Cover image for Almost French : love and a new life in Paris
Almost French : love and a new life in Paris
Turnbull, Sarah.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Gotham Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
x, 304 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Originally published in Australia by Bantam Books"--T.p. verso.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.8 16.0 77429.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC715 .T87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DC715 .T87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DC715 .T87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The charming true story of a spirited young woman who finds adventure--and the love of her life--in Paris. "This isn't like me. I'm not the sort of girl who crosses continents to meet up with a man she hardly knows. Paris hadn't even been part of my travel plan..." A delightful, fresh twist on the travel memoir, Almost Frenchtakes us on a tour that is fraught with culture clashes but rife with deadpan humor. Sarah Turnbull's stint in Paris was only supposed to last a week. Chance had brought Sarah and Frédéric together in Bucharest, and on impulse she decided to take him up on his offer to visit him in the world's most romantic city. Sacrificing Vegemite for vichyssoise, the feisty Sydney journalist does her best to fit in, although her conversation, her laugh, and even her wardrobe advertise her foreigner status. But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from life in a bustling quatierand surviving Parisian dinner parties to covering the haute couturefashion shows and discovering the hard way the paradoxes of France today, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: maddening, mysterious, and charged with that French specialty-séduction. An entertaining tale of being a fish out of water, Almost Frenchis an enthralling read as Sarah Turnbull leads us on a magical tour of this seductive place-and culture-that has captured her heart.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Turnbull, an Australian journalist, made a life-changing decision at age 27, when she took a yearlong leave of absence to travel the world. While in Bulgaria, she met a Frenchman, whom she arranged to visit later in Paris. The visit went well (despite her doubts in the intervening months about the wisdom of her decision and her alarm at finding adult comic books upon arriving at his apartment)--so well that she moved in soon after and has been living in France ever since, ultimately marrying the man who on their first meeting described himself as "maniac." (She later understood that he meant "neat freak.") Turnbull's account of navigating another culture, learning a new language, and reinventing her professional self is a delight to read, filled with observational humor. We know she's truly integrated when she gets a small terrier (that she then spends obscene amounts of money taking to a chic dog-grooming salon) and is able to flip insults back in French to a rude customer in a patisserie. --Beth Leistensnider Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

A bestseller in Turnbull's native Australia, this cute firsthand look at the hardships of settling into a city infamously chilly to outsiders gives a glimpse of the true nature of Parisians and daily life in their gorgeous city. Though Turnbull tells readers less about love than new life, it was in falling for a Frenchman that the journalist found herself moving to Paris, for a few months that stretched into years. The cultural relationship is challenging enough, leaving aside the more intimate personal story (though readers do learn enough about Turnbull's now husband to understand her decision to stay), and she writes of finding work, making friends, surviving dinner parties and adapting to the rhythms and pace of life with a Parisian boyfriend with humor and a developing sense of wisdom. Of the struggle to adapt to her new home in the mid-1990s, the author writes, "I've discovered a million details that matter to me-details that define me as non-French" no matter how much she tries to assimilate, while over time she grows to appreciate some perplexing aspects of French culture, as "[e]veryday incidences elevate into moments of clarity simply because they would never, ever happen in your old home," from developing her confrontational side enough to defend herself (in French) from rude remarks to receiving advice from "a terribly chic blonde who advises me to use eye-makeup remover on Maddie's [Turnbull's dog's] leaky eyes." This is an engaging, endearing view of the people and places of France. Agent, Liv Blumer. (Aug. 18) Forecast: If books like A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun are any measure, there's a ready market for Turnbull's contribution to the European expat memoir genre. She's a contributing editor at Marie Claire, which could help the book get coverage in that and other women's magazines. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In an unpretentious manner, the strong yet empathetic Turnbull relates the transition from her Australian home to a new life with her French fiance, adding a good twist of dry, self-deprecating humor. A freelance journalist, Turnbull has a knack for describing the salient and entertaining episodes succinctly yet vividly, which prevents the story from descending into monotony. From meeting her husband's extended family to attending haute couture fashion shows, Turnbull candidly assesses her new environment. She also takes the stereotypes of French culture, such as the obsession with aesthetics, acknowledges their basis in reality, and then delves deeper to find an explanation for each. Turnbull's love for her husband tempers the frustration and humiliation she experiences while mastering not only the language but also the idiosyncratic rules and customs of the French. This enjoyable and insightful book is suitable for public library collections.-Rebecca Bollen, North Bergen, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-This account of a 20-plus Australian woman's adventures as she tried to adjust to Parisian ways is both insightful and funny. Having taken a year off from her job with a TV network, Turnbull moved to Paris to be with her new lover, Frederic. She found that the French weren't interested in making new friends; were unwilling to discuss their jobs, hobbies, or much of anything except the food they were eating, planning to eat, or had eaten; and they wished to socialize in mixed groups-no girls' night out for them. But Frederic, with patience and aplomb, helped her overcome these obstacles, depicted in a series of vignettes that sketch many of the fascinations and foibles of becoming "almost French." She detested visiting Frederic's family in northern France, with its rainy, cold beaches, but finally warmed to his home, and was accepted by them. The couple's marriage was almost an anticlimax after a hilarious birthday celebration for 80 at the old home. This clash of cultures is, ultimately, a love story.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



One This isn't like me. The queue for passport inspection at Charles de Gaulle airport surges impatiently. My flight from Romania has coincided with one arriving from Mali and I curse the rotten timing because at this rate it'll take all day. The French police scrutinize the passports from Eastern Europe and Africa, ask lots of questions. The queue isn't really a line but a claustrophobic knot and I am somewhere in the middle of it, surrounded by women in bright headscarves and cumbrous robes, and tall, athletic men. Their blue-black faces shine: it's hot and stuffy. More passengers pour from planes and we squash together tighter and tighter, our clothes and skins sticking together. I'm not the sort of girl who crosses continents to meet up with a man she hardly knows. I'd intended to give the passport officer a piece of my mind when it was my turn at the window-a few helpful suggestions. Like, how about concentrating on the task at hand instead of idly chatting with your colleagues? And haven't the French ever heard of those rope railings that arrange queues in neat, snake configurations? But he stamps my passport with barely a glance, smiling charmingly as he says, "Bonne journée, Mademoiselle," and after all that waiting suddenly I'm through the bottleneck and officially in France. Paris hadn't even been part of my travel plan. I'm in a spaceship. Terminal One is a galactic sphere traversed by transparent tubes that are speeding people in different directions. I take one going up. The impression of breathtaking modernity is dashed by the general rundown appearance of the place. If this is a spaceship, it's a pretty outdated model. At the top, luggage is being spat onto a conveyer belt that keeps stopping and starting. After another interminably long wait, my tattered blue backpack tumbles out. Yet here I am, coming to see-no, stay with-a Frenchman with whom I have conversed for a grand total of, oh, maybe forty-five minutes. Glass doors slide open. I push the luggage cart down the ramp into the arrivals lounge. I wonder if I'll recognize him right away. A couple of months have passed since we met. But to my surprise, there's no one in the crowd who even remotely resembles my mental snapshot. I steer the cart over to an exposed seat near the glass exit, apprehension squeezing my chest. This is mad. The doubts had started festering after a series of bad phone calls, gnawing at my excitement until I'd almost forgotten what had attracted me in the first place: the impression that he was different, unlike any man I'd ever met. The worst was one week ago when he'd called to confirm my arrival time. It had been another awkward telephone conversation punctuated by long pauses and misunderstandings that made me wonder if the problem was deeper than just language. Of course, it doesn't help that his English is pretty basic and my French is awful. We can't even communicate, for God's sake, I'd thought. What are we going to talk about for a whole week? At the end of ten excruciating minutes I'd said good-bye and he'd said, "I kiss you," which made me cringe. What a sleaze! Had I paid more attention during French classes at school I might have remembered that in France this is the sort of farewell you could say to your sister or grandmother but all I can think now is how weird it sounded. The air inside Charles de Gaulle airport is stale and smoky. It's like being in a giant, school toilet after a student smoking session-the chipped white floor tiles are covered in butts. Tired passengers dribble through the sliding doors. I try not to scan the crowd too often. The minutes limp by, my mind relentlessly replaying our two encounters, assessing them from every angle. He'd been sent to Bucharest for a few days in his job as a lawyer. I was doing some freelance television stories there and had met up with an old friend, Simon, from university who'd moved to Romania for work. On my third day, Simon announced that a couple of French guys from his firm's Paris office were in town, advizing on some privatization project. Would I like to join them for dinner? Ten of us had crowded around the table outside the Lebanese restaurant, a favorite haunt of expats in Bucharest. As it turned out, I was next to one of the French guests. "I'm Frédéric, from France," he'd said politely by way of introduction, and I had to stop myself from saying "no kidding," because there was no mistaking this man's nationality. Trim sideburns slid down his cheeks. His jumper was slung nonchalantly around his shoulders and he had that perennially tanned look of many Europeans. A faded silk scarf, knotted at the neck, made him look like some nineteenth-century French painter. Over dinner, I noticed the unusual yellowy brown color of his eyes; the smooth, manicured hands, which made my wrinkled, nail-bitten paws look like something out of science fiction. After we'd finished eating, he lit a pipe, which struck me as hilarious. "I didn't know anyone under a hundred smoked pipes," I teased and his face had fallen. The following night was the Frenchmen's last evening in Bucharest before returning to Paris. Again we all went out for dinner, this time to an Italian restaurant. They were the last to arrive and they wore their lateness stylishly, circling the long table like suave diplomats, shaking hands with each bloke, kissing the girls on both cheeks. Frédéric seemed to give me a meaningful look or did I just imagine he did? We talked some more. A few personal details emerged, hanging in the air like question marks. Thirty-six and newly single, I learned. I didn't ask more, didn't want to appear nosy: interested. By the time we all ended up at an Irish bar, it was clear the groomed, continental exterior concealed a rather eccentric character-a lawyer who preferred painting even though he's seriously color-blind. A slightly absurd sense of humor flashed through his well-brought-up politeness. He told me he loves practical jokes, adores fancy dress parties and making elaborate costumes. "Like what?" I'd asked. "Well, one year, we made a New Year's Eve party, the theme was esprits de la forêt , forest spirits, yes. I wanted to do something that looked real but also extraordinary." Frédéric told me how he went searching in the woods, where he found a giant, dead tree trunk. It was winter, nature was sodden and the trunk weighed "at least one hundred kilos." When Frédéric and a friend finally got it home in a borrowed truck, he spent four days hollowing it out and trying in vain to dry the inside with a hair dryer. But it remained far too bulky and heavy to shuffle around in it in the way he'd envisaged so he picked up an old wheelchair from an antique shop. On the night of the party, Frédéric sat on the chair, wrapped in the wet blackness of the hollowed trunk, which was still crawling with bugs and spiders. I laughed, although this didn't sound like my idea of a great party. "Did you enjoy yourself?" "Oh yes, it was terrible! Everyone thought I was part of the décor, nobody talked to me!" Frédéric chuckled at the memory and I recall that in French "terrible" means great. "It was so terrible," he repeated, stumbling slightly over the word in his effort to pronounce it in the English way, with a short "i" sound instead of "terr ee ble." Chatting, we discovered we share a love of travelling as well as an absentminded habit of turning up at airports minus the required paperwork (tickets, passports, money). But I don't go anywhere without a guidebook, whereas Frédéric's adventures are amplified by a pathological dislike of planning and preparation. This plays havoc with his life, he'd told me, causing him to run out of fuel on highways, leave his credit cards in automatic teller machines and embark on mountain treks in Kashmir wearing filthy socks on his head and hands in the absence of hat and gloves. As we were about to say good-bye, Frédéric turned to me, his expression disarmingly earnest all of a sudden. It was then he'd popped the question. Would I like to come to Paris? Now France wasn't on my itinerary. The idea of this twelve-month trip was to discover new places, and I'd been to Paris before. After Romania, I was planning to fly to London to try to get some casual work through some television contacts people had given me in Australia. I would stay with my old friend Sue, who'd moved there a year ago. But faced with Frédéric's invitation, I quickly changed my plans. The truth was I wanted to see him again. We'd both felt the spark, it was obvious. London and work could wait. "Well yeah, I'd really like that," I'd said. "I mean, that sounds great." As the weeks rolled on in Romania, Paris began to look attractive for reasons other than Frédéric. It's not that I didn't enjoy being in Bucharest-in fact I loved it. The city is an absorbing kaleidoscope of sashaying gypsy skirts and stray dogs, proudly cultured people, raffish artists and unreliable lifts. I spent days exploring the cobbled passages of the old Jewish quarter, poking around state-owned art galleries knee-deep in dusty oil paintings. Through Simon I met a great crowd of people. We went out every night, revelling in Romanian red and the freedom that comes from finding new friends far from home, in an out-of-the-way place. But in Romania, even the simplest of tasks involves hurdling a long line-up of bureaucratic brick walls. My twenty-minute television story on the fight for the restitution of homes and land seized under the communists took almost three months to research and film. And toward the end of the project, the post-communism melancholy of the people started to wear me down. Just around the corner from Simon's apartment loomed Ceausescu's monstrous palace-the biggest building in the world after the Pentagon, apparently. It looked like a Stalinist wedding cake, fitted inside with kilometres of Italian marble and cascading crystal chandeliers. It started to grate, the disparity between this in-your-face waste and the street kids with pleading eyes and skinny, twisted limbs. Many of the Romanians I interviewed seemed resigned, crushed. By the time my television project was wrapped up, I felt ready for a holiday. The Paris invitation winked like a diamond in sunlight, dazzling and indulgent. Yes, London and work could definitely wait. Thirty minutes. I've been waiting thirty minutes! Still there's no familiar face among the crowd. I open my Lonely Planet guide to Mediterranean Europe and start reading the history of France summary, feigning nonchalance. In reality, my seize-every-opportunity backpacker's bravado has all but evaporated. Thoughts swirl around my mind like snowflakes in a blizzard, jumbling irrationality and reason. Ever since the I-kiss-you phone call, I've been seriously wondering about the wisdom of coming to Paris. It has started to seem totally imprudent, given how little I know this guy. What if his suave appearance is a front? He could be a psychopath, a serial rapist, how would I know? He'd even admitted he had a problem. There we were on the second evening in Bucharest, casually chatting about the trials of being innately messy, rather forgetful people when Frédéric's tone had suddenly turned solemn. "No, I was awful, really insupportable," he'd said. And then his face had brightened-weirdly brightened, I realize in retrospect. "I am maniac now," he'd told me. They were his exact words. At the time I'd dismissed it as a language thing. Unsure how to respond, I'd just said, "Sounds pretty complicated," and he'd beamed, as though this was a compliment. At least Sue will be in Paris in a few days' time, I comfort myself. She will save me, or, if necessary, report my disappearance (that is, if he ever turns up). One week before my departure, I'd called her in London. At the mature age of twenty-seven, I needed a chaperone. Meet me in Paris next weekend, I'd begged, calculating that'll only leave me five days alone with the French freak. She'd sounded surprised-the last time we'd spoken I'd been excited. She was having trouble keeping track of my flip-flopping sentiments. Cries of joy from the arrival gate suddenly startle my train of thought. A family is swarming around a girl-about my age-smothering her with kisses. She's obviously been backpacking for a while, you can tell by her unkempt appearance. Which reminds me-I'm not exactly looking like model material either. The day before I left Bucharest the city's water supply had been cut. Apparently the authorities had forewarned the public but, of course, I wouldn't have understood the announcements even if I had heard them. I haven't had a shower for forty-eight hours and my hair-which I'd held off washing until the day of my departure-is pulled in a limp ponytail. So much for making a stylish entrance into the world's glamour capital. But I'd done my best with limited means, putting on a bit of makeup and even ironing my denim shirt. And at least my shorts are clean. I'm also wearing my favorite sandals-flat brown things that reveal my weakness for comfortable, orthopedic-type shoes. Right now they're not looking too good, though: my feet and shoes are covered in dust and grime from Bucharest's streets. It occurs to me my legs could do with a waxing. In the Lonely Planet guide the history of France is condensed into four and a half action-packed pages. Practically each line announces a world war or a revolution or some tremendous tragedy. I get to "De Gaulle," struggling to concentrate. My eyes flicker involuntarily to my watch. FORTY-FIVE MINUTES! The anger that had been mounting in me over his tardiness abruptly dissolves. Reality hits me: it's time to face facts. Frédéric's obviously had a change of heart. I've been stood up. A rush of disappointment engulfs me. Despite my fears about barely knowing him, despite the bad telephone conversations, I realize now how much I'd wanted to see him again. Instead, my romantic Paris rendezvous is over before it's even begun. Faced with my changed circumstances, I'm thrown off balance, uncertain what to do next, and feeling so pathetic irritates me. The month before arriving in Bucharest I'd travelled through Eastern Europe, learning a new level of self-reliance as I'd grown comfortable with little things like eating out on my own. Breaking through the pain barrier had felt like an accomplishment. And now look at me! Coming undone because of a no-show at the airport. The reunited family leaves the airport through the glass exit, chatting and laughing, the girl cocooned by parents and siblings. Including my stopovers in Kuala Lumpur and London, it's been four months since I left Australia. And suddenly I feel lonely-even more lonely than humiliated. I'd like to be with my family. Should have gone straight to see Sue in London instead of changing my plans for a dodgy stranger. Still waiting on a check for my Romania story, at this stage I can't afford to go blowing my savings on expensive Paris hotels. Clutching the guide book opened at "Places to Stay," I start fumbling pointlessly with a public telephone that demands a plastic card I don't have. "Er, 'allo." The voice behind me is flustered, apologetic. Breathless. Before I've even had time to turn around, Frédéric is spewing excuses. His trip to the airport has been besieged by obstacles ranging from traffic jams to a metro strike and being told the wrong arrival terminal by airport information. His face is furrowed with worry. I try to look casual, not cross, which doesn't actually require a lot of effort. He looks just how I remembered him, maybe better. His continental tan has deepened several notches, if that's possible, enhanced by his smart summer suit, which is some color between gray and light brown. We head to the lift that goes to the underground carpark, Frédéric dripping style with every step. Suddenly I'm excruciatingly aware of my dishevelled appearance. My stained shirt front where fruit salad juice spilled during the flight. My feet, my clothes, my spiky legs. He looks like he's just stepped off the set of a French film. And me, how do I look to him, I wonder? Like an Aussie backpacker in need of a bath, probably. --from Almost French: Love and A New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull, Copyright © 2003 Sarah Turnbull, published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher. Excerpted from Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull 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.