If you take an American man and place him in Paris, asking him to fit in, it will take a good sense of humor and a sincere love of France, but this man will be calling Paris his home, his sincere home, in due time.
Such a man, or should we say, monsieur, is author and writer John von Sothen.
I had the opportunity to meet up with John in the arrondisement he has called home for nearly 20 years – the 10th – and join him for what I like to describe as a “walk and talk”. For more than two hours (which felt like minutes as I had the good fortune of being on a one-on-one guided tour of a city I too love, but have so much to learn), he showed me his everyday life from the fish monger where he picks up his poisson, the boulangerie where he walks down to pick up his faily’s baquette (or two) in the morning and the restaurant where the neighborhood parents meet up after dropping their children off at school in the morning.
His new book, released this past May – Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French – shares the reality of being an expat from America living in Paris all the while being newly married, newly a parent and new to everyday living in France. Needless to say, with a dose of humor, an insatiable curiosity and deep affection for France, and being raised to “contribute” as his mother would also encourage him to do at dinner parties his parents would host in Georgetown in his youth, he has found France to be his home in more ways than he ever intended, but sincerely appreciates.
In today’s episode, I have divided it into three parts (all included in this one episode). As our conversation begins, we are seated outdoors on a terrasse in the 18th arrondisements bordering the 10th.
I hope that you will appreciate the real-time acoustics of the city of Paris’ background music as you will hear it all – French conversation, the traffic, and a city that is alive. With my trusty, but small hand-held recorded we chatted about everything, much of what I learned by reading his book and much more.
There are a few instances in which the wind is heard, and while I have edited out most parts of our conversation in which the wind was present and obstructive, the instances in which I have not is intentional as what we are talking about is worth hearing, and I did not have the heart to cut it out. Thank you for your patience in these rare moments because the rest is a dance of insights about Parisian and French living from the inside that we don’t often learn or hear about.
From talking about the famed French vacances that foreign onlookers love to dream about, what being an aristocrat really means in France (psst – his wife is an aristocrat and from an aristocratic family, so he has the inside scoop), the truth about raising children in the city of Paris, how his mother influenced his love and interest in France, why he was raised unintentionally to be someone who could step into a new culture and not be intimidated, what escaping to the country in France is like for someone who loves the city life, the film Amelie, American politics as perceived by the Parisians, and his now quickly-becoming-famous rescue pup made it into a French film.
Now, a quick note about that last point. Of course, I was drawn to our entire conversation and intrigued about the realities, but when we started talking about his family’s dog Bogart, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. And perhaps John noticed this because he gave me the opportunity to meet his dog, and so, below I captured a picture of him after I had the chance to say hello. He is the sweetest pup, truly a kind soul and no wonder he is a star on screen because he is a star period. (view the trailer for the film – Yves – here – Bogart appears in the first seen sleeping on the sofa)
I do hope you enjoy our conversation. John von Sothen’s book is available now, and you can find him writing for Esquire, French Vanity Fair, GQ, and AirMail, as well as other French and American publications (and even sometimes on French television as his book describes in hilarious detail).
~Learn more about John von Sothen and read more of his writing at johnvonsothen.com
~Purchase a copy of Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French (May 2019)
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TSLL’s 4th Annual French Week posts thus far . . .
SUNDAY August 11th
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