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Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French

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A hilarious, candid account of what life in France is actually like, from a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ Americans love to love Paris. We buy books about how the French parent, why French women don't get fat, and how to be Parisian wherever you are. While our work hours increase every year, we think longingly of the six weeks of vacation the French enjoy, imagining them at A hilarious, candid account of what life in France is actually like, from a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ Americans love to love Paris. We buy books about how the French parent, why French women don't get fat, and how to be Parisian wherever you are. While our work hours increase every year, we think longingly of the six weeks of vacation the French enjoy, imagining them at the seaside in stripes with plates of fruits de mer. John von Sothen fell in love with Paris through the stories his mother told of her year spent there as a student. And then, after falling for and marrying a French waitress he met in New York, von Sothen moved to Paris. But fifteen years in, he's finally ready to admit his mother's Paris is mostly a fantasy. In this hilarious and delightful collection of essays, von Sothen walks us through real life in Paris--not only myth-busting our Parisian daydreams but also revealing the inimitable and too often invisible pleasures of family life abroad. Relentlessly funny and full of incisive observations, Monsieur Mediocre is ultimately a love letter to France--to its absurdities, its history, its ideals--but it's a very French love letter: frank, smoky, unsentimental. It is a clear-eyed ode to a beautiful, complex, contradictory country from someone who both eagerly and grudgingly calls it home.


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A hilarious, candid account of what life in France is actually like, from a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ Americans love to love Paris. We buy books about how the French parent, why French women don't get fat, and how to be Parisian wherever you are. While our work hours increase every year, we think longingly of the six weeks of vacation the French enjoy, imagining them at A hilarious, candid account of what life in France is actually like, from a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ Americans love to love Paris. We buy books about how the French parent, why French women don't get fat, and how to be Parisian wherever you are. While our work hours increase every year, we think longingly of the six weeks of vacation the French enjoy, imagining them at the seaside in stripes with plates of fruits de mer. John von Sothen fell in love with Paris through the stories his mother told of her year spent there as a student. And then, after falling for and marrying a French waitress he met in New York, von Sothen moved to Paris. But fifteen years in, he's finally ready to admit his mother's Paris is mostly a fantasy. In this hilarious and delightful collection of essays, von Sothen walks us through real life in Paris--not only myth-busting our Parisian daydreams but also revealing the inimitable and too often invisible pleasures of family life abroad. Relentlessly funny and full of incisive observations, Monsieur Mediocre is ultimately a love letter to France--to its absurdities, its history, its ideals--but it's a very French love letter: frank, smoky, unsentimental. It is a clear-eyed ode to a beautiful, complex, contradictory country from someone who both eagerly and grudgingly calls it home.

30 review for Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    If you took a poll in the USA, I would guess Paris would likely make the top 10 list for dream vacation destinations. Paris resident John Von Sothen remembers what it was like to wonder about, experience for the first time, and now be completely immersed in what was once literally foreign to him. He somewhat humorously gathers stereotypes and assumptions which he both breaks and confirms by sharing his personal observations/experiences. It does feel at times quite opinionated, borderline judgmen If you took a poll in the USA, I would guess Paris would likely make the top 10 list for dream vacation destinations. Paris resident John Von Sothen remembers what it was like to wonder about, experience for the first time, and now be completely immersed in what was once literally foreign to him. He somewhat humorously gathers stereotypes and assumptions which he both breaks and confirms by sharing his personal observations/experiences. It does feel at times quite opinionated, borderline judgmental, if I'm being honest but if I came across a similar book floating around about Florida's heavy populated tourist destinations, I'd probably laugh my @ss off. It's all about what you know. I'm glad he found a place to call home. Thank you to Viking Books and Goodreads Giveaways for the opportunity to win an early copy of Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Meagan Houle

    I freely admit I knew nothing of modern French culture when I chose "Monsieur Mediocre," nor had I ever done much thinking on the subject at all. The title was impossible to pass up, though, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with John's self-deprecating style. I'm not sure that the details will stick with me. Ask me in a year what this book talked about, and I probably won't be able to discuss France's dizzying political landscape, or the peculiarities of its education system. What I freely admit I knew nothing of modern French culture when I chose "Monsieur Mediocre," nor had I ever done much thinking on the subject at all. The title was impossible to pass up, though, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with John's self-deprecating style. I'm not sure that the details will stick with me. Ask me in a year what this book talked about, and I probably won't be able to discuss France's dizzying political landscape, or the peculiarities of its education system. What I'm sure to remember is how much fun I had following John on his adventures, and how much joy his narrative voice added to my day. So go on, even if you've never given France a single thought: go for it. You'll like it, I promise.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Off with the Rose Colored Glasses! Monseiur Mediocre http://fangswandsandfairydust.com/201... I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted. As the synopsis above says, American's love to love Paris; or the idea of Paris.  I would generalize that further to all of France, and to some extent all of Europe. I don't believe Americans have cornered the market on idealizing other places, it fuels h Off with the Rose Colored Glasses! Monseiur Mediocre http://fangswandsandfairydust.com/201... I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted. As the synopsis above says, American's love to love Paris; or the idea of Paris.  I would generalize that further to all of France, and to some extent all of Europe. I don't believe Americans have cornered the market on idealizing other places, it fuels hopeful migration, and gets people traveling.  In Mr. von Southen's case his earliest idea of France was from his childhood his mother regaled him with stories from her time in France.  This led him to learn French and spend time abroad.  It gave him a first hand, but immature and institutional view of  what life in France was like. The opportunity to live in France came through his marriage and the decision to raise a family there.   I think he has a balanced view of France, and America.  And he relates it to us in a  self-effacing manner that is often funny.  He talks about his writing, but not too much.  He talks about his parents, who had him older, and their activities and their decline.  He talks about raising his kids, the political climate of France, and of America. He tells funny stories about how one socializes in France; in particular how one vacations there.  He talks about the great things like the good medicine and family allowances.  His stories about his cultural mishaps are pretty amusing I have been to France twice and before going I entertained the same ideas about it:  French women do not get fat,  French children are always perfectly behaved, all French people are gourmets.  I had bad hotel rooms but some very good meals.  But I also saw heavy people and poorly behaved children.  France still holds wonder but not in the legendary aspects.  He does an excellent job reading his work —  in most cases a non-fiction author is the right narrator for the work — but von Sothen's work in voice-overs and on TV means he isn't afraid of the microphone. And now I know how to say "Anais," his wife's name, properly (Anna-iss). This is a good book for any body contemplating a trip to, or life in, France.  Von Sothen's writing and observations about France are not as funny as David Sedaris's, but Sedaris is the funniest man alive and no longer lives in France. Von Sothen has stuck it out, becoming a clear-sighted, not-so-much-a-stranger in a no-longer-so-strange-land and it resonated with my own travel experiences.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I wanted to love this book. It had decent reviews and I spend a lot of time in the car listening to audio books. It seemed like a fun book for long commutes. I enjoyed the authors voice reading his book. He was easy to listen to and added context in the inflection of his voice. What I didn't like was the book itself. My French lessons ended many years ago and you almost needed to be fluent in French to understand the book. For an American author living in France, he pushed every bit of French vo I wanted to love this book. It had decent reviews and I spend a lot of time in the car listening to audio books. It seemed like a fun book for long commutes. I enjoyed the authors voice reading his book. He was easy to listen to and added context in the inflection of his voice. What I didn't like was the book itself. My French lessons ended many years ago and you almost needed to be fluent in French to understand the book. For an American author living in France, he pushed every bit of French vocabulary possible into this book. It was as if he was trying to ensure we knew he was an American living in France. I wish he had sprinkled the vocabulary throughout the narrative rather than ramming in down your throat. I felt so much was lost in the fact he had to explain words and phrases repeatedly. This could have been a humorous read (listen) but instead I was annoyed. If you're fluent in French I'm sure you won't want to read the book as many of the concepts were probably covered in your language lessons.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Life is too short to read poor books. I quit 2/3 of the way through and only made it that far because I won the Goodreads giveaway. This author is the “guest who loves to hear himself talk and goes on way too long.” I was expecting some humor like most “man in a new country” books, but this was an endless essay on “how hard French is y’all, and I learned it all wrong.” Each chapter is about the endless parties and social events he goes to and how the French make everything an ordeal. One quote Life is too short to read poor books. I quit 2/3 of the way through and only made it that far because I won the Goodreads giveaway. This author is the “guest who loves to hear himself talk and goes on way too long.” I was expecting some humor like most “man in a new country” books, but this was an endless essay on “how hard French is y’all, and I learned it all wrong.” Each chapter is about the endless parties and social events he goes to and how the French make everything an ordeal. One quote from the book is “There’s a special embarrassment one feels when you know people are reading what you wrote and finding it pompous.” This is that book. The chapter on vacations was the high point since it put into words my worst vacation nightmare. I’ve always wanted to visit Paris but this book made it sound beyond boring. Giving it a 1.5. Thank you to Viking and Goodreads for the giveaway.

  6. 4 out of 5

    William Jordan

    Amusing, ultimately touching story of an American man who marries a French woman and lives in Paris. I was put off initially by his dwelling on his upper-crust upbringing in the US, with its considerable distance from normal people. Similar level of society in Paris. But I eventually got over it and enjoyed the many anecdotes about interesting people and experiences in France.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    My favorite genre - ex-pats who tell the story of how they ended up in another country. I seem to be drawn to books based in France and Italy. This was a good tale, the author sounds like he is a real character! In a good way. He has a very wry and sarcastic sense of humor which I truly enjoyed. I was just sad the book ended!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Insightful essays on modern-day France of the past 15 years. Hilarious, laugh out loud chapters. Not a fast read if you really want to enjoy his writing style and absorb all the nuances and language faux pas. A lot of fun to read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elijah

    This has interesting information about life in Paris, but this guy’s a low-grade asshole and not very funny.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rita Ciresi

    An hysterically funny (and ultimately poignant) look at how the author adapts/does not adapt to his adopted country. If you need a good laugh--and a sob at the end--this should be your next read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cathryn

    No spoilers, but that last chapter brought a lump to my throat from its only-child accuracy. Such a lovely book!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    Fun, adventurous, sometimes unexpected, insightful and well-observed, touching at times, but especially humorous. Great book John!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    John von Sothen’s Monsieur Mediocre is the most candid account about France that I’ve read. It’s also the only account of France that I’ve read. I was never particularly interested in Paris, France, even though I always thought I’d visit someday if I had the means. But that’s only because I want to see as much of the world as possible before I die. It’s certainly not because I’ve heard a lot of good things about France. In fact, the only reason I read Monsieur Mediocre is because I’d heard a lot o John von Sothen’s Monsieur Mediocre is the most candid account about France that I’ve read. It’s also the only account of France that I’ve read. I was never particularly interested in Paris, France, even though I always thought I’d visit someday if I had the means. But that’s only because I want to see as much of the world as possible before I die. It’s certainly not because I’ve heard a lot of good things about France. In fact, the only reason I read Monsieur Mediocre is because I’d heard a lot of bad things about France from people who had actually been there, and most books about the place seemed to romanticize it. John von Sothen’s book simply seemed more willing to acknowledge its faults. But even in his candor, von Sothen presents France as a wonderful place to live, at least in his eyes. It’s clear that he appreciates some of the socialist aspects of the nation, even when he is contemplating some of the negative sides. I’m not a liberal, so I found myself disagreeing with a lot of the customs and societal structures, but at least von Sothen was able to communicate why he liked them. Monsieur Mediocre is exquisitely written, and somehow extremely readable even when von Sothen is going on for pages trying to explain an aspect of the language or culture. I just devoured the book, excited to learn so much about a different culture, even if it’s one that disagrees with me for the most part. What can I say, I’m grateful to be an American. Yes, even in this time of tumult, I believe that my country still has a hope and a future. I’ll do my part to make that future happen, the same way the French band together to create the future they want.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Josephine Vadon

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

  16. 5 out of 5

    Glenn

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fuschia

  19. 4 out of 5

    Preeti Sharma

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

  22. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brandi Bales

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marie Woodbury

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kesney Fontes

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jay

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alan L Mentzer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Donna Jo Atwood

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jon Wells

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

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