256 pages, published November 2008
When we speak of fiction books, they are usually for entertainment. And entertainment comes in many forms; it doesn’t always have to be happy, it can be sad and heart-breaking; some are thrillers or crime fiction you just can’t put down and some are simply enjoyable and amusing.
Being French, I enjoy reading about expats in France, travellers who visit my country or any other tribute to my beloved France. There are plenty: Some are funny, others, such as Stephen Clark’s first books, depict how they slowly came to love the country.
Mark Greenside’s I’ll Never Be French is different, it’s a tribute in the true sense of the word. There is no doubt about how much he loves the country from the first chapter. It isn’t a tension-filled read, but rather a straight-forward and comical recollection of his experience of getting to know and buying a house in France. It’s delightful to see his daily struggles and the small achievements in becoming an inhabitant of the quaint hamlet of Plombien in Finstère on the coast of Brittany.
As a French person, it was heart-warming to see Greenside fall in love with the Breton, their land and traditions and see how he (attempts to) master life in this new culture. His conversations with notaires, bank employees and neighbours are amusing and best enjoyed with a little knowledge of the French language.
Greenside tells the story of how he came to France in his 40s for a holiday and ended up buying a house and returning every year. He takes the reader through the experience of dealing with the French, who have a product and a worker for everything: The Floor Guy, The Insurance Guy, The Oil Guys. His language skills improve by the time he comes back for his 50th birthday, but the book is full of anecdotes in his days of speaking no French at all. His love story with France began in 1991, long before smart phones with google translate or online banking and so from buying milk, which he describes a jus du vache (juice of cows), to getting home insurance, he is always treated with infinite patience.
As he is setting up his life in France, he includes small attempts of conversations without translating them. They are truly the heart and soul of the book, but only to be enjoyed with enough knowledge of French.
For those who love France, have had a French experience or simply enjoy tales of expats, this is the book to read. It captures village life in Brittany without making it seem too quaint and is simply a light and fun read.
But at the end of the whimsical conversations and interactions with entertaining village people lies the story of how Mark Greenside found a place he likes to return to and a place that made him humble and in some ways more human (his words not mine).
ISBN: 1416586873 (ISBN13: 9781416586876)