TAC : Dear Harriet, you have been living in France for forty years. While we could thus consider you as a “Frenchie”, would you share with us your American background ?
HWR : I grew up in Shenandoah, Iowa and studied in the Midwest, earning my B.A. at the University of Michigan and my M.S.J. at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I traveled to France after my studies – and never left.
TAC : What was so captivating about France that made you want to stay here?
HWR : The ambiance! Everything, from the cars to the people to the size of the drinks, seemed so small in comparison to the States. When I stepped on to a Bateau Mouche, I felt like I was in a painting rather than “real life”. I sensed I was in a place where art and architecture and culture counted, and I wanted to be a part of that life.
TAC : What was your first experience as a writer?
HWR : I was lucky, in Paris, to work as a freelancer at a time when the U.S. news bureaus needed plenty of reporters (we “locals” in Paris were “stringers” as opposed to the full-time correspondents). I started freelancing for Newsweek, then moved over to Time, where I reported on business and lifestyle for more than ten years, toujours as a stringer. I also wrote for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, European Travel and Life, a wonderful now unfortunately defunct glossy, and the International Herald Tribune. For ten years I was a regular contributor to France Discovery Guide, an annual magazine about France’s 22 regions, which allowed me to travel and report on every one of them. I also wrote a monthly Letter from Paris for the Paris Pages website. As journalism became more and more a matter for bloggers, I turned to teaching journalism in the international journalism program at Sciences Po – and to writing books.
TAC : If I understand correctly, Joie de Vivre is not your first book?
HWR : No, my first book, French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French, was published by St. Martin’s Press in January 1999 and remained in a hardcover edition for eleven years. In 2010 St. Martin’s Press brought out the paperback edition of this book which bestselling novelist Diane Johnson called « a classic ».
My second book, French Fried, The Culinary Capers of an American in Paris, was also published by St. Martin’s Press, in March 2001. Both French Toast and French Fried were translated into Chinese. In 2005 my adaptation of French Toast was published in French by Editions Ramsay under the title : French Toast, Heureuse comme une Américaine en France .
TAC : Tell us more about Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French.
HWR : As you know, I’m a dual national and have lived in France for decades. My first book dealt with frustrations born of not understanding French culture even though I spoke the language fluently and was supposedly “assimilated”. (The result of writing it was fabulously cathartic – I discovered that the problems I attributed to the French were often my problems, not theirs!). The second was an exploration of French cuisine and the “holy trinity” of bread, wine, and cheese. The third book was born out of a desire to see if the French are really as pessimistic as their newspapers and TV programs make them look (if you watch French TV news, you end up wanting to shoot yourself). The answer is what I write in the book: the French still have enormous “joie de vivre” but, as all the polls show, it’s in regards to their private lives. They are pessimistic about the outside world, the economy, unemployment, and worried about the future. At the same time, they retain an astonishing joie de vivre when it comes to friends and family and social life.
After living in France for four decades with my very French husband, it’s clear to me that the French possess a unique gift for injecting joie de vivre in every aspect of their lives. They revel in the moment, appreciate the time spent in making and enjoying a perfect feast, pay attention to the slightest detail, whether flowers on the table or a knockout accessory on a simple outfit, and work hard when not enjoying their (considerable) leisure time without an ounce of guilt. And they’re not politically correct: Men and women openly look at each other in the streets and if no one looks, well, better to die. At French dinner parties, the guests not only wine and dine divinely but thrive on lively conversation sprinkled with the occasional off-color jokes both sexes laugh at. Talking about business and money, on the other hand, is boring and barred.
What I especially enjoy is that In France, « small is good », whether it’s the little black dress or a teeny cup of expresso, and for them joie de vivre is not always about “happy”: it’s better to have a chagrin d’amour than no amour at all, and to paraphrasee black dress or a teeny cup of espresso, and that for them “ Pasteur’s « a day without wine is a day without sunshine », for the Frenchman a day without discord is a day without a kick. They’re actually having fun have fun when they fuss and feud, squabble and shrug!
When it comes to savoir-faire, savoir-vivre, and joie de vivre, I am convinced that the French are unbeatable. When it comes to being paradoxical, they’re equally gifted: the French have been known to elevate the word « rude » to new heights, but they are the most polite people in the world – when they want to be.
TAC: It certainly sounds like you’ve found “joie de vivre” in living in France….
HWR : I chose to live in France because I knew that I would escape ennui – and I did. I also decided to adapt to the French, rather than expect the French to adapt to me (useful decision!). My books take my readers on my own personal journey through the often byzantine French mindset and I hope that they will see the genuine affection I have for the prickly, paradoxical, and pleasure-seeking Gauls who, admittedly, aren’t always easy to understand. I loved writing this last book because the more I looked around me, the more I saw how “joie de vivre” permeates the French way of life, precisely because in France there’s no « pursuit of happiness ». Fortunately, in France, I discovered that you don’t have to « pursue » happiness. It pursues you.
|Published by St.Martin's Press (New York), 288 p. hardback - also available as e-book
|| Published in October 2012
Read an excerpt ....
- To be completed later....
Harriet Welty Rochefort was born in Iowa but has spent most of her life in France. Harriet is a freelance journalist, author, former journalism professor, and much in demand speaker on Franco-American cultural differences. For her complete biography, see her website.
From press reviews....
"Rochefort makes it hard to argue with a philosophy that advocates slowing your pace, being fully engaged by what's in front of you and incorporating four-course meals into your week." (Publishers Weekly)
“Francophiles will love this book… Rochefort follows in the steps of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe and Mireille Guilano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat.” (Library Journal)
"Rochefort...offers keen-eyed riffs on footwear, doggie bags, country homes and philosophers as pop stars, and her thorough research has turned up unusual facts, opinions, pithy quotes and anecdotes...Her breezy, exuberant style makes reading Joie de Vivre like a conversation with a friend over a bottle of wine, and its compact chapters mean you can pause, and take right up again as if you'd never stopped. And she writes with such verve that her own joie de vivre is never in doubt." (Judy Fayard, France Today)
« With humor and authority, Harriet Welty Rochefort provides the keys to understanding the French, while unlocking the secrets to ‘the good life.’ » (Eleanor Beardsley, France correspondent for National Public Radio)
« Once again, Harriet Welty Rochefort perfectly deconstructs the mind and spirit of the French. Joie de Vivre picks up where Welty Rochefort’s classic French Toast leaves off, exploring the French in all their alluring and baffling ways. Welty Rochefort’s inimitable brand of humor and insight plus décades of expatriate living make her a consummate observer of the French. Culling from all walks of life and dipping into history, Joie de Vivre is a sheer pleasure, sure to become a must-read in the canon of books about the French. » (Debra Ollivier, national bestselling author of What French Women Know)
«This is more than another guide to France or an essay on some of its peculiarities. It's a very humorous, well-written, yet respectful cultural analysis of those aspects of French life too often hidden to the casual visitor, but necessary to know if one wants to experience the "joy for life" that defines that nation and its fascinating citizens. » " (Ronald C. Rosbottom, Professor of French and European Studies, Amherst College)
« A great adventure of joie de vivre to read without moderation. » (André Cointreau, president of Le Cordon Bleu International)
« Wit, wry humor, and some deliciously withering words of wisdom make Harriet Welty Rochefort’s latest book a must for anyone hoping to understand French expressions of Joie. » (David Downie, author of Paris, Paris : Journey into the City of Light)
« Many writers have come to France and tried to write about its people and customs, with varied results. But very few ‘get’ the French as well as Harriet Welty Rochefort. That’s because in part she had the good sense to marry a Frenchman who is himself an astute observer of his own culture. But it’s also due to Harriet’s own unmatched powers of observation, openness to the subtleties of another society, and great skill at conveying to readers what she has found - as she demonstrates once again in the perceptive, entertaining, and lively Joie de Vivre. » (Michael Balter, contributing correspondent for Science, food and travel writer, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University)
« Revelatory and rich in stories, Harriet Welty Rochefort’s insider take on the French is a compellingly entertaining read.» (G.Y. Dryansky, author of Coquilles, Calva, and Crème)
Comments from readers
This latest --and long awaited--book by Welty Rochefort is a fabulous read for all Francophiles and all those who have yet to discover the French joie de vivre. There are countless books on the market about moving to France, re-making your life in France etc. but Welty Rochefort simply lives the French life and has done so for close to 40 years. Don't let the subtitle how to wine, dine and romance like the French throw you off. To me, that subtitle doesn't come near to justifying the real substance of this book. Welty Rochefort really examines what creates that joie de vivre among the French (and in particular the Parisians). Her book is both light-hearted (often very funny) and a serious analysis of joie de vivre and how that is a foreign concept to Americans. The illustrative anecdotes are often hysterical as when the cleaning staff is horrified at a brown bag lunch meeting (and mystified they weren't asked to set a table with plates, glasses and silverware for a business lunch). She also looks at both sides of the issues, not glowing praise for the French way without some critical look at the downsides. In the second half of the book, there is a closer look at how changes in France have caused people to move somewhat away from the traditional way of life...but not that far away. In short, she reassures us that "we'll always have Paris. ---J. Bucar
You captured the Joie de Vivre perfectly. And in a way every American can totally understand. It's a must read for anyone making their first trip. I can't tell you how much I wanted to book a ticket and fly over immediately. --- L. Dills