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French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France Paperback – April 24, 2007

33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First-time author Ramsey adopts a sweet but never cloying tone to tell the charming story of her family's four-year stint in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Ramsey, a young mother of three whose husband's company relocates them to France, recounts what it feels like to sell the family home in South Carolina, say good-bye to everyone you know and move overseas. Rather than tell the story chronologically, Ramsey links the narrative to everyday events recalling the pitfalls and petite triumphs inherent in each encounter. Moreover, because the family's command of French is minimal, routine tasks often become embarrassing lessons. Ultimately, Ramsey and her family embrace their adopted country's language and customs. Entering a bookstore, she finds herself surrounded by graceful young women in high heels, short skirts and stylish leather blazers, while she is "standing there in my big red field jacket and clunky black clogs… like a frumpy giant." Ramsey acknowledges telling "the whole truth, even when it makes me look ridiculous"—and this results in an endearing memoir. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

This account of contemporary life among the French eschews the glamour of Paris and Provence for one of France's more prosaic quarters. The Ramsey family abandons the comforts of Greer, South Carolina, to pursue a job opportunity in Clermont-Ferrand, a grimy industrial city in France's Massif Central known chiefly for the headquarters of the Michelin Tire Company. The Ramseys transport their household to France, including their small children, a cat, and even a piano. With her husband ensconced at his office, Ramsey must cope with everyday life's challenges. Struggling with an unfamiliar tongue and with quick-to-judge Auvergnats, Ramsey consistently embarrasses herself with malaprops. Even a simple visit to the local bank frustrates as she struggles with a mystifying, intimidating security system. Incorrigibly American, Ramsey appreciates the tiny neighborhood shops beloved by both natives and tourists, but she nevertheless finds herself irresistibly drawn to the local American-inspired supermarket with its one-stop efficiency. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076792522X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767925228
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Alison on April 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
French By Heart is all that a travel memoir should be. Not only does it transport you to France, but it's funny, charming, and reads like a good novel. You won't be able to put it down!

This book follows the true story of the Ramsey family, who move from the deep South to the heart of France when the husband is transferred there for work. They even bring their piano and their aging cat!

And as you watch them acclimate, you fall in love with the Ramsey family, their quixotic French neighbors, and life in la belle France.

If you love travel memoirs or books about France, this is next up on your reading list. It's the best travel memoir I've read in a very long time.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Kittel on April 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
I could not put this book down! I am a fellow Michelin wife who has also lived in France. I do not know Rebecca Ramsey; but I really enjoyed this book. It brought back a lot of memories.

Whether you have lived in France or not this is one of those books where it is enjoyable to read about someone's experiences living in a foreign country, especially with small children. I'm always trying to find books about expats in different countries, but this one hit closest to home. I'm happy to see a Michelin wife has written about her life in France. Good for you Rebecca Ramsey!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Q on June 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
In France, one would call this a very good "summer" book - light and lots of good stories. The text is lively and it is easy to picture the people and the events. For example, the first day of school where the teachers call the students and march them into the school, or the search for the circus poster where I can imagine the French driver stares as Becky tries to pull a poster from a pole. The stories are told clearly from a love of France - they make fun of French people, but in a nice way. Americans are not left out, as Becky correctly points out "You can always tell an American by white tennis shoes."

If you are an American who plans on living in France for a few years this book is a must read - these are some of the surprises in store for you. If you have ties to France, you will laugh along as Becky relates her tales that you should easily relate to. And if you are neither, the book will be a fun introduction into French culture.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By E. Lacey on April 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a sweet, if somewhat unsubstantial, book about a family who moves from South Carolina to central France. Becky and Todd Ramsey take advantage of a corporate relocation and settle their three young children in Clermont-Ferrand, an industrial town several hours south of Paris. The book tells tales of their four years in this region. There are many fish out of water experiences (Becky doesn't understand the local banks and the local schools, she bungles French expressions and is scandalized by the nudity on TV), but the heart of this story lies closer to home. The Ramseys rent a house next to a nosy retiree, the ever-present Madame Mallet. Soon, Madame Mallet is spying on them, engaging them in conversation every time they step out their front door and handing out helpful tips on everything from child rearing to gardening. Laughter and tears follow.

While this book doesn't offer the kind of soul-searching narrative found in other books of its kind (the magnificent "Paris to the Moon" comes to mind), it offers up sweet and charming anecdotes that string together nicely. The reader doesn't get a real sense of how France changed the Ramseys, or challenged any of their preconceived ideas about quality of life. However, the author does manage to convey her great love for the little things- a particular furniture shop, a French circus poster, and above all, her quirky neighbors. In the end, it is the friendship with Madame Mallet that forms the heart of this book and leaves the reader feeling emotional at its conclusion. This is a worthwhile read, but not the best of this genre.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By mikemac9 on October 25, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"French By Heart" falls into a less crowded genre of travel books. Two overworked themes are "My Summer House Overseas -- Troubles Making It Liveable", and "Moving Abroad After Marrying A Foreigner -- Adjusting To A Strange Place". This book falls into the category of those spending a few years abroad, and while remaining fundamentally American want to make the most of their experience. There are a few other books in this genre I've read and preferred to this book; I'll mention them at the end of the review.

"French By Heart" starts off very promising. The family is moving to France for the husband's job at Michelin, and they've decided for the full immersion experience. Unlike many ex-pats who cluster together and try make France disappear, Rebecca Ramsey and her husband deliberately decide on a small village with no other Americans. The writing at this point is bright and witty. In fact her young son Ben gets off some of the most amusing lines of the book as he reacts to the news the family is going to France.

The disappointing thing to me is that the book went downhill from there. As with many neophyte writers, Ramsey puts too many adjectives in her sentences as she tries to convey to the reader the wonder around her. It's the verbal equivalent of Baroque art, a little over the top and just as difficult to comprehend. One appreciates skillful writers after encountering writing like this, realizing in retrospect what a delight it is to read someone who captures the experience with a few deftly chosen words instead of sentences so jammed with descriptives they are difficult to read.

Not only was the writing style disappointing, so too the content. A little village in France, someone dying to take part in it.
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