Helynne's Reviews > C'est la Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and--Voila!--Becomes Almost French

C'est la Vie by Suzy Gershman
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Feb 02, 11

Read from November 22, 2010 to February 02, 2011

Although I have read many recent books of this genre—American woman discovers the delights and frustrations of cultural difference between the U.S. and France—I found this memoire particularly informative. Suzy Gershman describes the real nitty-gritty details of everyday Parisian life and how it can captivate, but also really bowl over the best-intentioned Yankee gal. When Gershman, a traveling contributor to Born to Shop, is suddenly widowed at age 50, she indulges in a longtime dream to live in Paris, although she doesn’t speak French well and has little idea what she is getting into when she jumps into renting an apartment, buying furniture, linens, appliances and clothing. “Living in France is harder than people coming from the States think,” her friend Claire warns. “We’re all here because we think it’s worth it, but don’t underestimate the stress of a move like this” (57).
Gersham’s story is partly a how-to manual on where to find the best home furnishings at the best prices while dealing with French people’s prickly personalities and other cultural quirks. She buys numerous French electronic devices that inevitably fall apart and are basically irreparable due either to the nettlesome personalities and/or the ignorance of those who sell them. Her expenses for everything, which she describes in considerable detail, are astounding. Fortunately, when she needs minor surgery, she discovers for herself how truly wonderful –and how reasonable priced—the French health care system that we have all heard so much about really is. Like certain friends of mine, I tend to get a little irritated when I read about people living frivolously on seemingly unlimited funds. Gersham’s adventure is definitely one of these kinds of stories. Although she occasionally complains that she must be careful with her money because her late husband’s life insurance is limited and she is able to do only part-time free-lance work, she nevertheless spends money like water, buys expensive linens and dishes, wears Armani suits, travels constantly to and from London and the U.S., hires a limo to drive her and her wealthy lover around Paris on Christmas Eve, and plans to buy a house in Normandy. (Later, after living in Paris for four years, she is persuaded to buy a house in Provence instead). Speaking of her lover, that was an affair that, in my opinion, she could well have done without. The man was a French “count,” rich and sophisticated, but several years her senior, married, Viagra-dependent (and it doesn’t always work), and an arrogant jerk. One of the most satisfying parts of the book is the moment when she finally wises, up decides that “adultery doesn’t work for me” (what a concept), and dumps the SOB. Appendices at the end of the book give realistic practical advice, such as how to shop for French beds (which are smaller and have different sheet sizes than they do in the U.S.), how to stock a French refrigerator, and how to convert U.S. measurements to the metric system. “Life handed me a lemon when my husband became sick and died,” Gersham concludes. “Somehow, I had made citron pressé . . .and it was sweet” (257) . Indeed, her successes are more enjoyable to read than her excesses are unpleasant, and I found this book most culturally fun and enlightenting.
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