French or foe book review from PumpjackPiddlewick

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

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 tid bits 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.

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  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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