6 Books You Must Read Before Going To France
The stereotype of the French is that they are stinky, rude and have a predilection for bad comedy, but they are also elegant, thin and have a predilection for fine art and good literature.
The French are nothing if not an enigma — a study in paradoxes. How can one wear the latest Balmain creation yet go out sans deodorant? Truth be told, the French are far more complicated than the sum of their stereotypes.
When I studied abroad in Paris I learned it’s not that they are smelly, it’s that Americans are obsessed with hygiene. The French aren’t rude, we’re just too smiley. See? It’s all about perception. Having said that, whether you plan on living, studying or just visiting France, you might want to study up on what makes the French tick. To help you out, try reading one or all of the following books. You know, so you don’t come across as a boorish American or anything like that.
1) 50 Reasons to Hate the French by Jules Eden and Alex Clarke
Just in case you’re not sure if you love or hate the French, Jules Eden and Alex Clarke give you 50 hilarious reasons to detest them. Using history to illustrate many of their points, the duo delve into the literature, art and politics of France. From Depardieu to the lack of reverence for time, you’ll find yourself disliking those frog eaters, until you realize you still want to see the Eiffel Tower and croissants taste pretty dame good.
2) French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France by Polly Platt
When you’re in France, there may be many times when you wonder whether someone is being purposely rude to you or whether they are just being French. Polly Platt tackles the stereotype of the “rude Frenchmen” head on by explaining the differences in our cultural attitudes and mannerisms to make your stay in France oh-so-pleasant.
So when the waiter is ignoring you during your next meal, you’ll now know that it’s not because he is secretly plotting against Americans, but because he wants you to take your time and enjoy your meal.
3) Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
If you’ve ever wondered why there is no French version of Barney the purple dinosaur or why Café de Flore is the height of chic while Les Deux Magots is the equivalent of a public toilet, this is the book you need to read.
With a splash of humor, a dollop of personal anecdotes and a whole lot of love for the French, Adam Gopnik’s essays are an intellectual take on the most simple of French habits, including their obsession with striking. You may not approve when the métro you need to get to the Champs-Elysees is no longer running, but at least you’ll understand. Sort of.
4) Dirty French: Everyday Slang from “What’s Up?” to “F*%# Off!” (Dirty Everyday Slang by Adrian Clautrier
In light of all this newfound understanding, you may find yourself making friends or wanting to flirt it up with a Frenchie. Throwing out some slang will let the other party know you’re hip to French culture. Gems like “I feel like partying (Je suis d’humeur a faire la tete), or “Damn girl your body is banging” (Oh cousine, chaud devant) will get you in the French fray in no time.
Or in spite of all this fabulous understanding you may acquire, you may still need to tell someone in no uncertain times to mind their own business. Since you’re in France, it’s only fitting you should be able to potentially curse someone out in their own language. This way they will actually understand you and you can still remain unfailingly polite for speaking in the local language.
5) French Women Don’t get Fat by Mireille Guilano
If a year studying abroad and living with a French family taught me anything, it’s that the French love food like Americans love football and artificial sweetener. The reason most French women (and men) don’t get fat is because they don’t stuff their faces 24/7. And when they do, it’s not with a bag of BBQ potato chips.
The French don’t just eat — they savor. They dine. A meal is a three-hour affair that just happens to accompany a rousing debate about politics or which boulangerie has the best bread. Mireille Guilano goes into all of this with great detail, allowing even the junkiest of eaters to revamp their habits. Read this and you’ll understand how and why the French women can eat chocolate all the time and still look like Brigitte Bardot.
6) A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Who hasn’t thought of leaving it all behind and running off to France? I certainly have. Oh wait, I did do that. Armed with dreamy visions of fresh brie cheese, gothic cathedrals and men with French accents sweeping me off my feet, I said no to another year of frat parties and Natty Light for the beauty of France.
Then reality hit. In my case it was in the form of dog poo on the sidewalks. In the case of Peter Mayle, it was namely in the form of a freezing winter, nosy neighbors and French bureaucracy. But through it all, Mayle tells the story with a light-hearted affection for his adopted country capturing the more comical aspects of everyday French life. At the end, you can’t help but love the French.
By Rachel Khona
About the Author
Rachel has served as contributing editor for Vaga and has written for Cosmopolitan, Inked and Ask Men. She is currently working on a memoir about being raised by a conservative Indian family, swindling European cab drivers and scaling glaciers. Find out more about Rachel at RachelKhona.com or follow her on Twitter at @RachelKhona.