Books about Paris: The Insider’s Choice
For more than a decade, Anglophone publishers have swamped their public with books about Paris. Recent offerings range from glowing memoirs to hefty how-to manuals, but almost all have one thing in common: their authors are not French.
One Parisian, however, has shown them up in style, with a blog titled Stuff Parisians Like. Well-known among Francophiles, its author, Olivier Magny, is also the entrepreneur behind Ô Chateau—a seven-year-old wine school that now boasts a bar of its own. Magny, who started out with tastings held in his parents’ home, has always been smart enough to target foreigners who love France.
On his way from booking champagne cruises to running a full-on business, Magny started making observations about Parisians. Because his blog is written in English, because he is very funny and because he works hard at his writing, the commentaries have won him raves. Along the way, they have also accomplished what he wanted, which was to bring Ô Chateau more attention. Last year, however, the blog did something unexpected; it won the sommelier a French book contract.
Magny called this volume Dessine-Moi un Parisien (Draw Me a Parisian), a clever parody of the command in Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. It is hard to find anyone who dislikes that classic volume, so the title alone gained literary kudos. Its publishers also provided a simple yet elegant packaging and, by 2011, the book was a best seller. A contract for an English-language version swiftly followed.
It offers the same collection of original columns, with a few additions not available on the Web. As always, however, its great characteristic is the author’s take on how Parisians think and feel. This doesn’t mean Magny’s observations are infallible. Let us just say they are so witty and well expressed, Parisians love them.
His subjects range from style to politics, food to social behavior, and cover how Parisians look at everything from socks to chocolate. A central reason the short texts are so delightful is the cultural fluency behind them. (In doing the first book, Magny found himself oddly placed; he had to translate from English back into his mother tongue.) Almost everything, however, is equally funny in either language.
This, of course, is no mean feat, even if Magny did spend three formative years in California. Both book and blog, as their author freely admits, were inspired by Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like. Still, there is no other English-language book about Paris that manages such vivid snaps of the city’s natives.
So every armchair Parisienne owes herself a copy—and anyone who is studying French will benefit from both versions.
Americans will obsess over the essays “Bashing Tourists,” “Bitching about Waiters” and “Considering Americans Stupid.” The English (I include myself) will gravitate to “English Humor,” “Not Talking about Money” and “Calling People Beaufs.” However: every Parisian seems to love the same chapter, whether reading in English or French: Magny’s dissection of “Le Café Gourmand.”
So, without further ado, get the book and get reading! Whether you agree or disagree with its polemics, you are guaranteed to get plenty of laughs. Given the po-faced nature of most books about Paris—with the exceptions of real histories—that’s well worth the $15.
If you are in Paris, make the trip to the Ô Chateau bar. The address is 68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the 1st Arrondissement, a short stroll from the Louvre. Its ambience resembles that of an Englishman’s club, with a somewhat bookish decor. But it has a wonderful selection of wines by the glass, with food to match from the Californian chef. It’s open Monday to Saturday (closed on Sundays), serving from 4 p.m. to midnight (and until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays). During the daily happy hour (4–8 p.m.), your wine of the day is only 3 euros. You’ll find free Wi-Fi and air-conditioning.
Stuff Parisians Like (blog)
Stuff Parisians Like
Le Petit Prince
Stuff White People Like