France, and most commonly Paris, seems to seduce its visitors in a way that leaves them always craving more. The "je ne sais quoi" that this country coined effects people so much that there is an entire section of the bookstore dedicated to it. From memoirs to guidebooks, fiction and nonfiction, there is no shortage of publications on France, the French, and how to understand them. The desire to "be French" or to figure out a way to fit in is a popular topic.
Being both a francophone and francophile after living in France myself, I have amassed quite the collection of these books myself. I first started buying ones on parenting that discussed the difference between the French and Americans. Then Amazon started recommending others that were just books about living in France. Some were educational, some were romantic, but my favorites are memoirs of other peoples experiences living there. Although the theme is the same, their stories are all unique and contain little morsels of information to help others navigate the culture. It was entertaining and heartwarming to learn some of my struggles when living abroad were similar to those of other people, and serve as a type of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" for me when I was missing my second home.
Here is a list of the ones I have read (and reread) the most and believe anyone can appreciate: whether dreaming of visiting France one day, in search of guidance on to how to acclimate, or just generally miss being there as I do. Some are for foodies, others target parents, and one, in particular, does such a great job of decoding the culture that I recommend my Rotary exchange students read it before they leave for France on their year abroad. If you choose to purchase any of these books, you can click on the image of it to get redirected to Amazon. Let me know if you want more book suggestions as this is just a small selection of the ones I have read over the years!
For Dreamers & Foodies
Lunch in Paris (2010) - I have read (and listened to on audio) this book several times. I will never get sick of it and have rebought it as gifts for others. The author, Elizabeth Bard, has a great story and writes about it in a way that makes you feel like you know her. She is a New York City girl that met and eventually married a French man while she was abroad. They have a son, built a business together and now live in Provence. She is honest, humble and real. She centers her stories around food, and the best part is that she includes recipes at the end of each chapter that represents a significant moment or memory of her story. Every recipe that I have made from her book has been delicious, especially her lentil recipe which I now know by heart! Even if you choose not to read the book, it is worth buying for the recipes!
Picnic in Provence (2015) - This is Elizabeth Bard's follow up to Lunch in Paris. On the audio version, she is the reader and has a very soothing voice. It is wonderful for all the same reasons as her first book. In this memoir, she recounts her pregnancy with their first child, what brought them to Provence and how they ended up opening a successful glacerie (ice cream shop) named Scaramouch. She again includes recipes at the end of each chapter. In the summer of 2016, my husband and I went to Provence for a friends wedding. We were within an hour of the town Céreste, where Elizabeth and her husband live and planned to go there one afternoon. I reached out to her before our trip to see if she if she would be in town but unfortunately, Elizabeth was in the USA at that time to promote her third book "Dîner Chez Moi." I would have loved to have met her, and had her sign my book, but at least I got to see the town I have read about so many times, as well as enjoy some delicious ice cream from her shop!
Bonjour Kale (2016) - Kristen Beddard has a truly fascinating story. She is the reason you can find kale in Paris today. I felt connected to her right away because I realized we are about the same age, we lived in France around the same time, and she went to the same college as our daughter. Kristen is an American girl married to an English man that found herself living in Paris when her husbands work required them to relocate to France for five years. Upon moving there she read some of the books about living in France that are listed here. What makes her story incredible is that she did not speak the language nor know anyone in the country, but ultimately left a mark on the entire culture! I am so impressed by her and enjoyed learning about how she followed her passion, overcame many obstacles, conquered her fears and grew as a person. I am inspired by how she created a blog, The Kale Project, and turned it into a career. It was a happy accident that I started reading her book just as I launched my own blog. She also includes recipes at the end of every chapter, most including kale. I buy kale regularly but my use of it has been limited to blending it into smoothies or sauteing it for omelets and other dishes. I learned a lot about kale in reading this and realized its potential. After I finished her book, I spent the weekend making several of the recipes and plan to make many of them again. My favorites are the Kale Soup, Kale "sushi" Rolls, Tuna Carpaccio, and Kale Spread. Kristen now lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.
Paris My Sweet (2012) - Amy Thomas has an insatiable sweet tooth that has guided her through every NYC bakery and chocolate boutique, and then onto becoming an expert on Parisienne confisionneries. Her story is a little different than the previously mentioned books because she did not move to Paris to be with the man she loved, but for a career she loved. Her story was a refreshing new perspective for me to read since she is single and in her mid-thirties trying to navigate the language, culture, dating scene and workforce with little to no help nor friends to pass the time with. I especially love that she touches on reverse culture shock when she comes home to visit after six months of living in Paris. It is a feeling that is difficult to describe to others and even harder to comprehend unless experienced first hand. Her story kept me intrigued until the very end in wondering if she will decide on Paris or NY? Will she ultimately find love? You will have to read to find out; the ending may surprise you!
For les Mamans
Bringing Up Bebe (2012) - This is a classic book I give to my friends that are becoming mothers for the first time. It was also the first parenting book I read after I met my husband and knew I would be an instant parent to three children ranging in ages from 1 to 14. Pamela Druckerman is an American living in Paris that tells her story of conceiving and raising children in a country and culture she does not understand. She has some very funny comparisons of French vs American styles of parenting and pregnany that can make us laugh at ourselves for overthinking basic logic, or realize we get too caught up in keeping up.
French Twist (2013)- This is another great book for moms as it is written by an American mother raising children in France. Catherine Crawford gives advice on best practices of the French parenting style versus American and tells how it changed the dynamic of her family. The setting is in the Brittany region of France which offers a much different day to day perspecive than Paris. Her story has a strong focus on food in that it shows how she was able to get her children to be more adventurous eaters, patient, and not to use food as a quick fix for boredom.
French Kids Eat Everything (2012) - Karen Le Billon is a Canadian mother that moved to France to be closer to her husbands family. I was intrigued by this book as I am a very adventurous eater and wanted my kids to be the same way. It gives me great pride that we can take our children anywhere (friends houses, restaurants, other countries) without having to worry about what is served, kid menus or give them something separate for dinner than what the adults are having. I realize that food allergies prevent some families from this luxury, and I am forever grateful that we are fortunate our children do not have any. This book is ideal if you are in need of guidance on children that are picky eaters. I have also given this as a gift to new mothers and it is the second book I read after Bringing Up Bebe. Whenever asked how our children became such foodies, I reference this book!
For Expats and Exchange Students
The Bonjour Effect (2016) - Different from the other titles I have listed, this book is written by a married couple, offering both perspectives of a man and woman. They are French Canadian and have spent a significant amount of time living in France, as well as other French-speaking countries. Already understanding the language, they surpassed that initial struggle and wrote this book with the intent of decoding the culture for others – because the ability to speak the language is not necessarily enough to successfully navigate all situations. After writing their books, "Sixty Million Frenchman Can't Be Wrong" and "The Story of French," also written to aid readers in understanding the complexities of the French, they realized that there was more still to discover. With their adopted twin daughters they moved back to Paris, as a family this time, getting an entirely new education on living in the City of Light. Jean-Benoit and Julie include many of their own experiences but also a lot of facts, statistics, and research from studies, as well as history, that explain the little nuances of the French way of life. They cover everything, from politics and business practices to the education system and social norms, that contradicts what is ingrained in North Americans making it difficult to realize why and how things get lost in translation. The rules of making conversation in France are opposed to how we break the ice on this side of the Atlantic. This book is a must-have resource for anyone moving to France, visiting for an extended period, or doing business with les francais, especially if they have no basis of the language or culture.
Almost French (2002) - Sarah Turnbull is an Australian that met a French man by chance and followed him to Paris. Again, I will ever tire of this book and have recommended it time and time again to others. I actually prefer listening to it because I love the readers' voice and it is a great way to spend a long drive. Although it is a bit dated, (she was living in France and searching for work before the convenience of cell phones and internet) this story makes me laugh out loud multiple times. Her struggles with trying to make friends, learn the language, find work, and generally fit in are hilarious, relatable, and educational for anyone in an expat situation. I especially love the part where she tells of getting a puppy and how it consequently opened up another part of the French culture to her. Another thing I appreciate about her story is what I learn about Australia. I have never been there but her description of it makes me want to visit!
My husband and I love to travel. We have our favorite places, like Nantucket, France and Disney's Epcot, but we love discovering new ones too. We have vowed to visit a new country every year, as well as discover a new place within our own continent. Together we have visited; France, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Luxembourg, Italy, Monaco, Morocco, Jamaica, Aruba, Bermuda, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Grand Cayman, Canada, Mexico, Panama, The Netherlands, and Sweden. Our next destination - TBT!