Welcome to the first episode of Profiles in Franceformation! In this podcast, we talk to people who have followed their dream of moving to France, from why they moved to what challenges they faced, to what they love about living in France – and what annoys them even after so many years of living here.
In this episode, I spoke to Harriet Welty-Rochefort, an American author from Iowa who has lived in Paris, France for 50 years. She has written 4 books, 3 of which are about the French, and the fourth, a novel, is about a woman living in France during World War 2. Her books are available on Amazon:
- Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French (Thomas Dunne Books, 2012)
- French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French (St. Martin’s Griffen, 2010)
- French Fried: The Culinary Capers of an American in Paris (Thomas Dunne Books, 2001)
- Final Transgression: One Woman’s Tragic Destiny in War-Torn France (Understand France, 2020)
In our interview, we talked about how Harriet decided, at the age of 8, that she was destined to go to France, how she navigated the immigration process to ultimately acquire French citizenship in 1996, and how her understanding of the French and of French culture deepened as she has lived in France.
- Harriet moved from Iowa to Paris, and the process for an American obtaining a residence card in the late 60s and early 70s was very easy. But, she couldn’t acquire French nationality until an American law changed in 1996, enabling her to be naturalized French without sacrificing her US citizenship.
- She worked in many random secretarial jobs in France, before becoming a reporter for outlets like Time Magazine and Newsweek, going to journalism school, and becoming a full-time writer.
- Hanging out in cafés and spending time at the old American Center on Boulevard Raspail, in the 6th, eating hamburgers, enabled her to make friends with French people, master the French language, and sparked more than one love story – including setting her up with her husband.
- Navigating cultural differences as a Franco-American couple was challenging, but there are some secrets about how the French communicate and argue that make inter-cultural marriage a whole lot easier. Harriet explains what American women get wrong when they marry French men.
- Appreciating the laid-back, non-“busy”, philosophical approach to life in France.
- An American perspective on the social safety net, how it enables the French to protest, why French presidents seem so ineffective, and what we can take away from the Gilet Jaune movement.
- Arguing about politics is different in France than in the US: in France, you can be loud and opinionated, and be friends with those whose opinions differ. In the US, however, if you have left the country, nobody thinks you should even be able to have an opinion about current events, and talking about politics can cause you to lose friends.
- The embarrassing language mistakes Harriet has fortunately grown out of.
- What Harriet thinks is truly exceptional and loves about the US, and what she thinks is truly exceptional in France.
- Harriet’s favorite French meal, cheese, and wine – she’s not picky, but she definitely has refined French tastebuds!
- What she misses eating and always brings back from the US when she visits.
- Why she advises newcomers in France to learn French and to “avoid blaming the French” to get along and to develop understanding.