As I sat down to write this post on some of what I consider to be the best books out there on France and French culture, I had an extremely difficult time narrowing down my list. So, I decided to divide up my “Travel Reading” posts into different categories pertaining to French culture, language and travel. Here is the first of three installments, intended to give you a general overview of French cultural norms and the ways in which they are typically perceived by Americans. I have used excerpts from these books in both adult enrichment courses and college/university courses I’ve taught and they have always been a big hit.
Paris to the Moon
This is a great page-turner for anyone interested in French culture. Gopnik is witty, intelligent, and honest when it comes to his opinions on French politics and social norms. The book is based on his experiences working and living in Paris with his wife and young son. Poignant, entertaining, and, at times, even laugh out loud funny, Gopnik’s book is a “must read,” especially before visiting Paris.
Buy Here: Paris to the Moon
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French
Canadian husband and wife team Nadeau and Barlow (both journalists) have written a collection of compelling essays on Americans’ confusing and at times contempt-filled relationship with the French. Essay topics include French opinions on World War II and the Algerian war (and the process of decolonization in general), the French obsession with language and proper usage, privacy in French homes, and the complex issues surrounding French immigration.
Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience
Raymonde Carroll, a French anthropologist, presents a fascinating, in-depth discussion of the many ways French and Americans can misinterpret one another’s cultural norms. Each chapter includes multiple entertaining vignettes that exemplify the differences between French and American understandings of language, love, cuisine, child rearing, friendship, and the activities of daily life. As a translator who has read both the French and English versions, I have to say that Volk did a fantastic job translating Carroll for an English-speaking audience.
French or Foe: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France
In this lighthearted, readable book, Platt explores why the French “have gotten a bad rap” amongst Americans. She goes on to explain that the French are actually generous and friendly. The gist of the book is that one must understand and accept the French (on French terms) in order to have the best possible experience when visiting France. It’s true that this book is intended for those who will be spending a longer period of time in France. However, tourists and visitors to France will benefit from Platt’s thoughtful explanations of French attitudes, manners, and cultural nuances.
All of these titles make great reading for the long plane ride across the pond!