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Fun and Entertaining Book Recommendations for Understanding French Culture

Updated on March 28, 2015

Stephen Clarke Does it Again

Summer has many wonderful attributes but one of my favorite parts of this glorious season is catching up on reading. If you are looking for a fun and informative read that will boost your wanderlust, then you have landed on the right hub!

The start of the Tour de France understandably raises interest in all things French. This is a perfect time to read one of Stephen Clarke's hilarious tales of the life of an expat in France. His cunning wit and insightful anecdotes are entertaining as well as educational.

A few years ago I read A Year in the Merde by Clarke, and I couldn't put it down. When I saw Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French I knew I had to read it. This is a chuckle-out-loud kind of read.

But wait, before you get too far you should really get into a French frame of mind and create some ambiance. Go and pour yourself a generous glass of French wine (or whatever is in the box in the 'fridge), get a crusty loaf of French bread and a big hunk of stinky cheese. Now, turn on some Isabelle Boulay and you're ready. No Isabelle? I've got ya covered...see the video below.

FYI- Isabelle is Canadian, not French, but this song is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard.

Isabelle Boulay

The List from "Talk to the Snail"

Here are a few items from his list Things That the French are Wrong About

  • The more you boast about sex, the better you are at it
  • Everyone just adores passive smoking
  • If you push in front of someone in a queue, they will respect you more
  • It's fun to eat calf's brains and pig's anus
  • Many customers do not actually want to be served

Clarke cautions against the dreaded language faux pas-words and phrases that are strikingly similar but have very different meanings. Baisse-toi and Baise-toi only differ by one letter, but it's the difference between "Duck your head down" and "Screw yourself." J'ai eu un malaise means "I felt ill", but add an "e" and a capital "M" and you just said, "I shagged a Malaysian woman." See? This is helpful information. He also provides some colorful insults to use just in case the need arises. Personally I would never tell someone, "My mouth sh*** on you", at least not in English. In French the insult almost sounds, well...élégant. The book is too funny to be missed.

The Sweet Life

Combining French life and delicious recipes, celebrated pastry chef David Lebovitz puts it all in The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious-and Perplexing City. The mouth watering recipes will not disappoint and neither will his wit. Here is an excerpt:

What They Say Versus What They Mean

  • When they say, "Non," they mean, "Convince me."
  • When they say, "We do not take returns," they mean, "Convince me."
  • When they say, "It's not broken," they mean, "Convince me."
  • When they say, "The restaurant is completely full," they mean, "Convince me."
  • When they say, "The restaurant is completely full," they mean, "We already have enough Americans in here."
  • When they say, "We don't have anymore," they mean, "We have lots more, but they're in the back and I don't feel like getting them."
  • When they say, "I am a Socialist," they mean, "I'm not responsible for picking up my dog's poop."

Lebovitz covers topics such as "Dining Like a Parisian", "Dressing Like a Parisian" and shopping in the uninviting Franprix chain. Peppered among his anecdotes and advice are some of the best chocolate recipes that I have tried. The hot fudge sauce is très bonne! Equally delicious are the chocolate yogurt snack cakes, le chocolat chaud and salted butter caramel sauce. The book contains many savory recipes like roast pork with brown sugar-bourbon glaze and sweet and sour onions, which I haven't tried yet because, well...they aren't chocolate. 

Other Titles to Consider

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France by Kristin Espinasse .

Author Espinasse began her writing career with blog, "French Word-A-Day". Have you ever wondered what it would be like to move from the U.S. to France, marry a gorgeous Franchman and raise beautiful French children? Her enchanted life in the south of France plays out among the pages of her book.

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull

The title really does the talking for this book. This crazy girl goes to Paris to stay a week with a Frenchman that she had spoken with for maybe 45 minutes. Although initially awkward, the arrangement works and out she ends up moving in and writes about her trials and triumphs as she negotiates the social scene in Paris.

The Road from the Past by Ina Caro

A must have for history buffs. The book describes a driving tour from Provence going north through France and highlights historically significant places. I found that it was easier to read as reference book by dipping in on specific pages rather than a front-to-back-cover read.

If you do plan a trip to France, take this book with you on the plane: Savoir -Flair 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French by Polly Platt. You will want the valuable tips from this book fresh in your mind. This is the best book for understanding the French and preventing The Ugly American Syndrome. It is well organized and filled with helpful and humorous anecdotes.

Is there a trip to France in your future?

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Isabelle Boulay- Perce Les Nuages


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    • Tiffany Regan profile imageAUTHOR

      Tiffany Regan 

      3 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you for the feedback and perspective. I look forward to reading your hub!

    • Second Language profile image

      Anita Rai 

      5 years ago

      Really great hub. Very funny and interesting.

      I wrote a hub on a similar topic comparing the psychology of Americans vs. the French. You can find it here:

      It draws on insights from the French psychoanalyst Pascal Baudry who lives in California. I think it reinforces a lot of what you say here, and he gives his psychoanalytic spin on it, like relating the differences in personality to how late French children are still on the breast in France, as opposed to the US, but how early French children are toilet-trained. For psychoanalysts this is profoundly important stuff that leads to all sorts of other personality, psychological, and even political characteristics when you are older.

      Interesting stuff.

    • Tiffany Regan profile imageAUTHOR

      Tiffany Regan 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you Paradise! I appreciate your kind words and vote.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      I enjoyed this very much, and voted for it in the contest. Thank you, and good luck!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am working on it now :)

    • Tiffany Regan profile imageAUTHOR

      Tiffany Regan 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you nj. I look forward to that summer book hub!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting Hub; before I finished reading the title, I was hoping for summer books, not just ones about French. :) (I think I will do that Hub right now!)

      However, I do have an affection for the language and did read "Almost French". My vote is for you.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      I just read a few of Peter Mayle's books including A Year in Provence. While he isn't French, he loves France and I loved his books! Thanks for the other suggestions. We are hoping to go to France next summer and I'll have to check out your books first!


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