Read a good book this weekend recommended by Vive le Livre Book Club at PumpjackPiddlewick

French or Foe? Understanding French culture (A Bon Livre)

So you like to visit France. Maybe you are even thinking of buying a place here. Maybe you already have. And yet, maybe, though you love the country, you just don’t get ‘the French’. Like why don’t the French smile? Why, when driving, do they feel the need to drive so close? (Obviously car registrations make good reading).

French or Foe by Polly Platt a recommended read by Vive le Livre Book Club at PumpjackPiddlewickFrench or Foe

When we first arrived in France, we came across this book by Polly Platt called French or Foe. It became our bible of sorts, our window into understanding French culture. Though somewhat dated, you’ll know when to take a few comments with a pinch of salt. Still, overall the understandings and tidbits still ring true. In fact, we would go so far as to say this has been the most helpful and insightful book for us since arriving here.

The book is directed at expats of the English speaking world who have either moved or are working in France. It is designed to help people understand the nuances and differences and particularly to not get upset or angry (well, much) about them. The idea being, if you understand, you may have more tolerance.

The Very Best Tip

I’m going to give a little of the game away, in case you don’t read this book. (Which, honestly you should.) When we read this book we were told of the 5 most important words we could ever speak in France. It would open doors, gain assistance and do away with the cold hearted stare one might fearfully be trying to breach. They are: “Excusez-moi de vous déranger, monsieur (or madame)…”, which translates as ‘Excuse me for disturbing you, Sir/Madame’. In looking at them, you are probably thinking, honestly?!? Really?!? Yup.

The number of times we have used this phrase on asking a question, or approaching a stranger, or simply because, is now incalculable. Not to mention, the number of times we have heard it. It doesn’t matter if you murder the pronunciation (your accent will give you away as a foreigner, thus gaining you a certain level of leeway anyway), as long as you use these words first when you open your mouth. They are like magic, like abracadabra, et voilà, the person you are talking to will be nice, charming and very helpful.

Now go read the book for more helpful tips.

Our Book Club Disclosure

At our Vive le Livre Book Club we only recommend books we have actually read and honestly liked. We are affiliated with Amazon so that if you would like to read a book that we recommend (whether on kindle or the real deal), we are able to provide a direct link for you to order it. If you do follow our link, and buy French or Foe? (within 24 hours), we will get a small (and we do mean small, but every bit counts towards the seeds we need for the veg garden) percentage. Using our links will not cost you anything – other than the cost of the actual book, if you buy it of course – but it will be appreciated by us. And for that, you get a heart felt Merci!

Our affiliation is currently with Amazon UK – no problem if you are buying for a kindle or similar, or would like the real deal and live in the UK. Postage for a book elsewhere would mean it is best to look for this read on your ‘local’ Amazon. We don’t gain anything, c’est la vie, but you get a lovely book to read. We are striving towards affiliating further afield, but it is alas not a very quick process.

If you would like to read more about our Affiliates, visit our Nourishing Pumpjack & Piddlewick page.





  1. It is true! This sentence is indeed like a door opener. I use it all the time without really paying attention, and whitout even really realizing its power. Now that you say it, I can tell the difference between this long sentence and its shorter form “Excusez-moi, …”
    Truth be told, we do love our long sentences…. like the lengthy, pompous greetings at the end of a letter.

    I read the book a long time ago. Makes me want to read it again. I remembered it was a fun read.

    1. Author

      We found it so surprising how one sentence made such a difference. And funny enough I had someone stop by the door yesterday asking directions, and that was exactly the phrase he used. I tried not to smile.

      1. No, don’t smile! We don’t smile…. as long as we know if it is a foe or a friend. 🙂

  2. I’ll remember that for the next time we are over!
    p.s. love the share buttons on the left of the page, simple and not intrusive.. is it a plugin?

    1. Author

      The book really helped, particularly if you are going to spend any time here.

      The share buttons are a plugin via Sumome ( You can sign up with them for free and also use them for capturing emails for newsletters and analytics amongst other things. Some things you have to pay for, but currently I stick with the free as their monthly plan is rather dear I think.

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