Heartwarming Tales from France

Have you ever dreamed of chucking it all, leaving the big city behind, and moving to a charming little village in France? That’s exactly what Janine Marsh and her husband Mark have done, but the path they took was anything but straightforward.

One day some years ago, while on a booze-buying trip from London, they somehow bought an old wreck of a house in France’s Seven Valleys region. It’s a hilarious story, and Janine tells it brilliantly in her book My Good Life in France. Over the years, she and Mark have fixed up the house, adopted a shocking number of animals (including 72 chickens at last count), and settled into their village in “middle-of-nowhere France.”

Janine continued their story in My Four Seasons in France and now she’s back with more heartwarming tales in her latest terrific book, the soon-to-be-published Toujours la France!

If you’d like to know what life is really like in a rural French village, this is the book for you. There’s not a lot of entertainment, unless you count the snail races, but there is a strong sense of community, with neighbors always willing to lend a hand to one other. And there are, of course, endless cups of coffee to share the latest gossip.

The book is full of funny stories, like the dinner party where a neighbor tries to get Janine and Mark to taste his special holiday rum. Another neighbor warns them off. “For heaven’s sake don’t drink it,” she says. “You will miss Christmas if you do and most likely have to go to the doctor.” Mark foolishly takes the tiniest of sips and is rendered mute, his mouth so numb he can’t taste his food.

Janine and Mark are often a source of amusement for the village, as on the bitterly cold day when their water stopped running. They determined that an uninsulated pipe in the roof had frozen, so Mark got up on a ladder and removed a few tiles, while Janine plugged in a hair dryer so he could heat up the frozen section. One villager after another came by to see what was happening, and soon the whole village was abuzz about les anglais “who are blow drying their house.”

The book is packed with fun facts about France, like the reason why people clink their glasses before drinking (it has to do with fear of poisoning back in medieval times.) And that it is considered unlucky to have a dinner with 13 people—if you do, the waiter might put an egg on the table to represent a 14th. And that France invented the online sex chat!

As the book ends, Janine reflects on how she and Mark have become perhaps not natives, but awfully darned close. And how lucky they are to have settled in the part of France “where people have sunshine in their hearts.”

Highly recommended.

My New Book!

Val and I live part of the year in the charming village of St-Rémy-de-Provence. It’s in a delightful spot at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains, between Avignon and Arles. There are lots of great things to see and do in the area.

I’ve just had a new guidebook published, An Insider’s Guide to St-Rémy-de-Provence and the Surrounding Area. It’s the first guidebook dedicated just to this part of Provence, so I think it fills a need.

If you have friends who will be coming this way, please let them know about my book! It’s available on Amazon.

18 Curious Facts about Provence

Did you know that a sardine once blocked the port of Marseille?

Or that seven different popes once lived in Avignon? (not counting Pope Joan)

Or that a Provençal town once passed a law banning UFOs…and none have landed since?

These are just a few of the fun facts that are in my new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Read all about it in Frenchly!

An Insider’s Guide to Provence

I am thrilled that my new book has just been published! It’s a guide to all the “insider secrets” that Val and I have discovered during our years of living in Provence.

An Insider’s Guide to Provence has our favorite restaurants, wineries, outdoor markets, picnic spots, hiking and biking trails, you name it. There is dining advice for the gluten-intolerant, vegans, and vegetarians, and special sections on Roman Provence and Jewish Provence. And with hundreds of links to maps and websites, it is perfect for the on-the-go traveler.

Here’s what others have to say…

A must-have for every visitor looking for local advice”–Carolyne Kauser-Abbott, Perfectly Provence 

A super add on to any general guidebook of the area”–Janine Marsh, The Good Life France.

“You will not be disappointed with this modern guidebook—it is a bottomless treasure!”–Judy MacMahon, MyFrenchLife 

“If you’re looking for an expert guide to show you the ins and outs of beautiful Provence, look no further”–Tuula Rampont, Belle Provence Travels

“I’ll be using this guide every time I go back to France”–Janice Chung, France Travel Tips

“A must-read for anyone planning a trip to Provence”–Annette Charlton, A French Collection

An Insider’s Guide to Provence is the perfect gift for the Provence lover in your life, and is available from Amazon as a paperback or e-book.

I hope you enjoy it!

The Greatest Books of the 20th Century–As Seen from France

What are the greatest books of the 20th century? Americans might say To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. The British might push for Ulysses and Brave New World. But what do the French think?

That’s easy to answer, because a giant survey was done a few years ago on exactly this topic, ranking the 100 best books of the 20th century. It should come as no surprise that French classics The Stranger and In Search of Lost Time topped the list. But it might surprise you that French authors made up only half the list. There were plenty of books by authors from the US, UK, Italy, Russia…even Albania!

Learn what the French think about literature, and find out why this list was controversial, in France Today!

Finding That Perfect French Novel

Are you looking for a great new book to read? Then consider trying a French novel. Books that have won the prestigious Prix Goncourt (Goncourt Prize) are a good place to start because most have been translated into English. Some have even become movies, like The Perfect Nanny and The Life Ahead, recently made into a Netflix film starring Sophia Loren.

What’s not to like about the Goncourt? It’s got class! (winners include Simone de Beauvoir and Marcel Proust.) It’s got controversy! (non-winners include Albert Camus and Colette.) And sometimes the prize committee gets hoodwinked, like the time they awarded the Goncourt to an author that didn’t exist.

Find your next great read at France Today!

Fun Stories from France

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Annette Charlton, part-time Frenchwoman and the author of a delightful new book, A French Life.

Some years ago, Annette and her husband bought a house in a small village in Brittany. This, you might think, is not particularly unusual. But they bought the house on their first-ever trip to France. And they live in Australia. All right, you think, this is not your run-of-the-mill couple.

Annette is the publisher of A French Collection, where she writes about all things French. And she occasionally writes funny stories about her life in France. She has now collected these blog posts into a slim volume that I very much enjoyed reading.

Annette begins with a straightforward question—how do you buy a house on your first trip to a country? While others might choose a different path, preferring to visit a few times first, the method she lays out will profit anyone thinking of buying a home abroad.

Then Annette starts telling funny stories about the life that she, her husband, and their three kids live in France. She describes an unusual French specialty, chocolate sausage. She tells how she once accidentally invited an elderly priest for a visit, then had to entertain him when neither spoke the other’s language. And she asks the vital question, what is the proper French etiquette when someone’s hair catches on fire?

Whether you buy this book, read the stories on her blog, or just dip into A French Collection from time to time, I guarantee you’ll enjoy getting to know Annette and her family.

You can purchase A French Life here.

 

Resources to Help You Read in French

One of the best ways to improve your French is by reading. Unlike spoken French, which can sometimes be too fast to understand, reading allows you to go at your own pace. It adds to your vocabulary and can help your pronunciation if you read out loud. No matter what your level of French, reading is a fun and effective way to get better at this beautiful language.

But where to start? I’ve put together a list of excellent resources for readers at any level, from debutantes to advanced. It’s never too late to get started!

Check out my article at My French Life to find some fun things to read!

Fun French Humor: Toto Jokes

With all the craziness in the world today, who couldn’t use some laughs? Let me introduce you to Toto, a little scamp who has been the subject French humor for over 100 years.

Toto is the archetypical naughty schoolboy, always causing trouble and exasperating grownups. Toto jokes usually revolve around school, homework, and talking back to adults. The jokes are short and are popular among elementary school children. Their innocence and simplicity are refreshing!

Check out these Toto jokes, first in French and then in English, in My French Life!

A Delightful Trip to Middle-of-Nowhere France

Oh boy, I love books about France and this is one of the best.

France is full of fascinating places to visit, like Paris, Provence, the Riviera, Normandy, and more. There are so many that it’s hard to decide where to go! Well, it just got harder because Janine Marsh’s description of her tiny village in “middle-of-nowhere-France” is so delightful that you’ll want to go there, too. I know I do.

Fifteen years ago, Janine and her husband Mark bought a wreck of a house in the Seven Valleys region of northern France. They didn’t plan to buy a house; they were on a shopping trip from their home in London and stumbled into a real estate office to get out of the rain. The next thing they knew they were looking at a place that cost “less than a Hermes handbag.” They bought it as a bit of a lark, thinking it would make a nice place for vacations and the occasional weekend getaway.

But life had other plans. The little village captured their hearts and soon they packed up and moved to France. The next dozen years were spent refurbishing the house (including a septic tank explosion that earned Janine the nickname Madame Merde), collecting a vast collection of farm animals (including a demented chicken named Ken) and settling into the local community.

Janine and Mark are those rarest of birds, expats who have really become members of a French village. They drink at a local bar that looks like someone’s living room circa 1955. They play charades with their neighbors, where everyone fights to play Johnny Holliday or Edith Piaf. They chat with the bread delivery man—their village is too tiny to support a boulangerie—who occasionally has questions about English (“What means the expression, ‘It sucks?’”)

The best part of the book is the way Janine writes about of her neighbors, a friendly and occasionally eccentric crew who have welcomed Janine and Mark with great warmth. There’s Jean-Claude, who teaches them how to trim hedges and make crow pâté. And Claudette, always ready with a hot cup of coffee and a plate of something tasty. And “Miss Pepperpot,” the tiny lady who occasionally needs help getting wayward cows out of her flowerbed, and offers jars of homemade jam as thanks.

I love Janine’s writing and laughed when she described a young couple falling in love over a shared passion for mushroom hunting (“one fungi led to another…”) And her description of a strong local drink (“Calvados can blow your socks off, and after a couple of hours we were all pretty much sockless.”)

If you are stuck at home and looking for something to brighten your day, think about taking a trip to this delightful corner of France. I just loved this book and I think you will, too.

You can find My Four Seasons in France on Amazon.