Cover image for French toast : an American in Paris celebrates the maddening mysteries of the French
French toast : an American in Paris celebrates the maddening mysteries of the French
Rochefort, Harriet Welty.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
viii, 119 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC718.A44 R63 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Peter Mayle may have spent a year in Provence, but Harriet Welty Rochefort writes from the wise perspective of one who has spent more than twenty years living among the French. From a small town in Iowa to the City of Light, Harriet has done what so many of dream of one day doing-she picked up and moved to France. But it has not been twenty years of fun and games; Harriet has endured her share of cultural bumps, bruises, and psychic adjustments along the way.In French Toast, she shares her hard-earned wisdom and does as much as one woman can to demystify the French. She makes sense of their ever-so-French thoughts on food, money, sex, love, marriage, manners, schools, style, and much more. She investigates such delicate matters as how to eat asparagus, how to approach Parisian women, how to speak to merchants, how to drive, and, most important, how to make a seven-course meal in a silk blouse without an apron! Harriet's first-person account offers both a helpfulreality check and a lot of very funny moments.

Author Notes

Harriet Welty Rochefort was born in Shenandoah, Iowa. She moved permanently to France in 1971. She is a freelance journalist who has contributed articles to major newspapers and magazine, including Time and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column, "A Letter from Paris," can be found on-line in the Paris Pages. She has also taught journalism in the English Department of the prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques. She, her husband, Phillipe, and their sons live in Paris.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

During the 1970s, Rochefort moved from Shenandoah, Iowa, to Paris, where she met and married her husband, Philippe. Here, she offers her reflections on what it's like to be the wife of a Frenchman and the mother of two French-American children. Although presented with a confidence that comes with long experience, the observations shared (Rochefort's but also those of French and fellow expatriate friends) are hardly illuminating. Rochefort relies on her experiences with French in-laws and friends to conclude that the French, unlike their American counterparts, would rather talk about sex than money, are quarrelsome and require their children to work hard in school. She finds that French wives are wonderful cooks who allow their husbands to dominate the conversation at parties and are always responsible for packing their husbands' suitcases. French husbands, according to Rochefort, really do shower less than American men but are infinitely more relaxed and adept at flirtation and seduction. (She comments that a single woman can live safely in France because French men aren't as oppressively aggressive as American men). In sum, her memoir, though competently written, trades in what appear to be old stereotypes‘which, even if true, bring nothing new to our understanding of the French. Agent, Regula Noetzli. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Did you know that in Paris it is quite normal to bang the cars in front and back of you as you maneuver in and out of a parking place? Or that you should fold and not cut the lettuce in your salad and that even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork? Fortunately, for those unacquainted with the finer points of French etiquette, Rochefort's book bridges the culture gap admirably. The Iowa-born author is a freelance journalist married to a Frenchman and has lived in France for over 20 years. Drawing on personal experience, she records her observations about Frenchwomen; French attitudes to food, sex, love, marriage, and money; the French educational system; and the dynamics of living in Paris. Some stereotypes are reinforced, but this chatty, informative book is great fun to read and over too soon. Recommended for public libraries.‘Ravi Shenoy, Hinsdale P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The French Connection I arrived in France not just from the United States but from Shenandoah, a small town in Iowa. Tucked into the southwest corner of the state, near the borders of Missouri and Nebraska, Shenandoah was the center of my life until I was twenty years old. And small-town life in the Midwest has forever conditioned my reactions to what came after. Coming from Iowa, rather than New York or California, put a different spin on my experience. An example: Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, I just assumed that everyone in the entire world was friendly and straight-shooting. Quelle surprise! (What a surprise!) French Toast grew out of two decades of living in France with a French husband, a full-scale French family-in-law, two half-French, half-American children, and a French stepson. Rather than just gently fading into French culture--that is, adapting--I have come to realize I feel more and more American. Increasingly, I find myself trying to explain to myself why the French are the way they are, and why, in spite of "going native" in the sense of having a French spouse, speaking the language fluently, and immensely enjoying living here, I don't feel any more French than the day I arrived. This book stemmed from a desire to write it all down. In addition to being a cathartic experience for its author, French Toast will, I hope, be informative and enjoyable for each reader while providing a few keys to the complex character of the French. As an Iowan freelance journalist residing in France, I have had a bird's-eye view of the French for these past twenty years. Sitting astride this French-American fence has given me a privileged position of being both participant and observer. Being neither fish nor fowl has given me a constant comparative view of both life in the United States and life in France, as well as perceptions about the French that tourists rarely acquire. For example, life with the French has put a whole new meaning on the word complicated. The simplest situation in France suddenly becomes something extremely complex and detailed. The French attention to detail--from the way one cuts cheese to the color of one's panty hose--has never ceased to fascinate me. Based on common and daily experiences, French Toast is a mixture of reflections and observations about life in France. These include all the faux-pas I have made in the past and continue to make (laughing too loudly, saying things directly instead of obliquely, cutting my lettuce leaves instead of folding them, just to mention a few examples). More than anything else, I think this book reflects a whole range of different emotions--affection, wonder, and, sometimes, plain exasperation. I can't relate to the way the French drive (although my American friends tell me I drive like a real Parisian and are they ever scared), but I would much rather get into a political discussion with the French than with my compatriots, because the French basically have mastered the art of arguing politely without getting unpleasantly personal. As one recently arrived American remarked, "You can get into a violent political discussion, which is followed by a big laugh and 'Please pass the cheese,' and you go on to something else." Come to think about it, it may seem contradictory, but I feel rather more at home sometimes with the French because of their refreshing lack of what they call "le puritanisme." On the other hand, the minute I set foot back in the States, the tension I feel while living in Paris eases out of me as I enjoy the civility of people who aren't afraid to be nice to one another even if their families haven't known one another for the past two hundred years. In sum, I took off my rose-colored glasses a long time ago. The illusions I came with--and there were plenty--have been replaced by a rather fond and amazed look at the French (including my own children, who are so French sometimes that I can hardly believe they are my own). What follows is not a sociological study of the French, but a straightforward and personal tale of what makes the French so French. Meet Philippe During this book, I interview Philippe, my French husband, to counterbalance my typically American point of view on the French. He deserves this opportunity. After all, he's put up with my comments for the past twenty years, so it's only fair to give him a chance to say what he thinks about what I think. So who is Philippe, and is he typically French? Although he was born and raised in the fifteenth arrondissement of Paris, Philippe's parents hailed from the south of France, the imposing mountains of the Auvergne and the softer scenery of the Dordogne. In spite of these rural roots, he is a "real" Parisian, having attended French public schools and then attending two years of prépa before going to a grande école (see the chapter on education to figure this out). Along the way, he also picked up a doctoral degree in economics. Extracurricular activities included playing his guitar in cafés and bass with a jazz group. Summers were spent on holidays in Spain, where he picked up Spanish, and trips to England, where he learned English with an English accent (which he had when I met him, but over the years it has been transformed into a more American accent). He has an uncanny talent for picking up accents and has been known to fool both Japanese and Arabs when speaking the one or two sentences he knows in each of these languages. Philippe loves history, in particular the Middle Ages, and historical monuments. He loves to cook and is a hospitable host. He likes to read, play the piano and guitar, and paint in oils. He hates cars and the consumer society. He's not all that hot for sports (either participating or observing). He likes our cat, and, believe me, not many people do. He likes America and Americans (hey, he married me, didn't he?). Some people say he looks like former French president Jacques Chirac--an observation he is not so sure he likes. Considering that there are Frenchmen who hate history, can't stand reading, love cars, the consumer society, and sports, and are anti-American, can we say that Philippe is typically French? Let's just say that he is very French and you'd have a hard time mistaking him for any other nationality. To begin with, he has a typical Parisian expression on his face--that is, Don't mess with me, baby (which is great, because he scares the daylights out of panhandlers and all those people I have trouble fending off due to my big, naïve, ever-present smile). Second, he has a slight tendency to explode, only to calm down just as quickly. Third, he can carry on a conversation concerning just about anything, and fourth, he is very polite in that mysteriously hard-to-define and often inscrutable French way. Finally, like many Frenchmen, he can be France's best critic. Deep in his heart, though, you know he couldn't live anywhere else. He's simply too French. Excerpted from French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French by Harriet Welty Rochefort All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.