France is a beautiful, fascinating but frequently baffling country, so we reckon that anything that helps understand it better will be the perfect gift for a foreigner who lives in France or visits frequently.
So we asked our readers and here are their recommendations, from heavyweight political biographies to funny TV shows and podcasts about the intricacies of the French language.
Love or hate him, few can deny that French President Emmanuel Macron is an interesting character, and his achievement of creating a political party from nothing and ascending to the highest office in the land within two years was quite a feat.
There are plenty of books about him and modern French politics, but Sarah Jackson recommended Adam Plowright's book The French Exception: “Macron's rise is an extraordinary story and the author tells it well.
“You'll also learn a lot about France – such as the moment when Macron becomes enraged with a protester because he insists on addressing him with the informal “tu” form. I couldn't put it down.”
Here at The Local we also enjoyed Sophie Peddar's book Revolution française, which focuses on his rise to power and early days in office.
As a foreigner in France, often feeling a little lost, it's comforting to know that others have been through this before, and some of them have written very funny books about it.
Stephen Clarke's classic A Year in the Merde got several recommendations and Jeremy Mercer's Time was Soft There – a paean to the Paris landmark bookstore Shakespeare & Co – was also recommended.
Margaret O'Hare suggested: “'Big Pig, Little Pig' by Jacqueline Yallop. A beautiful read, adored by the Francophiles in my life that I have given it to. My husband isn't a great reader but even he gobbled it up. It is both a debunking and a celebration of life in rural France. Meat-eating foodies will be enthral to the end.
“In fact it’s a sort of modern ‘A Year in Provence’ which I read for the first time only recently and was delighted to discover that it has aged very well. A slightly mischievous paean to the glorious French psyche.”
And of course anything relating to French cooking is also popular, with Margaret adding: “I forgot to mention Felicity Cloake's 'One More Croissant for the Road' a delightful canter around France à velo in pursuit of culinary perfection in regional specialities (plus the odd croissant). Part road-trip, part recipe book, part love-letter to the French lunchtime, it is a witty and easy read.”
Another tip for food and history lovers was A Bite-Sized History of France by Stephane Hinaut, which “combines stories about French food and history. A great book for a Francophile,” says Julia Gray.
The Greater Journey by David McCullough was recommended for anyone interested in history, while here at The Local we loved Anne Sebba's book Les Parisiennes, about how the women of Paris coped with war, occupation and its aftermath in the 1940s, and the astonishing Resistance story A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorhead.
For French-speakers we can also highly recommend journalist Valentin Gendrot's book Flic, describing the year he spent working undercover as a police officer in France.
Winter is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good TV series or box set and many of our readers recommended Bureau des Legends, with Sarah Jackson saying: “We got completely hooked on this in the last lockdown and binged on the first four series. It's about the French secret service. The acting and scripting are both exceptional, with lead Mathieu Kassovitz being particularly good.”
In a similar vein, at The Local we loved Engrenages (released in the UK as Spiral) about the work of a French police unit in the grittier areas of Paris.
A classic historical series also recommended multiple times was Un Village Français, with Kim Sieminskie saying: “It shows all sides of World War II. The French are not all good, not just the obvious collaborators, but the every day people who have to made hard choices; the Germans aren't all bad or evil. It is compelling and the characters are so interesting….. I loved it!”
On a lighter note – many people also recommended Dix Pour Cent (released in English as Call My Agent) which as well as being very funny also gives you a crash course in French celebs as many of the big names in French cinema and music make cameo appearances as themselves.
The French podcast market has flourished the past couple of years and for someone looking for something French-themed to listen to, our readers also had good suggestions.
Julia Gray recommended Paris-centred podcast the Earful Tower, hosted by former Local journalist Oliver Gee, saying: “He takes listeners on walks throughout Paris and interviews a wide range of Parisians. He also does some Facebook live events.”
While Rebecca Bright recommended The French Revolution section of Mike Duncan's Revolutions podcast.
Anyone keen to discover new parts of France can sign up for Join Us In France Travel podcast, of which one listener said “I learn so much”.
Definitely Join us in France Travel Podcast, I learn so much. And while I'm not American, The Thing About France is interesting too!
— ✨ fadila ✨ (@p_etitpois) November 18, 2020
She also recommended The Thing About France, which sees France through American eyes. The podcast compares French and American culture, history and relationship through interviews with Americans authors, journalists and others. In one episode, feminist icon Gloria Steinem discusses the difference between French and American feminism.
For those who want to get all the week's main news stories about France compressed down to a half-hour, The Local recommends Spotlight on France, hosted by two RFI journalists, Sarah Elzas and Alison Hird. A new episode is out every Thursday.
Other recommendations were Dinner For One, which is hosted by a New Yorker living in Paris and according to the description explores what happens “when the Paris fairytale ends and real life begins”.
For French speakers, we also recommend Kiffe ta race, a great listen for anyone interested in race and racism in France. One of the hosts is Rokhaya Diallo, one of the most famous anti-racism activists in France.
One reader recommended France Culture's radio programme Les Pieds Sur Terre, which is later released as a podcast, saying it was a French version of This American Life.
It depends on how you define “podcast.” I listen to “Les Pieds Sur Terre” by France Culture. It's broadcast first then available as a podcast. As the description says, it's a French “This American Life.” https://t.co/F86fUXTfsA
— Chris O'Brien (@obrien) November 18, 2020
Not strictly about France, but The Europeans is an interesting podcast that covers quite a lot of French issues, since one of its co-hosts lives and works in Paris.
And for a gift that keeps giving all year, don't forget media subscriptions.
Many readers were kind enough to suggest The Local (and we do offer gift subscriptions, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page) but other popular recommendations were The Good Life France, France Today; Bonjour Paris and language site Frantastique.