I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany (Paperback)

Living in a Small Village in Brittany

By Mark Greenside

Free Press, 9781416586951, 244pp.

Publication Date: June 2, 2009



Tired of Provence in books, cuisine, and tablecloths? Exhausted from your armchair travels to Paris? Despairing of ever finding a place that speaks to you beyond reason? You are ripe for a journey to Brittany, where author Mark Greenside reluctantly travels, eats of the crepes, and finds a second life.

When Mark Greenside -- a native New Yorker living in California, doubting (not-as-trusting-as Thomas, downwardly mobile, political lefty, writer, and lifelong skeptic -- is dragged by his girlfriend to a tiny Celtic village in Brittany at the westernmost edge of France, in Finistere, "the end of the world," his life begins to change.

In a playful, headlong style, and with enormous affection for the Bretons, Greenside tells how he makes a life for himself in a country where he doesn't speak the language or know how things are done. Against his personal inclinations and better judgments, he places his trust in the villagers he encounters -- neighbors, workers, acquaintances -- and is consistently won over and surprised as he manages and survives day-to-day trials: from opening a bank account and buying a house to removing a beehive from the chimney -- in other words, learning the cultural ropes, living with neighbors, and making new friends.

I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do) is a beginning and a homecoming for Greenside, as his father's family emigrated from France. It is a memoir about fitting in, not standing out; being part of something larger, not being separate from it; following, not leading. It explores the joys and adventures of living a double life.

Praise For I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany

"One of the nicest of the trillions of books about France." -- Diane Johnson, author of L'Affaire, Le Mariage, and Le Divorce

"This tale of how one man accidentally becomes a thoroughly integrated member of a French village is funny, insightful, and winningly self-deprecatory. (My favorite character may be the nervous insurance agent.) And Mark Greenside's version of rudimentary spoken French is actually a good demonstration of how to communicate in a language you don't know!" -- Lydia Davis, author of Varieties of Disturbance: Stories and translator of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

"A light, lighthearted, occasionally very funny romp through a region of France not well represented in the travel literature. With his fresh eye and self-deprecating wit, Greenside sketches a wry, cautionary tale for all those of us who are tempted by adventures in foreign real estate." -- Michael Sanders, author of From Here, You Can't See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant

"Mark Greenside has written a sweet, evocative book about the pleasures and perplexities of buying and owning a house in a small town in France. It's a funny, enlightening journey. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip." -- Richard Goodman, author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. The author often writes about being American. What does it mean to him? What does it mean to you? What differences does he discover between being American and French?
  2. The author is a stranger in a foreign land. He has to make-do with very rudimentary French. How does he communicate? From his communication skills, what did you discover about how language is learned and created?
  3. Who are your most favorite and least favorite characters in the book? Why?
  4. What scenes made you laugh the most and what scenes disturbed you the most? Why?
  5. How did the author change from the beginning of the book to the end? Is he a different person at the end? If so, how is he different?
  6. What does the author learn about himself?
  7. The author makes a big distinction between comfort and convenience (p.9), and how the French seem to be very good at the former and less good at the latter. Is the distinction significant? What does it tell you about French and American values?
  8. On page 11, the author writes about cultural assumptions and the things we take for granted in our own cultures. What do you take for granted in your culture?
  9. Were you surprised by all of the reminders of World Wars I and II? What difference do you think those reminders make to the French mind-set, culture, and world-view?
  10. What is the most surprising thing you learned about France and French people?
  11. The author makes many references to time in the book. What are some of the differences in how Americans and French use, view, and value time?
  12. On page 45, the author writes about small-town connectedness. Do you agree?
  13. On several occasions (e.g. p 60) the author writes about family's doing things together, teenagers willingly participating in family outings, and multi-generational activities as regular events. The author believes this is much more prevalent in France than in the U.S. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that's the case?
  14. The author bought his house without any structural tests or exams, only the word of the seller. Basically, it was an act of faith and total trust in strangers. Have you ever made a major decision that way? If so, how did it turn out?
  15. Why do you think the author and Kathryn broke up? Who do you think was mostly at fault? Why?
  16. On p. 135, the author says, "the small things are large," and "it's a good way to live." What do you think he means? Do you agree?
  17. On p. 155, the author writes about conversations in the U.S. as being competitive and win-lose and conversations in France as being win-win. What does he mean? Do you agree?
  18. The author has lots of examples of business exchanges—shopping, buying the house, getting oil, the floors, insurance, the birthday cake. How do these differ from doing business in the U.S.? Why do you think there's such a difference?
  19. The author tells us his politics are liberal, yet on p. 194, the author says living in France makes him conservative and distrustful of change? Are you surprised? Has something like this ever happened to you?
  20. On p. 201 the author says, "Living here surprises the hell out of me." How has the author been surprised? What has he learned about himself?