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French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France

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Can a family of five from deep in the heart of Dixie find happiness smack dab in the middle of France? French By Heart is the story of an all-American family pulling up stakes and finding a new home in Clermont-Ferrand, a city four hours south of Paris known more for its smoke-spitting factories and car dealerships than for its location in the Auvergne, the lush heartland o Can a family of five from deep in the heart of Dixie find happiness smack dab in the middle of France? French By Heart is the story of an all-American family pulling up stakes and finding a new home in Clermont-Ferrand, a city four hours south of Paris known more for its smoke-spitting factories and car dealerships than for its location in the Auvergne, the lush heartland of France dotted with crumbling castles and sunflower fields. The Ramseys are not jet-setters; they’re a regular family with big-hearted and rambunctious kids. Quickly their lives go from covered-dish suppers to smoky dinner parties with heated polemics, from being surrounded by Southern hospitality to receiving funny looks if the children play in the yard without shoes. A charming tale with world-class characters, French By Heart reads like letters from your funniest friend. More than just a slice of life in France, it’s a heartwarming account of a family coming of age and learning what “home sweet home” really means.


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Can a family of five from deep in the heart of Dixie find happiness smack dab in the middle of France? French By Heart is the story of an all-American family pulling up stakes and finding a new home in Clermont-Ferrand, a city four hours south of Paris known more for its smoke-spitting factories and car dealerships than for its location in the Auvergne, the lush heartland o Can a family of five from deep in the heart of Dixie find happiness smack dab in the middle of France? French By Heart is the story of an all-American family pulling up stakes and finding a new home in Clermont-Ferrand, a city four hours south of Paris known more for its smoke-spitting factories and car dealerships than for its location in the Auvergne, the lush heartland of France dotted with crumbling castles and sunflower fields. The Ramseys are not jet-setters; they’re a regular family with big-hearted and rambunctious kids. Quickly their lives go from covered-dish suppers to smoky dinner parties with heated polemics, from being surrounded by Southern hospitality to receiving funny looks if the children play in the yard without shoes. A charming tale with world-class characters, French By Heart reads like letters from your funniest friend. More than just a slice of life in France, it’s a heartwarming account of a family coming of age and learning what “home sweet home” really means.

30 review for French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I have to agree with Amplotkin about this book. I really, really wanted to love this book. It's about what I've always dreamed of - going to live in France, or Italy or best of all, England. It's one of my favorite genres and I really liked most of the characters a lot. The husband is a bit of a cipher, but everyone is likable and interesting. So why didn't I like it more? I just never got a true 'French' feel from the book. There didn't seem to be any true viewpoint. They could have been living I have to agree with Amplotkin about this book. I really, really wanted to love this book. It's about what I've always dreamed of - going to live in France, or Italy or best of all, England. It's one of my favorite genres and I really liked most of the characters a lot. The husband is a bit of a cipher, but everyone is likable and interesting. So why didn't I like it more? I just never got a true 'French' feel from the book. There didn't seem to be any true viewpoint. They could have been living almost anywhere. And there was WAY too much of the neighbor lady.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mom

    I enjoyed reading this book. It was well written. It was very informative without being a how-to book. Rebecca Ramsey tells her story in a very laid-back, easy style. Some of the people were very annoying and actually I wouldn't have lasted for four years if I was in that situation. My pet peeve with this book is actually a personal flaw in that I like everything in chronological order and this book was all over the place.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I was hoping for more. It seems almost the entire book is about Ramsey's spéciale neighbor, Madame Mallet. Ramsey seemed too preoccupied with this lady and what she thought of her. There's all of France to enjoy, and she keeps going on about her neighbor? Disappointing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Living abroad is a bucket list item for me and this book tugs at the heart. Yes I very much enjoyed this novel as it was from a Mom's perspective, drawing away from a how to/Tavel guide persona. However, for me it lacked the French countryside feels, as the author focused on family interactions.. Overall, still a happy and relaxing book you can relish..

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This is a sweet, if somewhat unsubstantial, book about a family who moves from South Carolina to central France. Becky and Todd Ramsey take advantage of a corporate relocation and settle their three young children in Clermont-Ferrand, an industrial town several hours south of Paris. The book tells tales of their four years in this region. There are many fish out of water experiences (Becky doesn't understand the local banks and the local schools, she bungles French expressions and is scandalized This is a sweet, if somewhat unsubstantial, book about a family who moves from South Carolina to central France. Becky and Todd Ramsey take advantage of a corporate relocation and settle their three young children in Clermont-Ferrand, an industrial town several hours south of Paris. The book tells tales of their four years in this region. There are many fish out of water experiences (Becky doesn't understand the local banks and the local schools, she bungles French expressions and is scandalized by the nudity on TV), but the heart of this story lies closer to home. The Ramseys rent a house next to a nosy retiree, the ever-present Madame Mallet. Soon, Madame Mallet is spying on them, engaging them in conversation every time they step out their front door and handing out helpful tips on everything from child rearing to gardening. Laughter and tears follow. While this book doesn't offer the kind of soul-searching narrative found in other books of its kind (the magnificent "Paris to the Moon" comes to mind), it offers up sweet and charming anecdotes that string together nicely. The reader doesn't get a real sense of how France changed the Ramseys, or challenged any of their preconceived ideas about quality of life. However, the author does manage to convey her great love for the little things- a particular furniture shop, a French circus poster, and above all, her quirky neighbors. In the end, it is the friendship with Madame Mallet that forms the heart of this book and leaves the reader feeling emotional at its conclusion. This is a worthwhile read, but not the best of this genre.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I picked up this book thinking it would confirm my romantic views of life in the French countryside. It did and it didn't. And I loved it. I like that Rebecca Ramsey is honest and doesn't try to sugarcoat anything. Life as an expat isn't everything it's cracked up to be. I would make a comment about Hemingway but since I haven't read any of his stuff yet it would only be gossip and I gave up gossip for Lent. :] Each chapter stands on its own as a brief and insightful essay. It's a great style for I picked up this book thinking it would confirm my romantic views of life in the French countryside. It did and it didn't. And I loved it. I like that Rebecca Ramsey is honest and doesn't try to sugarcoat anything. Life as an expat isn't everything it's cracked up to be. I would make a comment about Hemingway but since I haven't read any of his stuff yet it would only be gossip and I gave up gossip for Lent. :] Each chapter stands on its own as a brief and insightful essay. It's a great style for me since I usually only have brief snatches of time to read during the school day. Ramsey's writing style is quite nice. She has a way with details that really helps you insert yourself into the setting. And what more can I ask from a book that's goal is to detail life in France? I found this book very entertaining, enlightening, and also realistic. Yes, Ramsey supports my previous views of "la belle France" but she also reminded me that nothing is perfect and life in France is full of flaws, just like life in America.

  7. 5 out of 5

    liz

    Out of all the expats-in-France books I've ever read, this one is probably the most disappointing. I mean, is she even really trying? It doesn't seem like she tried very hard to find much out about France before her family moved there -- some of the things that surprised her were ideas that I'd come across in various books about France before. Add her somewhat gleeful ignorance about France to a marked hesitance to get too introspective, and there's just not enough here to be interesting. Then Ma Out of all the expats-in-France books I've ever read, this one is probably the most disappointing. I mean, is she even really trying? It doesn't seem like she tried very hard to find much out about France before her family moved there -- some of the things that surprised her were ideas that I'd come across in various books about France before. Add her somewhat gleeful ignorance about France to a marked hesitance to get too introspective, and there's just not enough here to be interesting. Then Madame Mallet paused and said, "By the way, where exactly are you going on those walks of yours?" "Nowhere. I just walk for the exercise and to see the birds." "Oh," she said, disappointed. "I thought you might have a boyfriend, but since it lasts only thirty-five minutes, I wasn't so sure."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is the story of a family from the United States who relocated to France for four years, parents, three children & cat. It sounded much better than it turned out. If I knew how to do half a star it wouldn't have a full three. It's hard to say what was off about the narrative exactly. Perhaps it was the focus being almost entirely upon the author's relationship with the neighbor across the street--were there no other people or events to recount over a period of years? I know, there were other This is the story of a family from the United States who relocated to France for four years, parents, three children & cat. It sounded much better than it turned out. If I knew how to do half a star it wouldn't have a full three. It's hard to say what was off about the narrative exactly. Perhaps it was the focus being almost entirely upon the author's relationship with the neighbor across the street--were there no other people or events to recount over a period of years? I know, there were other anecdotes included, but the neighbor was just too intrusive a presence to this reader.It quickly became distracting. It was disappointing. I expected to like this book wholeheartedly.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I almost hated to give this a two since Rebecca seems to be a good writer. It is just that living in France seemed to her like she moved to the next county. She became obsessed with the old lady next door and seemed to spend very little time exploring France and the different culture. At least she figured out that wearing white tennis shoes would be weird in France. I bet she was happy to get back home.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    I almost returned this one to the library unread thinking "A Baptist mother of three from South Carolina's life as a French expat ... I'm not so sure." Well, I was wrong! Ramsey is actually a good writer, and often quite funny! Keeping my eye out on more from her.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Res

    Don't expect a deeply critical review; the author and I nearly failed gym together in high school.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    My inner francophile is happy!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Harriett

    I absolutely LOVED this little memoir!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Klein

    When I was at the library, they had a whole display about France and different books about it. I noticed that this one was about a family and their decision to move to France for several years with three young children, an aging cat, the piano and all. The book was written in small chapters based on different experiences they had while the were there and it didn't disappoint. They moved to a part of France that was not necessarily a popular part of France, but they were emerged in the culture and When I was at the library, they had a whole display about France and different books about it. I noticed that this one was about a family and their decision to move to France for several years with three young children, an aging cat, the piano and all. The book was written in small chapters based on different experiences they had while the were there and it didn't disappoint. They moved to a part of France that was not necessarily a popular part of France, but they were emerged in the culture and made the unlikeliest of friends along the way. It was a great read for anyone thinking about living abroad or simply just dreaming about it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    As much as I enjoy reading just about any book set in France, this one didn't hold my attention. I was also bothered by the author's lack of timeline continuity. Recognizing that she was recounting true stories I still felt she could have done so without jumping from one timeframe to another then back.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kat Walter

    Amusing, but could have been better. The narrator was self absorbed, naive, shallow and didn’t immerse herself in the French culture. She remained an American in France, shopped in the American grocery store and associated with other Americans. I never felt she left her comfort zone. Her vignettes also did not illustrate much that was French.

  17. 5 out of 5

    B

    Randomly picked up this book and ended up liking it quite a lot. I wish the author would include some photos or illustrations or maps to get a better idea of what really happened. Since it has been over ten years at this point so some of the things she said are probably no longer relevant. A relaxing read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    J.E. Raley

    Decent read. Made me yearn for France and the culture of the areas. Fingers crossed for a trip to Europe to explore this area and who knows? Maybe one day we'll move to France to get immersed in this lovely, completely different place.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan White-Riggs

    This was ok, another typical story of an American family who moves to Paris, or in this case Clermont-Ferrand, France and their adventures.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pam G

    Fun family travelogue. Pleasant and quick read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michele Gardiner

    Not so much adventure. A more accurate title: That annoying Madame Mallet.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    The authour and her family (husband, 9 yr. old daughter, 7 yr. old son, infant son, and cat) packed up and moved to France for four years when her husband accepted a transfer with his company. They started out in an apartment, then found a house where they could settle down and start their new lives as foreigners trying their best to fit in. I loved hearing all the details of their daily lives as they adjusted to a new culture. Everything they had taken for granted in their previous lives became The authour and her family (husband, 9 yr. old daughter, 7 yr. old son, infant son, and cat) packed up and moved to France for four years when her husband accepted a transfer with his company. They started out in an apartment, then found a house where they could settle down and start their new lives as foreigners trying their best to fit in. I loved hearing all the details of their daily lives as they adjusted to a new culture. Everything they had taken for granted in their previous lives became a challenge: buying groceries, getting cheques from a bank, enrolling the kids in school, getting acquainted with neighbours - it all becomes one daunting adventure after another. Some of it is funny, some endearing, but all of it is good story-telling. She held my interest from start to finish and left me wanting more at the end of every story. Complicating the Ramsey's lives is Madame Mallet, a meddling older neighbour who has an opinion on everything the Ramseys do and who never passes up an opportunity to tell them what that opinion is. She's irritating, hard to put up with and drives them almost to distraction at times, but she couldn't be more perfect for this story if she had been especially created for the role. I hope this book gets made into a movie just so I can watch Madame Mallet in action. She is priceless! If you like the "We-Moved-To-A-New-Country" genre of books, or if you're like me and will read just about anything set in France, you'll probably enjoy this. Add it to your tbr for one of those times you want something quick and not too serious. I hope it'll be as much fun for you as it was for me.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    The Ramseys are moving to France. The family is from South Carolina and has always wanted to move. Not just visit, but move. The kids will go to French schools, they will live French lives, have French friends, the whole kitten caboodle. And so off they go. The author writes of her family's many experiences and adventures over the four years the family lives in a small town about 4 hours south of Paris. Some are funny, some hurtful and depressing, others uplifting and heartfelt. Through it all th The Ramseys are moving to France. The family is from South Carolina and has always wanted to move. Not just visit, but move. The kids will go to French schools, they will live French lives, have French friends, the whole kitten caboodle. And so off they go. The author writes of her family's many experiences and adventures over the four years the family lives in a small town about 4 hours south of Paris. Some are funny, some hurtful and depressing, others uplifting and heartfelt. Through it all the Ramsey family learns to be French, not literally, but definitely French in their heart of hearts. I lived in France so this book was close to my heart. I thought Ramsey did a superb job getting the French mannerisms down. Like when a neighbor insults her it takes her awhile to figure out that she was doing it out of kindness, that she considered her a true friend and was not deliberately trying to put her down. There is not really a whole lot to critique about "French by Heart." It was what it advertised: a book about an American family's adventures while living in France. I thought this was a perfect representation of what French life is really like. If you're thinking about living in France or are going on an exchange trip, definitely pick up a copy. The book took me back to my time in France and I appreciated it for what it was. It was very similar to "Almost French," another book about life as an English Speaker in France, but this book was not set in Paris. I liked "French by Heart." It was fun, informative and had (it must be said) that certain je ne sais quoi.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This was a light and entertaining read that follows the model of the well-meaning fish-out-of-water foreigner trying to surmount the language and cultural barrier. The best of its kind may be David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day. Though it's hard to top Sedaris and this is a familiar formula, there are quite a few authors (including this one) that still manage to please and amuse and keep everything fresh. Other successes include Paris to the Moon, Beppe Severigni's Ciao, America, A Year in th This was a light and entertaining read that follows the model of the well-meaning fish-out-of-water foreigner trying to surmount the language and cultural barrier. The best of its kind may be David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day. Though it's hard to top Sedaris and this is a familiar formula, there are quite a few authors (including this one) that still manage to please and amuse and keep everything fresh. Other successes include Paris to the Moon, Beppe Severigni's Ciao, America, A Year in the Merde (one of my personal favorites, almost up there with the Sedaris book), and of course Peter Mayle's books about his experiences in Provence. I think the key to the success of all of these lies in the authors' abilities to ultimately humble themselves by turning the joke on themselves in the end, and in their sincere attempts to immerse themselves in the other culture...something that if all the "ugly American" stories are anything to go by, more tourists and expats could stand to learn from.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I really enjoyed reading this! It was a quick, light read and made me want to hop a plane with my family and settle somewhere else in the world for a few years (I confess, that has always been a dream to live somewhere else for a year or two). It's the true story of a southern family moving to France, to a village south of Paris, for 4 years. They rent a home, go to French schools, learn to navigate the culture and life, with mishaps here and there. I loved how honest the author was! She is a gr I really enjoyed reading this! It was a quick, light read and made me want to hop a plane with my family and settle somewhere else in the world for a few years (I confess, that has always been a dream to live somewhere else for a year or two). It's the true story of a southern family moving to France, to a village south of Paris, for 4 years. They rent a home, go to French schools, learn to navigate the culture and life, with mishaps here and there. I loved how honest the author was! She is a great storyteller. The book jumps around in years, which sometimes makes it harder to follow, but worked, for the sake of her storytelling. I WISH she had included pictures, since this was a real story, but after checking the 'net, I found her blog, with the pictures I wanted to see, so I'm happy!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Janean

    Becky Ramsey realizes a lifelong dream when she moves her young family from South Carolina to central France. This book is a chronicle of their four years in Clermont-Ferrand where her husband works for Michelin. Happily for the reader, she includes her most embarrassing moments, frustrations with French films, meddling neighbors, and the difficulty of making real friends with French people. While often hilarious, her stories illustrate all too well how hard it is to be a foreigner in France. Li Becky Ramsey realizes a lifelong dream when she moves her young family from South Carolina to central France. This book is a chronicle of their four years in Clermont-Ferrand where her husband works for Michelin. Happily for the reader, she includes her most embarrassing moments, frustrations with French films, meddling neighbors, and the difficulty of making real friends with French people. While often hilarious, her stories illustrate all too well how hard it is to be a foreigner in France. Like her, I dream of living in France but having vacationed there twice, I have some idea of how different all the little details are in day-to-day life and what a challenge that can be. I, too, have struggled getting into and out of a bank!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    I agree with what several others have said -- this book was generally charming and light but left me wanting more. I think for me it was that the author comes across as so insecure (she's good friends with her neighbor for years and yet their friendship is almost destroyed because the lady tells her that she's put on a few pounds? Seriously?) and so naive, even provincial, despite living in France for 4 years. She just seems so determined to remain an American through-and-through, which would se I agree with what several others have said -- this book was generally charming and light but left me wanting more. I think for me it was that the author comes across as so insecure (she's good friends with her neighbor for years and yet their friendship is almost destroyed because the lady tells her that she's put on a few pounds? Seriously?) and so naive, even provincial, despite living in France for 4 years. She just seems so determined to remain an American through-and-through, which would seem to undercut the point of living in a foreign country for years. But overall I still liked it and don't regret having read it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Rebecca Ramsey's memoirs tells of her family's move from South Carolina after Michelin transfers her husband to Claremont-Ferrand, France. The book focuses a lot on Madame Mallet, the Ramsey's opinionated neighbor. She is always there to point out when the family is doing something that isn't French. The chapters sometimes focus on an specific expat issues, like Rebecca's struggles with speaking in French on the phone or figuring out how the doors of the bank work. Other chapters are about more Rebecca Ramsey's memoirs tells of her family's move from South Carolina after Michelin transfers her husband to Claremont-Ferrand, France. The book focuses a lot on Madame Mallet, the Ramsey's opinionated neighbor. She is always there to point out when the family is doing something that isn't French. The chapters sometimes focus on an specific expat issues, like Rebecca's struggles with speaking in French on the phone or figuring out how the doors of the bank work. Other chapters are about more universal topics like being unsure what time to drop-in to a neighbor's New Years Day party or worrying that the family's cat prefers the cat-sitter.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Turi

    Saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, and put it on hold at the library. Seemed custom-written for me; expatriate family learning their way around France. And yes, it was interesting, and a pretty quick read. It just didn't catch my attention in much of the same way that some others in this genre did. Maybe it was the big expatriate community that the author had to fall back on, although they didn't live right in the midst of an english-speaking group. The most interesting bits were ab Saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, and put it on hold at the library. Seemed custom-written for me; expatriate family learning their way around France. And yes, it was interesting, and a pretty quick read. It just didn't catch my attention in much of the same way that some others in this genre did. Maybe it was the big expatriate community that the author had to fall back on, although they didn't live right in the midst of an english-speaking group. The most interesting bits were about the family's relationships with their neighbors, and the way the kids fit in to school.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anil Wagle

    A humorous look at the daily life of a South Carolina family transported to a small village in France. The author displays wit and humor in her encounters in daily life for her four year stay in France with her family. The minute details are perceptive and witty - the observation that only people who wear tennis shoes, instead of leather shoes, in France are, of course, Americans! How true anywhere else in the world of tourism. Especially enjoyable if one has lived abroad as an expat, since one A humorous look at the daily life of a South Carolina family transported to a small village in France. The author displays wit and humor in her encounters in daily life for her four year stay in France with her family. The minute details are perceptive and witty - the observation that only people who wear tennis shoes, instead of leather shoes, in France are, of course, Americans! How true anywhere else in the world of tourism. Especially enjoyable if one has lived abroad as an expat, since one can relate to the challenges of a foreign language and culture. Enjoyed it.

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