Almost French

Almost French: A New Life in Paris

by Sarah Turnbull

Cover of Almost French: A New Life in Paris by Sarah TurnbullAlmost French is the entertaining tale of how Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull decides while backpacking through Eastern Europe to go to Paris to visit a Frenchman she’s only just met. Her visit turns gradually into a longer stay as she and her new friend fall in love; she leaves her job in Australian TV and embarks on a more precarious existence as a freelance print journalist. In the meantime she struggles to learn the French language and, with more difficulty, to come to terms with the way the French live. This isn’t always easy, particularly since she has to get to know not only the sophisticated Paris society, but also her boyfriend’s family and friends from the Boulonnais region near Boulogne.

This is not a heavy read by any means. Quite rightly, Turnbull doesn’t set out to write the “How to” guide to becoming an expat in France, or even in Paris. Getting established in Paris is a very different matter from setting up home in, say, Provence, even if some of the bureaucratic process may be a common feature.

What she does do is give some insights into the peculiarities of the French psyche as seen by an “Anglo-Saxon” outsider. And she does it rather well, comparing and contrasting her own cultural preconceptions with those of the French men and women she encounters. She’s frank about her own frustrations in struggling with attitudes she finds incomprehensible – and how many expats haven’t been through that at some stage? But having been living with a Frenchman for eight years, she also has a clear insight into the effect her own attitudes and actions have on the locals – and hazards some shrewd guesses as to why the clashes come about.

The book’s full of wry, quiet humour, written in a clear and direct style. No great long descriptive passages full of flowery adjectives here! Yet Turnbull’s skilful, sympathetic and often amusing descriptions mean that you finish the book with a strong sense of what living in Paris is all about, not just for expats, but for the French too.

Almost French: A New Life in Paris

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Sarah Turnbull
Paperback, 310 pages
2005, Nicholas Brealey Publishing
ISBN 1-85788-370-5
RRP: £7.99