Generally, I tend to read memoirs about places I want to visit or historical periods in different countries. I’m not exactly sure how Almost French by Sarah Turnbull ended up on my reading list. Perhaps a friend recommended it or it showed up in a Goodreads email. Regardless of how it crossed my path, I’m happy it did.
I visited Paris for a quick one week vacation several years ago and was wowed by the beautiful architecture and incredibly fashionable crowd, but I did little to experience the culture beyond tourism. Almost French is the story of Sarah, a sarcastic Aussi, who ends up going to France to meet a boy whom she’s only interacted with briefly in person. In typical love story fashion, they fall in love and she moves to France full time to be with him.
“ ‘It’s a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures,’ he’s said. ‘It’s a curse to love two countries.’ “
Seeing how this is a true story, it avoids the boring “and they lived happily ever after” ending. Instead, the story starts here. For me, Sarah’s story is extremely relatable. Even though I’ve never tried to fit in with Parisians, I have experienced a big culture gap in other parts of the world. Her story is filled with hilarious faux pas like how she laughs too loud at dinner parties and not getting her dog groomed often enough.
What I really love about this book is how the chapters are broken up into categories of the most French things that exist. As a journalist, she enters the exclusive world of French fashion and haute couture. She gets a prized pure bred puppy and elaborates on the canine culture in Paris. A whole chapter is dedicated just to French cooking and dinner party etiquette.
“The thing is, the French are highly sensitive to aesthetic. Anything unattractive… can make them uncomfortable. It spoils the lovely scenery. They become irritable. Unwell, as Frederic put it… Catch me on a good day and I can look soignee and stylish. But on a bad day, racing through the streets with wild hair and flying laces, I must leave a trail of “unwell” Parisians in my wake.”
What’s best is her personal experience with each. There’s a look of absolute astonishment from her boyfriend when she wears sweatpants to the store. There’s her lack of knowing how to throw a five course dinner party and being too drunk to remember the salads. And best of all, she somehow ends up seeing a dog therapist in lieu of a trainer.
“…I’ve never heard of a dog not knowing they’re a dog… But my pup is apparently so maladjusted she doesn’t even know what she is. Not even pubescent yet, she’s already going through an identity crisis…I stare at my pea-brained mutt, suddenly feeling sorry for her. How should I break the news? With stick figure illustrations of four-legged and two-legged creatures?”
Despite her constant struggle in a vastly different culture, she still loves the place she now calls home. France seems to challenge her every step of the way, but at some point she stops caring what others think of her. She adapts the parts of the culture she likes, and dismisses those she doesn’t, like not being able to laugh loudly at a joke. Through it all, she becomes French… almost.
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.