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French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French
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French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French

3.4 13
by Harriet Welty Rochefort

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Peter Mayle may have spent a year in Provence, but Harriet Welty Rochefort writes from the wise perspective of one who has spent more than twenty years living among the French. From a small town in Iowa to the City of Light, Harriet has done what so many dream of one day doing-she picked up and moved to France. But it has not been twenty years of fun and games;


Peter Mayle may have spent a year in Provence, but Harriet Welty Rochefort writes from the wise perspective of one who has spent more than twenty years living among the French. From a small town in Iowa to the City of Light, Harriet has done what so many dream of one day doing-she picked up and moved to France. But it has not been twenty years of fun and games; Harriet has endured her share of cultural bumps, bruises, and psychic adjustments along the way.

In French Toast, she shares her hard-earned wisdom and does as much as one woman can to demystify the French. She makes sense of their ever-so-French thoughts on food, money, sex, love, marriage, manners, schools, style, and much more. She investigates such delicate matters as how to eat asparagus, how to approach Parisian women, how to speak to merchants, how to drive, and, most important, how to make a seven-course meal in a silk blouse without an apron! Harriet's first-person account offers both a helpful reality check and a lot of very funny moments.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“On the subject of French ways and habits, French Toast remains the gold standard. A classic!” —Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce

“A book that goes beyond the clichés of fashion folly, exploring instead the nooks and crannies of French society and the French psyche with aplomb and great humor.... French Toast is gem of a book ... A perennial must-read manifesto for travelers and expats alike.” —Debra Ollivier, author of Entre Nous

“When someone calls you mon cher ami, does in literally mean 'dear friend', or, as is often the case, 'drop dead'?.. Should you shower before making love?... Rochefort offers answers by the score. Even longtime foreign residents of France have become grateful readers…. Wise and devastatingly funny.” —The Los Angeles Times

“Great fun to read and over too soon.” —Library Journal

French Toast includes the most delightful barbs at France's subtle but deep-rooted codes of behavior.” —Leslie Caron, star of An American in Paris, Gigi, and Lili

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.58(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

French Toast

An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French
By Harriet Welty Rochefort

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2010 Harriet Welty Rochefort
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312642785

The French ConnectionI arrived in France not just from the United States but from Shenandoah, a small town in Iowa. Tucked into the southwest corner of the state, near the borders of Missouri and Nebraska, Shenandoah was the center of my life until I was twenty years old. And small-town life in the Midwest has forever conditioned my reactions to what came after. Coming from Iowa, rather than New York or California, put a different spin on my experience. An example: Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, I just assumed that everyone in the entire world was friendly and straight-shooting. Quelle surprise! (What a surprise!)
French Toast grew out of two decades of living in France with a French husband, a full-scale French family-in-law, two half-French, half-American children, and a French stepson. Rather than just gently fading into French culture—that is, adapting—I have come to realize I feel more and more American. Increasingly, I find myself trying to explain to myself why the French are the way they are, and why, in spite of “going native” in the sense of having a French spouse, speaking the language fluently, and immensely enjoying living here, I don’t feel any more French than the day I arrived. This book stemmed from a desire to write it all down. In addition to being a cathartic experience for its author, French Toast will, I hope, be informative and enjoyable for each reader while providing a few keys to the complex character of the French.
As an Iowan freelance journalist residing in France, I have had a bird’s-eye view of the French for these past twenty years.
Sitting astride this French-American fence has given me a privileged position of being both participant and observer. Being neither fish nor fowl has given me a constant comparative view of both life in the United States and life in France, as well as perceptions about the French that tourists rarely acquire. For example, life with the French has put a whole new meaning on the word complicated. The simplest situation in France suddenly becomes something extremely complex and detailed. The French attention to detail—from the way one cuts cheese to the color of one’s panty hose—has never ceased to fascinate me.
Based on common and daily experiences, French Toast is a mixture of reflections and observations about life in France. These include all the faux-pas I have made in the past and continue to make (laughing too loudly, saying things directly instead of obliquely, cutting my lettuce leaves instead of folding them, just to mention a few examples).
More than anything else, I think this book reflects a whole range of different emotions—affection, wonder, and, sometimes, plain exasperation. I can’t relate to the way the French drive (although my American friends tell me I drive like a real Parisian and are they ever scared), but I would much rather get into a political discussion with the French than with my compatriots, because the French basically have mastered the art of arguing politely without getting unpleasantly personal. As one recently arrived American remarked, “You can get into a violent political discussion, which is followed by a big laugh and ‘Please pass the cheese,’ and you go on to something else.”
Come to think about it, it may seem contradictory, but I feel rather more at home sometimes with the French because of their refreshing lack of what they call “le puritanisme.” On the other hand, the minute I set foot back in the States, the tension I feel while living in Paris eases out of me as I enjoy the civility of people who aren’t afraid to be nice to one another even if their families haven’t known one another for the past two hundred years.
In sum, I took off my rose-colored glasses a long time ago. The illusions I came with—and there were plenty—have been replaced by a rather fond and amazed look at the French (including my own children, who are so French sometimes that I can hardly believe they are my own). What follows is not a sociological study of the French, but a straightforward and personal tale of what makes the French so French.
Meet Philippe
During this book, I interview Philippe, my French husband, to counterbalance my typically American point of view on the French. He deserves this opportunity. After all, he’s put up with my comments for the past twenty years, so it’s only fair to give him a chance to say what he thinks about what I think.
So who is Philippe, and is he typically French?
Although he was born and raised in the fifteenth arrondissement of Paris, Philippe’s parents hailed from the south of France, the imposing mountains of the Auvergne and the softer scenery of the Dordogne. In spite of these rural roots, he is a “real” Parisian, having attended French public schools and then attending two years of prépa before going to a grande école (see the chapter on education to figure this out). Along the way, he also picked up a doctoral degree in economics. Extracurricular activities included playing his guitar in cafés and bass with a jazz group. Summers were spent on holidays in Spain, where he picked up Spanish, and trips to England, where he learned English with an English accent (which he had when I met him, but over the years it has been transformed into a more American accent). He has an uncanny talent for picking up accents and has been known to fool both Japanese and Arabs when speaking the one or two sentences he knows in each of these languages.
Philippe loves history, in particular the Middle Ages, and historical monuments. He loves to cook and is a hospitable host. He likes to read, play the piano and guitar, and paint in oils. He hates cars and the consumer society. He’s not all that hot for sports (either participating or observing). He likes our cat, and, believe me, not many people do. He likes America and Americans (hey, he married me, didn’t he?). Some people say he looks like former French president Jacques Chirac—an observation he is not so sure he likes.
Considering that there are Frenchmen who hate history, can’t stand reading, love cars, the consumer society, and sports, and are anti-American, can we say that Philippe is typically French? Let’s just say that he is very French and you’d have a hard time mistaking him for any other nationality. To begin with, he has a typical Parisian expression on his face—that is, Don’t mess with me, baby (which is great, because he scares the daylights out of panhandlers and all those people I have trouble fending off due to my big, naïve, ever-present smile). Second, he has a slight tendency to explode, only to calm down just as quickly. Third, he can carry on a conversation concerning just about anything, and fourth, he is very polite in that mysteriously hard-to-define and often inscrutable French way. Finally, like many Frenchmen, he can be France’s best critic. Deep in his heart, though, you know he couldn’t live anywhere else. He’s simply too French.


Excerpted from French Toast by Harriet Welty Rochefort Copyright © 2010 by Harriet Welty Rochefort. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Harriet Welty Rochefort was born in Shenandoah, Iowa. She moved permanently to France in 1971. She is a freelance journalist who has contributed articles to major newspapers and magazine, including Time and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column, "A Letter from Paris," can be found on-line in the Paris Pages. She has also taught journalism in the English Department of the prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques. She, her husband, Phillipe, and their sons live in Paris.

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French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
5 stars
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I did develop some new insights into French cultural views as a result of reading this book, the book was not well done. It was repetitive, with descriptive passages saying the same thing in several different ways. The formatting for the NOOK was abysmal, with some pages having centered lines, some aligned to the left and some pages with mixed formatting on the same page. The text boxes with interviews slid off the bottom of the NOOK and turned up in a broken form on the next page. Overall, a disappointing book and not worth the price. It might be a fun airplane read, in bound book form, on a trip to France. (I will remember not to cut my lettuce with a knife.)
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been married to a Frenchman for 20 years and this book was given to me by my mother in law. My husband and I roared with laughter at the 'interviews' between husband and wife. We're still talking about the 'jungle smell'!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one week and that says a lot for a slow reader who needs to read things twice before she actually gets it! I have just recently started reading books on French culture and I must say that this book taught me more than any of the other ones I have read so far. It packs a lot of information in a easy to read and funny way and I love the balance of the book; it shows the good and the bad elements of French culture and you will absolutely enjoy each chapter equally.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bravo! fantastic! As a French man teaching American students in Paris I think HW Rochefort has done a great job. Her analysis and description of the French mentalities is not only accurate, it is also expressed with great humor. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Parisians. I definitely recommend the book to all people intending to stay in France for any period of time (This is not a guide book for the Europe-in-6-day-tourist) -- to everyone who needs to be warned that they'll get their twenty franc coffee served with a snarl or that they should mind all that poop on the sidewalks! -
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I've always wanted to go to France. I am an avid reader and usually breeze through books, but this one was different. It took me a long time to actually finish this book (and it's not that long!). This overpriced book is not something I'd give anyone interested in France. The odd 'interviews' with her husband at the end of each chapter didn't fit at all. She follows constant negative statements with 'but I love the French, afterall I married one' statements so many times it made me crazy! Just becaue the culture isn't 'American' doesn't make it bad. I would think someone who chose to live in another country would have a more open mind to the culture. I did not find Mrs. Rochefort's writing at all interesting. The book does not flow and seems rather forced and repetitive. The only redeeming parts of this book were the few funny anecdotes she manages to include without completely putting down the French. My advice, read French or Foe. It's a much better book for your money! Or at least try another book on French culture. I wish I had.
Maggie_A More than 1 year ago
I wish there was a book like this for every country.