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Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris

3.6 31
by Sarah Turnbull

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The charming true story of a spirited young woman who finds adventure--and the love of her life--in Paris.

"This isn't like me. I'm not the sort of girl who crosses continents to meet up with a man she hardly knows. Paris hadn't even been part of my travel plan..."

A delightful, fresh twist on the travel memoir, Almost French takes us on a tour that is fraught


The charming true story of a spirited young woman who finds adventure--and the love of her life--in Paris.

"This isn't like me. I'm not the sort of girl who crosses continents to meet up with a man she hardly knows. Paris hadn't even been part of my travel plan..."

A delightful, fresh twist on the travel memoir, Almost French takes us on a tour that is fraught with culture clashes but rife with deadpan humor. Sarah Turnbull's stint in Paris was only supposed to last a week. Chance had brought Sarah and Frédéric together in Bucharest, and on impulse she decided to take him up on his offer to visit him in the world's most romantic city. Sacrificing Vegemite for vichyssoise, the feisty Sydney journalist does her best to fit in, although her conversation, her laugh, and even her wardrobe advertise her foreigner status. But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from life in a bustling quatier and surviving Parisian dinner parties to covering the haute couture fashion shows and discovering the hard way the paradoxes of France today, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: maddening, mysterious, and charged with that French specialty-séduction.

An entertaining tale of being a fish out of water, Almost French is an enthralling read as Sarah Turnbull leads us on a magical tour of this seductive place-and culture-that has captured her heart

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
On leave from her job as a TV reporter, Aussie journalist Sarah Turnbull was freelancing in Bucharest when she met Frédéric, a charming French lawyer with impeccable manners and dreamy eyes. Acting on mutual attraction, he invited her to visit him in Paris, and she accepted. Four months later, she returned to stay. Almost French is her delightful account of how this chance encounter led to true love and a new life in the City of Light.

Turnbull's sprightly spin on the expat experience includes vivid descriptions of her head-on collisions with Gallic culture. She learns the hard way that French is a language fraught with subtle nuances, perilous pitfalls, and potentially mortifying double entendres. Her first cocktail party is an unmitigated disaster, as all her friendly overtures are met with cold disapproval. Considered too forward, too emancipated, too blokey for Parisian tastes, she despairs of ever fitting in. But bolstered by Frédéric's loving support, she and Paris begin to grow on each other. She changes careers, learns the language, makes friends, moves to a bustling inner-city quartier, and gains some insight into the centuries-old traditions that underlie French society.

Filled with colorful anecdotes and predictably rhapsodic descriptions, this deceptively breezy little memoir sheds unexpected light on the paradoxical quirks of French character that have contributed (perhaps unfairly?) to the country's famously negative public image. For Turnbull, falling in love with Frédéric was as easy as un, deux, troix. Falling in love with France took a bit more time. Anne Markowski

The Washington Post
All in all she seems to have made a happy life for herself, but doubtless she'd be the last to say it was achieved without sacrifice, loss and even a bit of pain. She tells the story of how this came to pass with honesty and a refreshing absence of self-importance. The emphasis in Almost French certainly should be on almost, but Sarah Turnbull seems to have gotten a lot closer to the real thing than most of us who will always be on the outside looking in, even those of us who imagine otherwise. — Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
A bestseller in Turnbull's native Australia, this cute firsthand look at the hardships of settling into a city infamously chilly to outsiders gives a glimpse of the true nature of Parisians and daily life in their gorgeous city. Though Turnbull tells readers less about love than new life, it was in falling for a Frenchman that the journalist found herself moving to Paris, for a few months that stretched into years. The cultural relationship is challenging enough, leaving aside the more intimate personal story (though readers do learn enough about Turnbull's now husband to understand her decision to stay), and she writes of finding work, making friends, surviving dinner parties and adapting to the rhythms and pace of life with a Parisian boyfriend with humor and a developing sense of wisdom. Of the struggle to adapt to her new home in the mid-1990s, the author writes, "I've discovered a million details that matter to me-details that define me as non-French" no matter how much she tries to assimilate, while over time she grows to appreciate some perplexing aspects of French culture, as "[e]veryday incidences elevate into moments of clarity simply because they would never, ever happen in your old home," from developing her confrontational side enough to defend herself (in French) from rude remarks to receiving advice from "a terribly chic blonde who advises me to use eye-makeup remover on Maddie's [Turnbull's dog's] leaky eyes." This is an engaging, endearing view of the people and places of France. Agent, Liv Blumer. (Aug. 18) Forecast: If books like A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun are any measure, there's a ready market for Turnbull's contribution to the European expat memoir genre. She's a contributing editor at Marie Claire, which could help the book get coverage in that and other women's magazines. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In an unpretentious manner, the strong yet empathetic Turnbull relates the transition from her Australian home to a new life with her French fiance, adding a good twist of dry, self-deprecating humor. A freelance journalist, Turnbull has a knack for describing the salient and entertaining episodes succinctly yet vividly, which prevents the story from descending into monotony. From meeting her husband's extended family to attending haute couture fashion shows, Turnbull candidly assesses her new environment. She also takes the stereotypes of French culture, such as the obsession with aesthetics, acknowledges their basis in reality, and then delves deeper to find an explanation for each. Turnbull's love for her husband tempers the frustration and humiliation she experiences while mastering not only the language but also the idiosyncratic rules and customs of the French. This enjoyable and insightful book is suitable for public library collections.-Rebecca Bollen, North Bergen, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This account of a 20-plus Australian woman's adventures as she tried to adjust to Parisian ways is both insightful and funny. Having taken a year off from her job with a TV network, Turnbull moved to Paris to be with her new lover, Frederic. She found that the French weren't interested in making new friends; were unwilling to discuss their jobs, hobbies, or much of anything except the food they were eating, planning to eat, or had eaten; and they wished to socialize in mixed groups-no girls' night out for them. But Frederic, with patience and aplomb, helped her overcome these obstacles, depicted in a series of vignettes that sketch many of the fascinations and foibles of becoming "almost French." She detested visiting Frederic's family in northern France, with its rainy, cold beaches, but finally warmed to his home, and was accepted by them. The couple's marriage was almost an anticlimax after a hilarious birthday celebration for 80 at the old home. This clash of cultures is, ultimately, a love story.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Love and adjustment in a foreign climate. Though Australian journalist Turnbull came to Paris--and stayed--because of love, she is remarkably reticent about her relationship with Frédéric, the French lawyer she first met in Bucharest in the early 1990s. This is not an overly significant defect, because she delivers so much, and so intelligently, on the rest of her life there. The Australian TV reporter had taken off a year to travel around Europe when Frédéric asked her to visit him in Paris. She arrived somewhat apprehensive and speaking little French, but after a while found herself beginning to understand a society so different from direct, easygoing Australia. Soon she was in love not only with Frédéric but with Paris. Turnbull describes their two apartments, the first in a leafy suburb, the next in Sentier, the Parisian garment district, noisy but close to the city center. She observes the natives’ pride in their heritage and their differences, especially from Anglo Saxons, and notes the media’s deference to politicians. French business letters are written in flowery prose, Turnbull tells us, and it is considered selfish to dress like a slob. Even dinner parties are different: unfriendly and impersonal, the author found. (After fleeing from several tables to weep, she was cheered by a guidebook that advised her to think of herself as a chair to which no one was expected to talk.) As Turnbull adjusts to her new life, she begins working as a freelance writer and interviews such French cultural stars as restaurateur Alain Ducasse and clothing designer Christian Lacroix. At first the author cannot understand why Frédéric loves his family home on the chilly northern coast, but as she getsto know his relatives and the locals, that changes along with her other attitudes to the French. An engaging story of a sometimes rocky but ultimately affectionate relationship with another culture. Agent: Liv Blumer

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


I left Australia hoping to cram a lifetime of adventures into one unforgettable year. Instead, I ended up with a new life. I’d taken one year’s leave from my job as a television reporter in Sydney to travel around Europe. If I didn’t go now, I never would, warned a nagging voice in my head. Though, at twenty-seven I wasn’t much interested in hanging around youth hostels. The idea was to immerse myself in fascinating foreign cultures, to work as a freelance journalist in Eastern Europe, which in my mind bubbled with unwritten, hard-hitting stories.

It was in Bucharest, Romania, that I met Frédéric. His English was sprinkled with wonderful expressions like ‘foot fingers’ instead of toes and he seemed charming, creative and complicated—very French, in other words. When he’d invited me to visit him in Paris, I’d hesitated just long enough to make sure he was serious before saying yes. Why not? After all, this is what travelling is all about, isn’t it: seizing opportunities, doing things you wouldn’t normally do, being open to the accidental?

That trip to Paris was more than eight years ago now. And except for four months when I resumed my travels, I have been living here ever since.

It was a city and culture I was familiar with—at least that’s what I thought back then. When I was a child, my family had toured France in a tiny campervan and my eyes had popped at the chocolates and the cheeses. At secondary school I studied French and saw a few films by Truffaut and Resnais, which had struck me as enigmatic in a very European way, although I couldn’t have said why. When I was sixteen we lived in England for a year and I came to Paris several times. In my mind, these experiences added up to knowledge of France and some understanding of its people. Then, a little over ten years later, my meeting with Frédéric drew me back, and when the time came to actually live in Paris, I figured belonging and integrating would take merely a matter of months.

Now, remembering my early naïveté draws a wry smile. The truth is, nearly all my preconceptions of France turned out to be false. It hardly needs to be said that living in a place is totally different from visiting it. And yet this blatantly obvious statement does need to be said, particularly about Paris, the most visited city in the world. A place I imagined to know after a few nights in a closet-size hotel room as a teenager and one summer holiday with a Frenchman sipping kir on café terraces.

At times the learning curve has seemed almost vertical. The social code I discovered in France wasn’t just different from the one I knew, it was diametrically opposed to it. For a long time, I couldn’t fathom the French and, to be fair, they couldn’t fathom me either. My clothes, my smile—even how much I drank—set me apart. During my first year, dinner parties turned into tearful trials. There I was, a confident twenty-eight-year-old with the confidence knocked out of me, spending cheese courses locked in somebody’s bathroom, mascara streaming down my cheeks.

It hasn’t all been tears and trials, of course. The truth is, if France failed to live up to some of my expectations, in other ways the reality has been far richer, a thousand times better than my clichéd visions. My work as a journalist has enabled me to meet people ranging from famous French fashion designers to master chefs. On a personal level I’d taken a headlong plunge into new territory as well. Put a very French Frenchman together with a strong-willed Sydney girl and the result is some fairly spectacular—and sometimes hilarious—cultural clashes.

If I had to pick one word to sum up my life in France, it’d have to be "adventure." Every moment has been vivid, intensely felt. No doubt many people who live in a foreign country would say the same thing. But there is, I think, something that sets France apart from many other parts of the world. I know of no other country that is so fascinating yet so frustrating, so aware of the world and its place within it but at the same time utterly insular. A nation touched by nostalgia, with a past so great—so marked by brilliance and achievement—that French people today seem both enriched and burdened by it. France is like a maddening, moody lover who inspires emotional highs and lows. One minute it fills you with a rush of passion, the next you’re full of fury, itching to smack the mouth of some sneering shopkeeper or smug civil servant. Yes, it’s a love–hate relationship. But it’s charged with so much mystery, longing and that French speciality—séduction—that we can’t resist coming back for more.

From where I write in Paris today, I see a foil shimmer of rooftops, a few orange chimney pots, quaintly crooked windows and lots of sky. Although by this city’s standards it’s nothing special, to me it is precious, this view. It makes me think back to a time when we didn’t have it, when we were living in a different apartment where I wasn’t nearly as happy. Those early difficult years in France seem a lifetime ago now, as though they were lived by someone else. So much has changed since then, including me, probably. The truth is, when I started to write this book I had trouble taking myself back to that time. I don’t know why it should have been so difficult. Either I’d forgotten or subconsciously didn’t want to remember or, being a journalist, I was paralyzed by the idea of writing in the first person. Probably a combination of all three.

For days and weeks, I sat staring at my rectangle of pearl gray sky. For inspiration I looked at old photos, read my early articles and Mum sent me all the letters I’d written from France, which she’d carefully kept. The memories came back gradually, growing sharper and brighter until I could see myself on that summer’s day almost eight years ago, excited but nervous, arriving in Paris in my safari shorts and flat, clumpy sandals, oblivious to the horror my outfit would inspire in any self-respecting Frenchman.

And suddenly it seemed as though it had happened only yesterday.

Meet the Author

Journalist Sarah Turnbull moved to France from Sydney in the mid- 1990s.

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Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was surprisingly interesting. I really enjoyed reading about the difference between the two cultures and how the author struggled to become more Parisian while still keep her own identity. The book is very informative about human nature in general and how important our nationalities are in forming out personality, opinions and ideas about everything from food to clothes and pretty much shaping us into the people that we are.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
Almost French is a great fish out of water memoir. It made me want to travel to France.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. I found myself falling in love with Paris. The culture of France is really explored in here and you can't help but root for the author. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this memoir.
MagWard More than 1 year ago
If you are trying to adjust to living in a new culture, this book is for you! Ms. Turnbull, who fell in love and moved to Paris as a result, shares her experiences in a lighthearted and loving way. After being baffled, hurt, shocked, frustrated and sometimes angered, she finally reaches a point where she appreciates and understands (to a point) her newly adopted culture. One comes away feeling enriched and informed by her experience. There are many aspects of culture we all take for granted; reading this book will change that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In hindsight, she discovers she has warmed to her host country. She came across to me as a spoiled 20-something, shocked that this new country/coulture was not accepting to her "differences". She is pleased ? that as an Aussie she is more accepted than if she were an American. The reader then learns through the trials of her story she was born in the USA! (one must shudder!) At first she whines, "I want to live in Paris", "I don't want to spend the weekend in the country". Only later, she learns to appreciate the country. And "why" does her boyfriend have to be from the "North" While I wonder, HOW could this man tolerate her? She is encouraged by "change" to the Paris, in government and culture. Personally, I visit 'strange' places to enjoy the difference. WHO would want Paris, of all places to change? As much as I wanted to enjoy a love story in Paris, I was disappointed.
Roiselives More than 1 year ago
Loved this book....gives such a personal, comprehensive view of Paris living.
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NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull is a memoir about the Australian author's time in Paris as she falls in love, learns the culture (or tries to fit in), and tries to get consistent work as a journalist. Perhaps it was because it was a travel memoir and fitting in that I thought so often of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, but within pages it held a completely separate voice for me. Sarah Turnbull has taken time off from her job in Australia to travel Europe -- she figures that she might as well do it now since she can afford to take the time and she has no commitments -- after all, why wait until much later in life when work and family obligations might get in the way? Off she goes to Europe, and while in Bucharest, she meets Frèdèric, and decides to do something different than she's ever done before and completely change her plans -- go to Paris to stay with a guy that she only met for a few days in Bucharest. Throwing caution to the wind she goes -- and settles into Paris and tries to find her place within the culture and the job market. This book is a hit in Australia and it was definitely a really pleasant read. I enjoyed her moments of confusion in trying to understand fashion and language, and there is one particular moment that I spluttered my coffee out with laughter for my combined shock and for feeling the author's complete embarrassment -- a simple moment in which she asks her new boyfriend in front of his friends if he would like his smoking pipe, when she mistakenly really asked him if he, ahem...would like something, um, sexual to occur. Made me laugh out loud!I felt for her trying to fit in and get used to it all, and as I've traveled quite a bit in my life and lived in multiple locations, I felt my understanding and my frustrations for her experiences grow as I read each page. It's tough to fit in sometimes! The only aspect that found me a little wanting was that I felt she wrote with such great detail on so many events and moments, but she skipped quite a bit on the love she had with Frèdèric which was the ultimate reason which compelled her to move to Paris in the first place. Perhaps it was out of respect for their intimacies (completely understandable) and perhaps I'm just an old romantic at heart, but I felt a tad removed from the blossoming love that they experienced within their relationship that would so compel this grounded and logical woman to completely forgo her plan to travel all of Europe and instead, after one week of meeting with a man, to move instead to Paris to begin life anew. Sarah Turnbull's descriptions of Parisian life, the eccentric characters she meets in a new neighborhood, and her ability (or lack thereof) to fit in fashionably at first, were quite endearing and offered a fun snapshot into her life. I cheered for her to find the right job, and enjoyed her journalistic cadence as Turnbull related each event with sometimes a distant voice and sometimes with close up scrutiny, one that ultimately turns into quite a fun trip into Parisian culture!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Almost French because of my few trips to France, a friend's love of all things French, and because it gives a great insight into a person living in France as their homw while not being a native. The French are a very reserved people with centuries of ingrown reserve. This is a light book with what could have been a sad, but instead, a happy ending.
Fact-or-Fiction More than 1 year ago
I loved the way she was able to be ambarrassed at herself - her lack of understanding the Parisians and the French. And, I appreciated that she interjected some French history without getting so weighted down. She gives descriptions of the areas of Paris in such prose it is like seeing a painting. She also shows her personal growth in how to deal with such a different culture than she was used to. She does not go for slap-stick humor, however she made me laugh out loud over several passages. The book gave me such insight that I wish I could have read it BEFORE our Paris trip. we were lucky - we'd planned our trip for April; even whenevery one said 'oh, surely, you will cancel your trip now that 9/11 has happened....'. The French were wonderful - some compassion for what happened in New York but I think an awful lot of 'ha, you americans are not so indefensible as you thought'. Considering her age, I was surprised at her not interjecting a lot of sex into the book.
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love2travel2gether More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. I truly enjoyed this true story so much. As someone who loves learning about other cultures this book completely grabbed my attention. I loved hearing all of the stories of how Sarah became "Almost French." Although I am quite familiar with the French culture, having not yet visited France itself, this book opened my eyes to many things within the life of the Parisians I would never know by being a tourist. If you are someone who loves to hear about what life is really like in other cultures, particularly in the French culture, you will absolutely love Almost French.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
booksquirrel More than 1 year ago
It probably was much more fun to live this book. I enjoyed the first half of the book just fine, and it kind of got a little boring in the middle but picked up again in the last few chapters. I was tempted to skim over pages of food description as that stuff doesn't appeal to me. I like that Frederic is a constant throughout the book. I was worried he would get lost in there, but Sarah stuck true to the book's title. I would have liked to have read more intimate details about him and their relationship rather than just the tidbits of conversation and discussion about the French and their ways. I'm glad she talked about their wedding. I was worried she would leave that out. That was the best part of the book, and it was sweet. Two things that bothered me about the author's writing style: The first, she seemed a bit inconsistent, she was all over the place in some chapters skipping around to different subjects without good flow or transition. Second is the fact that she used the word "Gallic" quite alot. I was like, enough with Gallic already. I must have seen it on every other page sometimes. Her writing style isn't the best, but she did what she set out to do and told us a story of her love and new life in Paris. And she definitely made me want to visit...and get a dog. ;o)