France for a Year

aa-franceAlthough I’m not a Francophile, I remembered reading Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris a few years ago and being sad to come to the last page.  One book leads to another.  And another … I recently finished three more books about people who moved to France for a year and chronicled their journeys.

French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too): How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banished Snacking and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Healthy, Happy Eaters is a book by Canadian author Karen Le Billon who decided to move to France for a year with her young family, to the village where her husband grew up.

It became apparent, rather quickly, that the Le Billon children were very unlike the French children when it came to eating habits.

Here are some things I noted while reading this book:

– The French do not reward kids with food and do not let kids play with food.

-The French do not snack.  [What about all those cafés with bulging chocolate croissants in the windows?  Those are for foreigners. If you see a native in those places, they are likely having a small espresso only.] 

-The French eat their fill at meals and eat four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, gouter—a mini-meal in the late afternoon/after school, and a late dinner).

-Tables are dressed up for the most important occasion of the day and the French eat only when seated at a table.  [I have tried to eat only when sitting down and this is VERY hard for me, since I am often on the go!]

-Kids are expected to try a variety of food at every meal until they learn to appreciate it.  At school, lunch is considered an important part of the pupils’ education.  School lunches help to teach French food culture. In France, gourmet food is not the exclusive domain of the rich. It is appreciated by all classes within society.

-The French would never think to eat alone.  Mealtimes are about eating good food and sharing community.

Le Billon was initially defensive about her daughters being forced to eat certain types of “mature” foods and being denied snacks.  She thought that the school was being really strict and worried when her young daughters reacted and became upset. In the end, she decided to heighten her expectations of her children and adopt more French food philosophy because she saw the results: French kids really do eat everything, they are not obese, and they enjoy their food and food culture.

Le Billon had a lot of practical suggestions.  I took two things away from this book, that has impacted my family positively:

1) I started weaning my kids off frequent snacking and we have tried to avoid snacking on empty calories.  I really like the idea of having four mini-meals rather than snacking several times between meals.  I have become more mindful of the clock when my kids ask about snacks. I have trained them that 4 o’clock is the cut-off time for asking for something to eat before dinner.  They may have a healthy snack at 4 p.m. (usually something with protein like cheese, nuts, or peanut butter with apple slices) and that’s it until dinner.  When the kids are hungry prior to a meal, I try to speak positively about the yummy meal that is coming and try to distract them with things other than food.

2) I’ve started working harder to help my kids eat more variety.  This is easier said than done, but I have found some tricks that have worked.  As Le Billon indicates in her book, it’s important to offer a variety of foods. I have started keeping at least four different kinds of veggies cut up and ready to go in my fridge.  I have been setting these out on the table prior to lunch.  I have one child who would previously only eat carrot sticks but has now branched out to cucumbers and sometimes other veggies.  I tell my kids that they have to eat at least four pieces of vegetables and at least two varieties.  The kids also know they have to try at least one bite of everything on the table.  One line in the book is to tell kids: “You don’t like it yet because you have not tried it enough times to like it. Don’t worry you will like it someday.”  I try to say positive things about different kids of foods and to lead by example.

I’m glad I read this book and recommend it.  French Kids Eat Everything was definitely good food for thought!


C’Est la Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and—Voila!—Becomes Almost French! is about the nuts and bolts of moving to Paris and about the author’s attempts to reinvent herself and find happiness again after tragedy and a major life change.  This was a delightful book for the first hundred pages or so.  The American author, Susie Gershman, had traveled to Paris on business numerous times.  When her husband died and she was still in her fifties, she decided to uproot herself and move to Paris, a city that had always enamored her.

I liked the author’s gusto and sense of humor. I also enjoyed the details about what it was actually like to put skin and bones on her dreams.  She talked frankly about the nitty-gritty of moving to Paris.  First, there was the matter of trying to get a lease on an apartment.  Gershman had a lot of connections and spoke some basic, conversational French.  She nonetheless had an uphill battle trying to relocate and integrate.  Getting a lease was just the beginning.  There were many other cultural hurdles to jump and practical things to learn along the way.

As I mentioned above, the book gradually stopped being delightful.  I got tired of the author bragging and seeming to not realize she was doing it.  She indicated numerous times that she had many friends who were rich, famous, and important.  These were the kinds of people who could get reservations at the best restaurants at a moment’s notice.  It was kind of like name dropping without actually using names. Although, a handful of times, she did use actual names.

The final straw was her giddy affair with a married French man.  Of course we are told many times in the book that he is a Count.  She was so impressed by this title that she apparently didn’t care that he was 20 years her senior and married.  What mattered most was that he could take her to nice parties where she could hobnob with the upper crust.  It just seemed very shallow and was highly unattractive, especially for someone in her fifties.

I understand that Gershman wanted to be happy again but was put off by the fact that she felt she needed a married boyfriend to take her there. Originally I admired Gershman because she was independent and strong. It takes a lot of guts to try to carve out a new life, especially all alone.  But then she quickly became dependent and silly.  It left a bad taste in my mouth … not something I would expect from a French book!


Paris in Love is about romance writer, Eloisa James, and her family moving to Paris after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and successfully treated. She sold her home in the suburbs, she and her husband took sabbaticals from their professorial jobs, and she decided life was too short to not try Paris for a year.

The book is written in little vignettes.  James has a perky personality and writes with humor about how they settled into Paris, acclimated to a new culture, and tried to parent two adolescent children along the way.

I thought Paris in Love was cute and funny.  It’s a whimsical, fun, quick read.

It was a treat to read these books and live vicariously in France for a time! 


2 thoughts on “France for a Year

  1. Isn’t the American female infatuated with European royal titles the perfect cliche?

    I can wholeheartedly endorse the “French” approach to children and food, but when we did it, we just thought it was our own decision to continue to be foodies, and let the kids sink or swim. Actually, they embraced new foods pretty well because that’s what they had from their first solids. (Whatever we had, pretty much.) I’ve also noted that it helps if BOTH parents are willing to eat good stuff. The picky parent tends to be imitated.
    As soon as they were old enough, we also let them pick stuff from the produce aisle for themselves, which is how I learned to cook parsnips. On the downside, feeding 5 foodie children at a restaurant can get pricy. 🙂


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