Almost French – Click here to buy this book
Sarah Turnbull, an Australian independent backpacker, meets Frédéric, a working Parisian lawyer, in Bucharest. She accepts his invitation to visit Paris for two weeks and subsequently, returns for a lifetime.
Ms. Turnbull tells her story of adapting to French culture and of being adopted and seduced by it in a vivid, honest and humorous manner. Not all is well with Sarah and Frédéric at the start. Living versus visiting in a culture with its frustrations, humiliations, adventures and excitement involves a commitment – in this case reflecting a possible long-term relationship – that can hardly resort to abandonment at the first, second or even third signs of struggle.
Here is a sample of Sarah Turnbull’s style.
Having arrived at her first Parisian dinner party on a motorcyle in a bitter wind and hailstorm with only “five petals clinging heroically to the tulip stems,” Frédéic attempts to explain Sarah’s “crumpled, frozen and forlorn” appearance as “the expert explaining the exhibit.”
At the time France decided to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific, Sarah met Frédéric’s extended family for the first time. When the conversation turned to the subject of Australians loudly protesting the French, the host’s social charm degenerated rapidly.
“Les australiens sont chiants!” Frédéric’s uncle roared.
“LES AUSTRALIENS SONT CHIANTS.”
Confused, I turned to Frédéric. He looked pained, focusing on a snail cruising around the garden bed, envying, no doubt, its peaceful endeavour.
“Umm, my uncle said that you Australians are shitty. They didn’t mean to be unfriendly,” began Frédéric, reluctanly recast in his meat-in-the-sandwich role.
I found Ms. Turnbull’s account of fashion tiresome and lengthy. Yet, fashion is a definable characteristic of the French. So is food – as well as a few other trademarks which the author covers thoroughly with a detective eye for the raison d’être of their actions and behavior.
There is no sense of indifference to France. It is a country that demands your attention, at times touting a misplaced standard of perfection. The French are peculiar to outsiders unwilling to decipher their code. Ms. Turnbull reads them and provides valuable knowledge into the psyche of the French mind. At a time when relations between France and the United States are strained, Ms. Turnbull’s book is timely, relevant and a means to understanding a culture intent on setting itself apart.