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Almost French by Sarah Turnbull is an account of the writer's move to Paris, and her subsequent life there with French boyfriend Frederic. An Australian, Turnbull found French nature hard to understand for a long time, being so opposite to the relaxed and open Australia she came from.
I love travel books. I love that they can take me to new places, or offer me different experiences of places I already know, and let me see different lives. When I told a friend I was reading a "travel book" about an Australian living in Paris, she rightly pointed out that it wasn't really a travel book was it, if it was all set in one place? She made a good point, but that is what so many "travel" books are - people moving to a new country and an account of their ensuing exploits.
Almost French is no different. Turnbull's main focus is on her attempts to understand and fit in with French life. She struggles to make friends, to understand dinner party etiquette, even how to dress. Her approach to these problems is slightly different to many writers however. Many books of a similar nature use humour to recount tales of cultural misunderstandings; while there is humour in Almost French, Turnbull discusses French culture and history in an effort to understand the roots of French behaviour. This gives the reader a greater understanding of the differences between the French and Australian cultures, and to a point Anglo-Saxon, as both Turnbull and the French refer to English-speaking cultures.
Understanding these differences aside, Almost French is an enjoyable travel book. Turnbull makes the decision to move to Paris, and then really struggles to match her imagined life there with the reality. Things don't go well initially, and we really feel for her as not only does she find herself without work, but she is faced by rude Frenchwomen who do not accept her into Frederic's circle of friends.
Turnbull writes in an intelligent style, probably a result of her journalistic work, and never takes herself too seriously. Her writing is poignant when talking of her native Australia, particularly after visiting family there - Australia is no longer home, but then she will never be French, no matter how well she fits into Parisian society.
I enjoyed Almost French, although my taste in French travel novels is usually for those set in the south, preferably Provence. It was nice to read more about Paris, to understand its inhabitants, and to follow the ups and downs of Turnbull's new life.
Travel book about an Australian moving to Paris