A Bite Too Far

My wife Val and I spend part of each year in Provence and it’s allowed us to learn the language and appreciate French culture. We knew before we moved there that food and wine are a big part of French life but we didn’t realize quite how big until our neighbor Fabienne gave us a “taste” of real French life. She invited us to her birthday party, which went on and on and on…

Read my funny story about a real French birthday party at A French Collection.

One Tough Lady

She was the most powerful woman in 16th-century Europe, ruling France for nearly 20 years. She brought haute cuisine to the country, created the Tuileries Garden in Paris, and was responsible for one of the bloodiest massacres in French history. People thought she was a sorceress who murdered her enemies. Her name is Catherine de Medici and she was one tough lady.

Read her fascinating story at Frenchly.

11 Fun Traditions from the South of France

France is a country with a lot of traditions, and some of the best come from Provence. You may have seen people there playing pétanque, or heard the story about Saint Martha and the Tarasque. But how about the Blessing of the Truffles? Or the young men in their tight white pants? And don’t forget the great sheep migration!

Read all about these and other fun traditions at Frenchly.

Book Review: (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living

I’ve just finished a gem of a book and would like to share it with you. It’s (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living by Mark Greenside and it is funny as heck. I like to read a book before going to sleep but my wife wouldn’t let me with this one because I kept laughing so hard I was shaking the bed.

Mark is an American who spends every summer in a house he bought in a tiny village in Brittany. Somehow, despite living part-time in France for decades, he has not managed to learn the language. This leads to inevitable mishaps, all of which he describes in a hilarious style. As he puts it, “If you’re lucky, some of the things that happened to me will happen to you. If you’re luckier, they won’t.”

We learn what happens when you accidentally end up in the middle of a combination pig roast / talent show with a busload of elderly French tourists. And what it is like to try and fail (yet again) to prepare a meal that satisfies your French neighbors. There are funny stories about shopping, banking, driving (including a car accident that turns out surprisingly well) and more. Mark has an engaging style that allows him to tell these and other stories with humor and humility.

As someone who lives part-time in France myself, I think that Mark has done an especially good job at describing the cultural differences between France and the United States. And I was touched when he talked about his French friends, people with whom he can barely have a conversation, yet who have become “people I care about and who care about me.”

If you are looking for a book about France that is thoughtful, heartfelt and really, really funny, this is one you won’t want to miss. Highly recommended.

Synopsis

Every year upon arriving in Plobien, the small Breton town where he spends his summers, American writer Mark Greenside picks back up where he left off with his faux pas–filled Francophile life. Mellowed and humbled, but not daunted (OK, slightly daunted), he faces imminent concerns: What does he cook for a French person? Who has the right-of-way when entering or exiting a roundabout? Where does he pay for a parking ticket? And most dauntingly of all, when can he touch the tomatoes?

Despite the two decades that have passed since Greenside’s snap decision to buy a house in Brittany and begin a bi-continental life, the quirks of French living still manage to confound him. Continuing the journey begun in his 2009 memoir about beginning life in France, (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living details Greenside’s daily adventures in his adopted French home, where the simplest tasks are never straightforward but always end in a great story. Through some hits and lots of misses, he learns the rules of engagement, how he gets what he needs―which is not necessarily what he thinks he wants―and how to be grateful and thankful when (especially when) he fails, which is more often than he can believe.

Introducing the English-speaking world to the region of Brittany in the tradition of Peter Mayle’s homage to Provence, Mark Greenside’s first book, I’ll Never Be French, continues to be among the bestselling books about the region today. Experienced Francophiles and armchair travelers alike will delight in this new chapter exploring the practical and philosophical questions of French life, vividly brought to life by Greenside’s humor and affection for his community.

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living  is available at Amazon.

Literature Meets French Politics

When you think of politicians, you don’t often think of literature. Yes, there are famous examples like Winston Churchill and Barack Obama, but those are exceptions. Most politicians are much more comfortable with a white paper in their hands than a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

Which makes former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls so interesting. He is fluent in four languages and reads in all of them. He was recently interviewed about the role that literature has played in both his personal and professional life–fascinating!

You can read my article about the interview at My French Life.

13 French Expressions That’ll Make You Sound Like You’re from Provence

Every country has expressions that are confusing to foreigners. For example, if you told a French person “that’s in the ballpark,” they would wonder why you were talking about a sports stadium.

So what does it mean when a French person says “Il est fada“? Not every French person could tell you, because that expression comes from Provence. I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite Provençal expressions.

Read all about them at Frenchly.

The Hottest Ticket in Paris

The Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-Provence is one of the area’s top tourist attractions. It’s a totally immersive sound and light show with a cultural purpose. Recent shows have explored the work of artists like Picasso, Chagall and Van Gogh.

It has been such a success that a sister site has opened in Paris, the Atelier des Lumières, and it’s one of the hottest tickets in town. Don’t miss it if you travel to Paris!

Read all about this great new Paris attraction in Frenchly.

“Paris was not itself!”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of May, 1968, when strikes and student protests nearly brought down the French government. I recently talked to three people who participated in or lived through these tumultuous times about their experiences. At the time, one was a French university student, another a French factory worker, and the third an American grad student doing research for his PhD. Their three different perspectives are fascinating.

You can read the entire article at Frenchly.

Franco-American Cultural Differences: An Insider’s Perspective

For the last ten years, my wife Val and I have split our time between California and France. And we’ve observed a great many cultural differences between the two countries…

I recently gave two talks on the subject – one to a French group and one to an American one. Four of these cultural differences generated a lot of discussion.

You can read my article on the subject at My French Life.

Vive la différence !