When I travel I try to be as inoffensive as possible in order to avoid the “Ugly American” stereotype. Not only does it feel more polite (and less stressful) to try to assimilate to the existing culture, but I figure if I am going to live there for a year, I need to start learning as much as possible as quickly as possible.
In pursuit of this goal, I recently picked up the book French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French by Harriet Welty Rochefort. I was hoping to pick up some cultural cues and hints, as well as background information, i.e. why do these cultural norms exist.
What I got instead was a big dose of terror.
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My interest in all things French got its start with Shannon Ables’ The Simple Sophisticate podcast. I’m always looking for new things to listen to while commuting or walking the dog, and I’d recently developed an interest in fashion and home decor. The Simple Sophisticate’s emphasis on living simply while still feeling elegant struck a chord as I — like so many others — am always balancing budget with material desires. Beginning with Episode 1, I proceeded to devour it. While not all the episodes were particularly interesting or relevant to me, the vast majority were entertaining, thought-provoking and filled with ideas to improve my life.
Learning there was a corresponding website, The Simply Luxurious Life, I commenced scouring it as well. I was particularly drawn to her Francophile section with its integration of French je ne sais quoi into every day life, revolving around the idea that living well does not necessitate living expensively.
When Ables released a book, Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life: A Modern Woman’s Guide, of course I pre-ordered it immediately. I was not disappointed. While many of the same points and ideas are covered in her podcast and blog, the book condenses the same information into a cohesive and highly readable package.
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I’m stepping away from my usual France-related books to discuss one of my favorite financial guides: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. While discussing finances is a major faux-pas in French culture, I cannot recommend this book enough – in fact, I’ve often talked off the ears of various friends and relatives!
The premise of the book is that while we have a certain image in our head of what a millionaire looks like, that image is very likely wrong and is based on the super-rich (think Hollywood A-Listers). Rather, the average millionaire tends to live below his or her means: a ranch home in the suburbs, a 5-year old Toyota truck, jeans and a work shirt. In other words, they look like your average middle class homeowner.
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As my Instagram followers already know, I’ve been devouring a new book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Postel-Vinay. It is amazing!
Postel-Vinay walks the reader room by room (beginning with l’entree) to single out the little touches in each room that help give it that French mystique. Note this isn’t “French Farmhouse” or “Shabby Chic” or “Parisian Modern” or any particular style at all. Instead it focuses on the purpose of the room and how the French tend to make it their own.
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