time they step into a bistro on the Left Bank. Order The Bonjour Effect on Amazon

expat memoirConfessions of a Paris Party Girl by Vicki Lesage

Vicki Lesage proves daily that raising French kids isn’t as easy as the hype lets on. She penned the Paris Confessions series in between diaper changes and wine refills: Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, Petite Confessions, and Christmas Confessions & Cocktails. She writes about the ups and downs of life in the City of Light at VickiLesage.comOrder Vicki’s books on Amazon

expat memoirsFrench Toast by Harriet Welty-Rochfort

Peter Mayle may have spent a year in Provence, but Harriet Welty Rochefort writes from the experience of over twenty years in Paris. From a small town in Iowa to the City of Lights, Harriet did what so many dream of – she picked up her entire life and moved to France – permanently. But it has not been twenty years of fun and games, Harriet has endured her share of cultural bumps, bruises, and psychic adjustments. In “French Toast”, Harriet makes sense of Parisians and their ever-so-French thoughts on food, money, sex, love, marriage, manners, and much, much more. Order French Toast on Amazon

The Classics:

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

An Englishman à la Campagne: Life in Deepest France by Michael Sadler

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins

A Year in the Merde  and Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke

Flirting With French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander

My Life in France by Julia Child

On Rue Tatin by Susan Hermann Loomis

More expat memoirs

A recent NY Times review of A Parade of Francophiles

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