When in France, consider yourself lucky

  Like a bouncy, boisterous collie with a crush on the snooty poodle across the street, Americans love and continue to be fascinated by the French. Never mind our recent brief foray into ”freedom fries,’’ as once more, it seemed, they insisted upon being, well, French, and stuck out a well-shod foot to try to trip up the young, naive (in their eyes) America.
   Not ones to hold a grudge for long, Americans, for just about as long as we’ve been a country, like to pay good money for advice on how to be more like the French: how to eat, dress, seduce, dress to seduce and, after all that, drink ourselves into oblivion, like the French. Except that the French apparently don’t, at least not when they’re eating.
  Insight into Celtic drinking habits is just one of the discoveries waiting for California college instructor Mark Greenside when a girlfriend talks him into spending a summer with her in a little seaside town in Brittany, in far western France. The town is called Finistere, ”the end of the world.’’ Like the old Seiko watch commercial, the girlfriend eventually leaves, but her unexpected gift remains — a new life in a place that for Greenside turns out to be anything but the end of the world.
   "I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany" (2008, Free Press) is a sweet, often hilarious, dessert of a book. Greenside’s efforts to shop or otherwise communicate with his neighbors in fractured French will have you laughing out loud — the first time he looks for a bakery he asks a passer-by, ”Where is the bunny’’ — even as you marvel at the Bretons’ kindness and patience. Greenside meets people who will go through enormous trouble to help, who take him in, feed him, treat him as family and eventually persuade him to buy a house in this place that has enchanted him.
    "I’ll Never Be French" will have you dusting off your passport, looking at a map and thinking about French lessons. C’est si bon.

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