The title of this book grabbed me first, as I love Paris and I love lunch–well to be fair, I love any meal where I get to eat delicious food! However, when I actually saw the front cover of the book and read the blurb on it that said “‘Romance on the front burner…it’s Eat, Stay, Love with a side of spiced apricots.’ – Adriana Trigiani”, I nearly flung it back onto the shelf, hissing while making the sign of the cross. If this book was truly anything like Eat, Pray, Love, then there was no way in HELL that I would be reading that kind of drivel! But–I allowed myself to take a peek at the inside front cover and was relieved to see that it sounded more like it would be a lighthearted fun little story that combined romance, an American adjusting to life in Paris and the awesomeness that is French cuisine.
The story begins with the line “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date. I say halfway because we had finished lunch but not yet ordered coffee.” followed by the statement “I was not fully aware at the time that American girls in Paris are sluts by definition, willing to do sober what British girls will only do drunk.” When I read that, I thought “Hey, this book is going to be awesome! She slept with the guy right off the bat and made it work! Yay for slutty American girls!”
Two pages in, I discovered that this first bold claim turned out to be just a half-truth! It turns out she had first met him months ago at a conference, and they’d been talking and emailing for three entire months before she finally flew to Paris to stay with him for a little while. Seriously? I’d hardly call that lunch a “first” date! I would have been a little more upset, but I was actually finding Elizabeth’s story of how she met her French husband Gwendal and wound up moving to Paris permanently to marry him enjoyable, so this little stretching of the truth to get noticed became forgivable.
I did find one particular passage very interesting. I always hear people say things like “French people are mean and aloof!” and “French people hate Americans!” (they only hate the loud, obnoxious, deliberately culturally clueless ones), blah blah blah. I’ve been to Paris twice, and each time I had a wonderful time with no problems getting along with French people, even though I don’t speak one bit of French. In fact, I once had two ladies at a pharmacy give me medicine that I desperately needed (it was for my boyfriend, who had developed an abscess in his gums and was in considerable pain) for FREE, even though they were supposed to see if I had a prescription for it (there was no time to see a doctor). The antibiotics they gave me made it possible for him to get well enough to be able to catch our flight back home on time, and I’ve never forgotten about their kindness.
So–with my own experience of Paris in mind, I read with interest when she states
“One pragmatic perfect 10 does not a social circle make, so I finally agreed to do what I’d been dreading and began exploring the more formalized American expat community.
Why doesn’t she try to make some French friends? you say. She is, after all, living in Paris. If only it were that simple. Americans are used to meeting people. It’s how we expand our horizons, create opportunities–personal, professional, romantic. I found that, for whatever reason, people in Europe don’t need more friends. They have their families, the people they grew up with, the people they went to university with, colleagues to talk to on a cigarette break. Their social world is made up of tiny circles, closed but overlapping like those Chinese ring toys you can never untangle from one another. In Paris, it is not unusual to walk into a room of thirty-five-year-olds and find out everyone has known each other since high school. A new sexual partner–le mec of the moment–seems to be the only revolving door.”
After I read that, I stopped and pumped my fist into the air. “Yesss!” I shouted. “‘People in Europe don’t need more friends!’ That’s exactly how I feel about people! I need to move to Paris, I’ll be among my own kind!” Then I looked around to make sure no one saw or heard me do that. Thank God my boyfriend was out in his office!
But I don’t want to forget about mentioning the recipes. In each chapter she writes about a part of her and Gwendal’s blossoming relationship while also describing some great food dish that they both ate at a significant time in their partnership, and the relevant recipes are at the end of the chapter. I actually made one of the recipes, the homemade mayonnaise and it turned out to be pretty tasty. In fact, it tasted very much like the jarred mayonnaise that I bought at various markets in Paris–which is to say that French mayonnaise, whether jarred or fresh tastes nothing like jarred American mayo (and don’t even get me started on Miracle Whip).
I don’t often read books that I consider ‘fluff’ material, but I have to say I was thoroughly entertained. Elizabeth Bond has a conversational way of writing, with an added attention to useful little details that bring the whole narrative alive. Whether she went to the market or met Gwendal’s relatives for the first time, you could feel her own nervousness and uncertainty and then experience how she became acclimated to each new experience. It’d be a great book to read for first time travelers to Paris and even for people who have already been there because it allows the reader to enjoy the validation of their own adventures.