Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris

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 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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592400829
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/05/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 392,274
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 - 14 Years

About the Author

Sarah Turnbull is the author of the international bestseller Almost French. She now lives in Sydney with her husband, Frédéric.

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.

Customer Reviews

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 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.
Fleur-De-Lis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fantastic!I enjoyed this book from start to finish, wonderously funny and with some useful tips for being accepted by the french.I did however find it took a little while to read - it was written in a very journalistic way - which i tended to get a bit tired of. But Beautiful all the same. Read it! Especially if you are interested or are going to France!Oh, and i am Australian too. I found it interesting to see how the French treat the Australians.
St.CroixSue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The very honest memoir of a young Australian who falls in love with a very French Frenchman and ends up living in Paris. The theme is an expatriates¿ struggle with identity and sense of belonging offering insights and some analysis into France and the nuances of its culture.
hardlyhardy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the mid-1990s, an Australian journalist named Sarah Turnbull met a Frenchman while visiting in Eastern Europe. They fell in love and before long she moved in with him in his home near Paris. Her memoir, "Almost French," published in 2002, is a compelling personal story but also a fascinating look at French culture from an outsider trying to fit in.Fitting in, Turnbull concedes after several years in France, is virtually impossible for anyone born and raised somewhere else. Marrying her boyfriend helped, but she knows she will always be regarded as the Anglo-Saxon outsider who is almost, but not quite, French.In chapters covering such subjects as French fashion, food, bureaucracy and attitudes toward people of other countries, Turnbull explains how she has learned to understand, if not always accept, the French way. French women, she discovered, tend to have few female friends because, more so than in other cultures, they feel they are in competition with one another. Because French red tape is so burdensome -- just getting married, she finds, can take several months of paperwork and waiting -- most people ignore the law most of the time. (And the law ignores most offenders most of the time.) French people tend to be cold to strangers and unusually blunt -- if they don't like what you are wearing or how your dog is groomed, they don't hesitate to tell you. What you wear and what you serve your guests are vitally important to the French, and many of Turnbull's funniest stories have to do with her failures in these areas."Almost French" is an entertaining and revealing book that should be required reading for anyone planning to spend much time in France.
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Delightful! Aussie Sarah takes on the Parisians and wins. The culture clash from super sized candy bars to shorts/running shoes to fetch the paper.
beata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anglosaxon (australian in that case) perception of French culture and customs. Many good hints and tips for foreigners.
coffeeandabookchick on LibraryThing 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 a something sexual to occur. 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!
iammbb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sarah Turnbull, an Australian, is touring Europe when she meets Frederic, a Parisian.She ejects her itinerary and follows him to Paris.And the payoff (for us) is this lovely book.Sarah has a view of Paris and the French as an expat who is living with and eventually marries a native. It's an outsider's insider view and it provides a nice contrast to Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon.While she can't avoid hobnobbing with some expats (although she tries mightily to avoid it), Turnbull's Paris, because of her intimate relationship with a Parisian, is filled with experiences and affectionate insights about the ups and downs of trying to fit in as a unpretentious Aussie in the hierarchical, class based world of Paris.Turnbull is honest enough about herself to allow the reader to get frustrated with her tendency to take personally what are essentially cultural differences. She is also fond enough of the French to provide believable explanations for their abominably rude behavior.I finished Paris to the Moon feeling that while Paris is a nice place to visit, I wouldn't want to live there.I finished Almost French feeling that in the right circumstances, I could probably enjoy living in Paris too.
bookmagic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sarah Turnbull is a twenty-something journalist from Australia taking some time off to backpack around Europe. She meets Frederic and goes to visit him in Paris and ends up staying.Sarah has a lot of problems with the language, the politics and each chapter is mainly about various facets of her life in France.Frederic does not live in Paris proper, so eventually he and Sarah buy an apartment in the city and we learn the intricacies of French real estate. When they decide to have a window put in, they have to do it on the sly to avoid all the red-tape and then pay off any neighbors that complain.I skimmed most of the politics stuff, but I enjoyed all the food discussions and her foray into fashion journalism.My favorite chapter was when she and Frederic decide to get a dog, Maddie. The French may be very reserved but not when it comes to their pets. Sarah finds her fellow Parisians become very talkative and interested in Maddie. I love that dogs are welcome in all the cafes, shops, and even the butcher shops. And they have lots of very fancy dog groomers that are not just for the rich but anyone that does not want to be scorned and yelled at for not taking proper care of their dogs.This was billed as a look at love and life in France but it is much more life than love. Which is fine, no one needs another sappy, romantic memoir. I enjoyed this very much and is a great addiction for any rating 4/5
Smits on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this before, and during my trip to Paris and that made this book so much better. Still, one can't help but like the author and feel for her as she finds out how to live and cope with being a Parisienne which she admits she can never truly be. Her insight into the mindset, hearts , customs and foiables of the French people are written with great humor, self depreciation and admiration. the author really helped me understand the french mentality and this helped me while I traveled in Paris. besides all that is was fun to read. i laughed out loud.
Kimasbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
great book to read if planning a trip to France or anyone interested in the French "mind" or culture
maggie1944 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A light, fun read about a young Australian woman who goes to Paris, France on a lark, and at the invitation of a young man. The book is a memoir of her next few years as she and the young man get to know each other, ultimatley marrying. Her memoir is mostly about how a young Australian, without a great deal of French language, learns to live with the unique qualities of Paris and the folks who live in Paris. She is very insightful about how cultural differences can provide humor as well as anger and she runs the gamet. I loved reading it, and having a small amount of experience with French people I identified with much of her experiences. I recommend it for people who love France, Paris, or French culture (clothes, cooking, dogs, art). I especially recommend it to anyone getting ready to travel to France and who expects to stay for a while.
bconnett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting and enjoyable first person account of living in France (Paris), as an Australian married to a frenchman. Gives insight into French family attitudes and behavior and daily issues of living in Paris. A fun read.
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 such a personal, comprehensive view of Paris living.
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