The Thing About France is a podcast where cultural figures explore the fascinating and complicated relationship between France and America.
Pamela Druckerman on Life, Love, and Lust as an American in France
Eight years ago, an American writer named Pamela Druckerman emerged on the national and international scene wearing a beret –– somewhat ironically –– and wielding a radical theory of child-rearing. Radical, that is, to Americans, it was completely normal to the French. She’d written a best-selling book that you’ve probably heard of, called Bringing Up Bébé. In it, she revealed the French method of raising well-behaved, sociable children. French babies, she explained, slept soundly through the night, even when they were only a few months old. French kids ate Camembert without complaint; and when French adults were having conversations, their kids didn’t interrupt. She thought this might be one reason why French parents seem so much less stressed out than American parents. She discovered these mysterious differences at first hand, in Paris, while raising her own kids.
Before she moved to Paris in 2002, Pamela was a globetrotter, living and working in Miami, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo. While many know Pamela from her best-seller, her writing career has spanned subjects including infidelity around the world, Latin American politics, and the experience of being a 40-something in Paris.
I spoke to Pamela over Zoom about life around the world, how she found love in Brazil, and translating French parenting secrets for an American audience.
Graydon Carter on the Importance of Failure, Decamping to the South of France, and Zoom Cocktail Parties
Hearing from Graydon reminded me of the good old days of New York publishing and magazine life—his decadent parties at the Puck building were absolutely unforgettable, equipped with mountains of pâté, all-girl swing bands, and filled with women in Madonna-style bubble dresses.
Once co-founder of the satirical Spy Magazine and editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, Graydon has escaped New York for the Cote d’Azur, where he has been staying with his family and surrounded by an international crowd of friends and acquaintances. Currently writing a memoir that he anticipates will be both “illuminating” and “slightly mortifying,” the editor is also working on his weekly digital publication, “Air Mail", and loves seeing his team on Zoom every Friday evening for the office’s Happy Hour tradition.
I spoke to Graydon over Zoom about why he loves newsstands, how he imagines Cannes becoming a drive-in film festival, and why he stays off of social media altogether.
Journalist and Editor William Middleton on Embracing Foreignness, Surviving COVID, and Tracing the Steps of the de Menils
I knew about William Middleton from the biography—or double biography, rather—he wrote of the great French-Texan art collectors, Dominique and John de Menil. When we got to talking, I realized that we have more in common than I thought: turns out we are both from the American southwest and ended up working for publications in New York and Paris.
William first moved to Paris in 1990 as a writer for an American design magazine. Throughout his decade in France, he moved from design to fashion and from le Marais to Pigalle, throwing decadent parties for the likes of Karl Lagerfeld. William found his way back to France in May 2019, moving into an apartment in the 7th arrondissement on the same street where his muse, Dominique de Menil, grew up.
I spoke to William over Zoom about his experience of battling COVID-19 while in France; the power of connection; and aesthetics in both Paris and New York.
The New Yorker's Lauren Collins Decodes the Mysteries of Frenchness
I first met Lauren Collins about fifteen years ago, when we were both working at The New Yorker. I noticed her immediately—The New Yorker can be a quiet place, but she was friendly and effervescent—she even asked me out for drinks! But she was also very focused. She radiated energy––like a blonde, Tasmanian devil, but much more charming and polite. (She grew up in the south, in Wilmington, North Carolina—that may explain it.)
In 2010, The New Yorker sent Lauren––who was by then a staff writer––to live and write in London. She met a Frenchman there, Olivier, who would become her husband. She moved to Geneva for him—and then she made an even bigger sacrifice: she started to learn French. Her book about that, When in French: Love in a Second Language, was named one of The New York Times’s 100 Notable Books of 2016. Soon, she moved to Paris, where she still lives today with her husband and her two little children, writing about current events and the enigmas of language, culture and identity that she runs into every day across the Atlantic.
I talked with Lauren in May, over Zoom, about life in Paris under “le confinement,” which is what the French call lockdown—and about the mysteries of Frenchness that she's still decoding.
Thomas Chatterton Williams on James Baldwin, George Floyd, and the Philosophy of Pandemics
Thomas Chatterton Williams, the extraordinary expat writer, cultural critic, and James Baldwin scholar, has lived in Paris for a decade. Thomas grew up in the U.S. surrounded by books and liberal ideals — but in the 90s, he turned his focus to expressing his identity through hip-hop, and rejected erudition as inauthentic. In his 2010 book, Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture, he explains that it wasn’t until he started studying at Georgetown that he began looking for a broader definition of an authentic life.
I spoke to Thomas in June, and we talked about his new book, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race; and about Heidegger, Hegel, and the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted this summer in New York, Paris, London, and across the world, after the police killing of George Floyd. Lately, Thomas has been doing Baldwin duty –– writing essays from his desk in France for the New York Times, the Guardian and Harpers, on the pandemic, the protests, philosophy and identity. I asked him to tell me more…
Comedian and Writer John von Sothen on France’s COVID-19 Lockdown and the Art of Critiquing What You Love
John von Sothen is an American magazine writer based in Paris, where he’s lived since 2002. He dabbles a little in French TV and comedy, too. When I started talking to him for this podcast, I forgot that I’d never met him before. That’s because last year John wrote a memoir that was so hilarious, so warm, and so personal that I felt as if we’d known each other for ages, though we’d never even been in the same room. Luckily, he’s American, not French, so I don’t think my informality shocked him! His book was called Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French. In it he lays out the mysterious rules of French social behavior, which he’s decoded during his years in France first by breaking them, then by learning to roll with them.
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This podcast ... je suis morte de rire! I relate to many things said here being a French teacher in the U.S. and having traveled abroad with students many times. I’m passing this on to my fellow colleagues. I love hearing about other Franco-american experiences. ❤️
Truly disappointing. Guest as well as host (tennis camp episode.)
Reading my mind
I am beyond happy when I listen to this podcast. I often look East to imagine myself back on the French soil so maybe I’m a captive audience! But right from the start the music transports me and I am immersed in a joyful interview steeped in French culture. If you have any interest in France, or want to learn about the latest goings on in the Francophile world, this podcast is your first stop on the way to « le nirvana » 🇫🇷😍🇺🇸