BOOK CLUB | Five Memoirs About Moving to France



One of the unexpected benefits of moving countries is that I get a lot of recommendations on books written by other expats about their experiences, and as someone who's never really been into the whole "memoir" genre, it's been a nice change to pick one up every few weeks. While a lot of them follow the "I met a charming French man and now we live happily ever after" narrative, here are five of the memoirs that I've read recently - and might provide a bit of inspiration if you're thinking of moving abroad...

I'm not sure whether this is more of a memoir or a parenting guide; probably more so the latter, but I'm going to include it in here anyway. I'd been meaning to read this book since before I was even pregnant, as a nanny hoping to find out the secret to getting kids to behave like the little schoolgirls from Madeline (luckily the kids I did end up looking after were incredibly well behaved without too much help from me!). This book details Druckerman's experience as an American expat raising three children in France with her British husband and follows along as she tries to find out exactly why French children have the reputation of being so well behaved and sage. I thought this book was interesting (and gave me a bit of a head start on understanding what's involved in raising a child here) but I don't think Druckerman comes off particularly well in it - she seems pretty snarky on any parent who doesn't fit into her idea of what a thin, glamorous French mother should be, her anecdotes mainly focus on rich upper-middle-class Parisians (so, not super relatable for anyone who falls outside that category), and for all her praise about the French way of parenting, she chooses really odd things to fixate on and complain about - like the fact that kids here eat chocolate in a baguette for their goĆ»ter (afternoon snack)... just eat ya damn chocolate sandwich and enjoy it, you know? Maybe I should report back in a few months to let you know how useful the parenting tips are... until then I'll withhold my judgement on that aspect and let you decide for yourself!
{I was a bit confused because I own FCDTF as a hard copy and Bringing Up Bebe on my Kindle - Bringing Up Bebe is the title of the US release, but the same book overall!}

Oops, another parenting one snuck in... but this one is a much lighter read than French Children Don't Throw Food (although the name makes me cringe! I just hate the word 'potty'). Again, this book deals with an expat mother (and a French father this time) raising children in Paris, but it's a much more humorous take and didn't give me anxiety about the pressure to raise a perfectly behaved child. This is actually a sequel to Confessions of a Party Girl in Paris, of which I downloaded the sample but never got around to actually buying the book, but they both have a fast, conversational tone and Lesange seems like someone I would go and get a drink with.It's not as dense on the hows and whys of parenting like FCDTF but way more entertaining - if you want to know the deal with raising kids in France but aren't too fussed on reading about the pedagogy and philosophy behind it, this might be more up your alley.

SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS | Samantha Verant
I'll be totally honest here - on the first read I thought this was fiction and so I was really confused about why there was so much time dedicated to detailing the process of applying for a visa abroad (and almost an equal amount of space discussing the process of declaring bankruptcy?). Even though it's true, the story is ultra cliche - twenty years after meeting handsome Frenchman Jean-Luc, he and Verant reconnect over a magical French holiday and the rest is history. Honestly, I wasn't a huge fan of this book - it was so cheesy, even for me who doesn't mind a bit of the ol' fromage - BUT I did really enjoy the follow-up, How to Make a French Family. This goes into more detail about V's life in France (in a small country town, which made a nice change from the ultra-glamorous Paris lifestyle touted in most of the other books) and how she deals with becoming a stepmother and navigating her way through a foreign country. It's still a bit cheesy, but a little sprinkling rather than a fat, oozy amount. I wouldn't say you necessarily have to read them in order, so do yourself a favour and go straight to How to Make a French Family. It even includes some French recipes which I can vouch for - quite simple and very tasty.

This book wasn't a light, whimsical read like most of the others on the list; this memoir definitely goes into more explicit details on the struggles of moving to a foreign country, beyond "Omg I accidentally said the word for blowjob when I meant straw" (which, seriously, happens in almost all of the moving-to-France books I've read, fiction or non-fiction. Hasn't happened to me yet, though!). I wouldn't say it's a depressing read by any means but I was a bit taken aback - and impressed - with how brutally honest Beddington was about the city of love not living up to her expectations. Unlike the other memoirs, which I found tend to gloss over difficult subjects (or at least try to put a humorous spin on them), Beddington is pretty frank in her discussion of things like divorce, abortion and depression. It was really interesting to read a memoir by someone who had the strength to admit that perhaps they had made wrong decisions and I really appreciated the honesty of this book. If you're looking for a moving abroad memoir that's a little outside the norm then this is one I'd definitely recommend picking up.

ALMOST FRENCH | Sarah Turnbull
For me this is the OG of moving abroad memoirs - I first read it when I was in high school before I'd even ever considered a trip to Paris, before I'd heard of Serge Gainsbourg, before I'd even watched Amelie, when all my knowledge about Paris came from Moulin Rouge! (and to a lesser extent, certain songs from Les Miserables). I didn't like it so much then, probably because I couldn't really relate to it but I also found it a little clunky to read? I think the 'clunkiness' comes from being around people who, if they speak English, tend to speak it a bit more formally - no contractions, no slang, etc. So that I can get past, reading it now. I do think that in the book, Turnbull seems to have a bit of an "oh, poor me, things are sooo hard" attitude happening, which can get a little bit grating - but overall, I think it's a pretty accurate account of moving abroad, and especially of moving abroad while navigating a new relationship, trying to find friends, and trying to find work and remain independent - the scenes where she describes just sitting around waiting for her boyfriend to come home rang a little too close for home (especially since I've been on maternity leave and feel way too exhausted/bloated/generally pregnant to leave the house). And it was so great to read a memoir by an Australian, too! The descriptions of heading home to Australia for holidays made me feel a little bit homesick, along with the descriptions of the little things Turnbull misses about Australia (good spicy food, fish and chips, the beach...). One scene that stuck with me from my very first reading, years and years ago, was the description of having to eat a maggot-encrusted piece of Camembert cheese, so just for the peace of mind of anyone reading, I have NOT had to do that yet to prove my worth as a resident... but at least I'm prepared for the possibility.

So there you go! This really is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to memoirs by expats in France, but for better or worse, these are the most memorable ones I've read so far. If you have any more recommendations I'd love to hear them!


QuickEdit
Tara
0 Comments

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment! x

I'm a freelance writer who blogs about Perth (my old home), Paris (my new home), fashion, food, and everything else that takes my fancy. Have a look around and enjoy!