REVIEW: Beginning French by Les Américains
The trouble started when their dream came true.
First they took French. Then they took leave of their senses. They bought a 400-year-old cottage in rural France from an ad on the Internet. Their “completely restored” farmhouse certainly looked charming, but the pool leaked, the walls cracked, and the electricity fizzled whenever they switched on the kettle.
This is the wry and witty memoir of les Américains, Eileen and Marty, joined by their chef-daughter Sara. Their dream of being French leads them into uncharted territory where “oh la la” takes on a whole different meaning.
Before they can even move in, a freak accident destroys the interior of the house. An ancient wisteria threatens to uproot the kitchen floor. The wildlife continually tries to take up residence, and the pool becomes a watery hole that swallows up euros. And then there’s Jacqueline.
The only way les Américains can salvage their sanity is by adopting a simple, time-tested mantra: “Have a setback, have a drink.” Soon they’re buying rosé by the case.
Whether you’re a traveler, foodie, Francophile, or home-improvement veteran, Beginning French will enchant you with its vivid portrayal of part-time life in southwest France. Home chefs will enjoy the 12 Dordogne-inspired recipes, and English speakers will appreciate the interactive glossary of French terms.
I seem to be stuck on reading about Americans heading off to Europe and plunging into the joys and headaches of living in a new country. But this one has some recipes in the text and then you can go to beginningfrench.com for photos and more recipes! Eileen and Marty sound like normal, average people who decide to try and make a dream come true.
First they’re just vacationing in Paris. Eileen doesn’t put up with bullies or shit from chefs no matter how many Michelin stars a restaurant has. She’s also the only one who (initially) speaks French thanks to 2 semesters of French language classes for adults. But it doesn’t take long for her to (initially) be “Frenched out” even after a delightful dinner hosted by 2 French ladies in Paris. Can Parisians be rude? Of course but chances are less if you make an effort to play by their rules. It’s after a visit to British friends who own a vacation home in the country that they get the idea “hey, we could do this. We could find a little place with its own particular village and own particular atmosphere and own particular magic.”
Ah, the perfect house is found and purchased, odds and bits are bought and then … the boiler explodes and it’s all a mildewed mess. “Sod’s Law” as their helpful British neighbors say. But Eileen and Marty at least remember that their view is priceless and everything else can be replaced. A glass of vino doesn’t hurt either to ease the momentary pain. I would have paid money to see the flattened tree frog that popped out of their printer then hopped off into the fields. Their cheerful “take it all in stride” attitude makes the 7 plagues they describe (including with the aforementioned tree frogs, snails, toads, field mice, affectionate flies, and humongo spiders) fun to read about. Sort of.
Now the village nights out with basically gourmet food and inexpensive but good wine sound divine though I’m with Marty on my dancing coordination – I just don’t have any either. I have to admit that numbers in French scare me too but Oh, la la would I love to shop on market day in Bergerac. Yes, a good electrician who will arrive if your “systeme est desequilibre” is a treasure. I’ve never flown to a foreign country with my pets. The paperwork sounds a nightmare. The chance to sit in civilized comfort in a Paris bistro with my cats does sound like fun though.
Their “can do” attitude makes even the disasters interesting and turn things into a charming, light and refreshing glimpse of living the dream at Le Reve. Until things begin cracking – the walls, the floor, the 400 year old barn, the pool and their marriage. Oh, la la la la. That needs fixing most of all. After a spectacular mea culpa grovel doesn’t do the trick, I was worried. Marty and Eileen had become my book friends by this point. They’d survived so much. Was it going to flounder? Non, n’est pas possible. A little fixing, a little dancing some heart to hearts and voici. Ca va.
This is a fun and enchanting little book about discovering a new place, new friends, a new culture with some awesome sounding food. I mean, this is France! It’s a window into daring to make your hopes come true. They experience and appreciate France deeply and I enjoyed coming along for the ride. La vie est belle. B