French Culture

Yesterday I started reading an incredible book called Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull. It’s about a woman who moves to France and all her observations about the culture and how she adapts to it. It’s so interesting and I can really relate to her and what she write because of what I’m experiencing in Russia. It also got me thinking that people who cross culture and go to live in other countries and also learn another language are some of the bravest people out there and I have a lot of respect for them because it’s one of the most challenging things you can do. I feel so lucky to be part of such an experience that forever changes people. Even if you’re not living abroad in France, I highly recommend this books as I think almost any expat can probably relate to her experience.

She also provides interesting insights into French culture and why the French behave the way they do. In all my readings on France and French culture this book was the first to really vividly portray the French’s need for beauty in their life and their value of good taste. I think the book does a great job summing it up so here are a few good quotes:

The loaded phrase “se mettre en valeur” is used all the time. It means “to make the most of yourself.” This is not something the French do when they feel like it: they do it every day. Sloppiness in appearance is considered a fatal disease. Once it takes hold, you’re on an irreversible downhill slide. You’ve committed the unforgiveable. You’ve let yourself go.

The thing is, the French are highly sensitive to aesthetics. Anything unattractive—even something as insignificant as an underdressed tourist—can make them uncomfortable. It spoils the lovely scenery. They become irritable. Unwell, as Frederic put it.

The essence of French style can be summed up in two words, which linked together are loaded with meaning: bon gout. Good taste.

In France, the expressions “bon gout” and “mauvais gout” and “erreur de gout” are used a lot. Said about your apartment, your outfit, your anything, the former is the ultimate compliment. Being told something is “bad taste” or an “error of taste” is a savage insult.


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