Moving to France For Members

8 books to read before you move to France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
8 books to read before you move to France
Photo by Matias North on Unsplash

Before you move to France - or spend an extended holiday here - you might want to brush up on French culture and history. Here are eight recommendations from the team at The Local France.


A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment

Start off with a light course. Multiple readers of The Local have recommended 'A Bite-Sized History of France' by Stéphane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell, as it is easy to read in small snippets.

Written by a French cheese-maker and an American historian, the book gives you a manageable overview of French history and gastronomy, beginning with the Gauls' drinking habits. You'll learn plenty of fun facts to share at the dinner table (for instance: Norman is short for Norseman, a reference to the Vikings who settled northern France).

Reader Julia Gray said in a previous survey that it "combines stories about French food and history. A great book for a Francophile."

A Year in the Merde

Published in 2003 by Stephen Clark, you might be tempted to dismiss this funny novel that is now over two decades old, but it still has a lot to say about France.

Fictional Brit Paul West goes to spend a year in France, right around the time of the invasion of Iraq, when the French and their anglophone counterparts were not too happy with one another. Paul tries to assimilate but finds himself struggling to adjust to French culture, especially its bureaucracy (something many foreigners in France can relate to).

Of course, these days Paul would need a visa. 


The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris 

Paris women are often the subject of stereotypes, presumed to be white, thin and effortlessly stylish. English-language women's magazines still try to sell readers on tips about 'how to be more French'.

But Lindsey Tramuta, journalist and author of 'The New Parisienne', disagrees with these presumptions.

In her book, she explores the diversity of Paris, hoping to break away from the monolithic view of Parisian women with vignettes of modern Parisiennes who hail from different backgrounds and cultures.

READ MORE: 'Romanticised and commodified’ - why France is rejecting the 'Paris woman' cliché

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong

Authors Jean Nadeau and Julie Barlow are on a mission to decipher the mysteries of France, as they reveal the foundations of French culture and social cues. From land and food to privacy and language, Nadeau and Barlow try to explain the most puzzling aspects of French life. 

Like 'A Year in the Merde', this book is a little dated these days; it was published in 2003. Some of the norms the authors explore might feel distant from life in 2024, while others remain just as pertinent today as they did 20 years ago. 

'Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong' is both a time capsule and a timeless exploration of French culture. For instance, the authors discuss French concerns about globalisation and anti-American sentiment. While young French people might love American fast-food chains like McDonald's these days, there are still semi-frequent rows over the encroaching 'anglicismes' taking over the French language.


The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed

As you learn French, you'll also learn that there are a lot of rules around conversations. Politesse requires that you greet everyone with a bonjour before getting on with your conversation.

Once you get the hang of these rules, speaking French will feel a lot less daunting. You can begin by reading 'The Bonjour Effect' to decode French conversation.

History of Modern France: From the Revolution to the War with Terror

Veteran journalist and historian Jonathan Fenby, has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to France - so much so that he was awarded the Légion d'honneur "for his contributions promoting Anglo-French understanding".

READ MORE: Readers recommend: The best books, TV series and podcasts about France

Looking at 200 years of history, Fenby asks 'what does France stand for', as he tracks the country from its first revolution and forward through subsequent revolutions, empires, returns to monarchy, wars with Germany, and the post-war era, decolonisation and the bits of stability interspersed. 

As with most countries, understanding history and the founding myth (in France's case: the Revolution) helps to understand the people, government and what they aspire toward. 


Big Pig, Little Pig: A Year on a Smallholding in South-West France

For those looking to explore life in rural France and animal husbandry, 'Big Pig, Little Pig' by Jacqueline Yallop is a good place to start. 

The author starts out with her dream of moving to France and raising two pigs, which will eventually be slaughtered for food. She finds herself struggling with the decision as she grows closer to the pigs. 

Reader of The Local Margaret O'Hare suggested it in a previous survey. She said: "[It is 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 enthralled to the end."

Fixing France: How to Repair a Broken Republic

Foreigners tend to view France with rose-tinted glasses, so perhaps it is best to take those off ahead of time and learn about some of the not-so-positive realities of French life in 'Fixing France: How to Repair a Broken Republic' by Nabila Ramdani, a French journalist with Algerian origins.

Ramdani, who grew up in the Paris region, is able to diagnose the country's shortcomings and how it often fails to live up to its motto 'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' - whether that be from terrorism, social inequality, racial and religious discrimination, or the rising influence of the far-right.

And while she can pinpoint France's problems, Ramdani can also prescribe solutions, looking to a brighter future for the French Republic.

Do you agree or disagree with any of the books listed here? Let us know in the comments below.


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Sarah Van Sicklen 2024/04/16 15:50
Year in the Merde? This book is so sexist and just gross. If you want to read about some smug dude gawking at women's breasts and constant obsession with his own erection, sure go for it but insights on living in France after the 1980s? Nope. Nope. Nope. You guys recommended it. I bought it. I'm only sorry I don't have a fireplace to properly dispose of this merde. Thanks for reading my subtle book review. :-)

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