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Book Review: The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

Updated on April 12, 2011

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz, an American pastry chef who moved from San Francisco, California, to Paris, France, is part memoir, part cookbook. This book is filled with anecdotes of David's life in the City of Light, what it's really like to live and work in Paris, as well as both sweet and savory recipes that will have your mouth watering.

Many people dream of someday living in Paris, but after reading this book, you might think twice.  I've never heard anything but rave reviews from people who have visited Paris - I loved it myself during the three short days I spent there in 2001 - but I guess living there is a completely different story.

This book is full of hilarious stories about David Lebovitz's integration into Parisian culture - learning to speak French, maneuvering the streets and stores while people constantly jostle and push, trying to figure out the oddities not only of the language but the behavior of most people, and adapting to all the other idiosyncrasies, quirks, and unspoken rules and laws of conduct among the people of Paris.  He also talks about how he made his way into the hearts of many Parisians with his brownies and homemade ice cream - proof that the French love their food.

Living in Paris seems to be almost like living on a completely different planet where everything is the opposite of what you're used to. It seems that to fit in, you basically have to throw out everything you've learned your entire life about etiquette and behavior, and closely watch how the Parisians do things so you can adapt. David shares many of the tips and tricks he's learned along the way, from how to avoid insulting or annoying Parisian merchants and waiters, to how to steer your way through stores when people refuse to move and think it's their right to stand in your way. He also talks about fashion and how tourists can look less like tourists and more like Parisians if they're hoping to fit in.

With David being a food lover and a chef, this book is also full of not only delicious recipes, but also a lot of talk of food. It made my mouth water when he talked about all the chocolates and cheeses, wines and breads, and all the other things France is famous for. He gives hints where to shop for whatever you might need, including cookware, local ingredients, things it's hard to find outside of North America, and also gives pointers of places to avoid.

After reading this book, I think that as a visitor, I'd be able to make my way through Paris and blend in without people automatically knowing I'm a tourist. I've always fantasized about returning to Paris and living like a local for a week or two - staying in an apartment in a busy, stylish part of the city, shopping at the markets, patisseries, fromagieries, chocolatiers, and cooking for myself as well as eating out. I think that might be a good alternative to actually moving there!

David Lebovitz isn't afraid to tell it like it is - or as he sees it, anyway. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys witty, slightly acerbic first-hand tales, as well as delicious-sounding, easy-to-follow recipes.

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