Joshua Hammer, New York
"Mark Greenside, the only one of this year's pack to rely on
conventional transport a plane, a train and a taxi
to get where he's going, has an epiphany during a vacation in Brittany:
he loves the place, despite his inability to speak French and his
ignorance of local customs. Soon thereafter, he makes an impulsive
purchase of an old riverfront house in the hamlet of Plobien. 'Two
days later,' he reports in I'LL NEVER BE FRENCH (No Matter What
I Do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany (Free Press, $24),
'I leave France with a French checkbook I don't know how to use,
a written agreement that I can't read to buy a house, committed
to spending $85,000 that I don't have. It doesn't bode well for
What follows is a charming variation on the theme
popularized two decades ago by the British writer Peter Mayle in
his Provence series: Anglophone city slicker resettles in French
hamlet and confronts domestic mini-disasters and eccentric locals.
In Greenside's case, the problems include a wire transfer for the
house purchase that's accidentally rerouted to Corsica, a flood
that destroys his newly refinished floor and a dispute with an irascible
neighbor over Greenside's sun-blocking cypress trees. Although Greenside's
struggles with French grow a bit tiresome, this slight memoir captures
his blossoming Francophilia with infectious joie de vivre.
"In 1991, Greenside, a teacher and political activist living
in Alameda, Calif., found himself at both the end of a relationship
and the end of the world. The French world, that is: Finistère,
a remote town on the coast of Brittany, where he and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend
spend 10 weeks. Preternaturally slow to negotiate the ways of life
in a small Breton village, he gets help from Madame P., his slow-to-melt
landlady and neighbor. At summer's end (as well as the end of his
relationship), his attachment to France became more permanent through
the quasi-impulsive purchase of an old stone house, which was made
possible with the help of Madame P. She figures prominently and
entertainingly through the rest of the book, facilitating several
of the author's transactions with the sellers and the local servicemen
who provide necessities such as heating oil and insurance. At times
the author's self-deprecation comes across as disingenuous, but
his self-characterization as a helpless, 40-something leftist creates
an intriguing subtext about baby boomerism, generational maturity
and the relationship of America to France. Greenside tells a charming
story about growing wiser, humbler and more human through home owning
in a foreign land."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division
of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Fiction writer Greenside (I Saw a Man Hit His Wife,
1996) charts the unlikely trek that led him to purchase a house
in the scenic hamlet of Plobien, France. When the author, then in
his late 40s, reluctantly agreed to accompany a girlfriend to the
western reaches of Brittany in 1991, he anticipated nothing more
than a summer vacation. But this urban denizen of Oakland, Calif.,
became deeply enchanted by another way of living in a place and
a society completely foreign to him-so taken, in fact, that he now
divides his time between the United States and France. Greenside
makes much of his shortcomings as an American abroad, spotlighting
his abysmal French and rudimentary knowledge of Breton etiquette
as social handicaps that initially both endeared him to and alienated
him from his new neighbors. The bulk of the memoir centers on the
many contrasts he has discerned between French and American life.
For example, on practically his first hours in Brittany, he learned
two things: 'In the U.S., cleanliness is next to godliness. In France,
it is godliness'; and, 'In France, there's a product for everything-just
as there is a worker for everything." Much later, Greenside
recognizes with self-deprecating humor that his bicontinental experiences
have virtually split his personality.' I don't know if it's as Marx
said, because I'm a property owner, or my tentativeness as a foreigner,
but whatever it is, I've come to believe change, almost any change,
is not for the better but the worse,' he writes. 'In the U.S., I
live as if there is nothing that cannot be improved. In France,
I don't touch a thing. I leave it alone even if it is worn, bent,
crooked, scratched, dented, if it skips, blinks, it doesn't matter,
because bad as it is whatever I do will make it worse.' A charming
travel memoir showing how comfort can sometimes be gleaned from
Danise Hoover, Booklist
"Writer and academic Greenside reluctantly goes to Brittany
with his ladylove in 1991. Few words are spent describing the demise
of that relationship, rather the love affair described is the one
he has with Brittany itself. This part of France isn't like anything
he has experienced before. The generosity and fairness of the locals
and the beauty and history of the place woo him until he finds himself
borrowing money from his mother to buy a house. The sellers are
honorable and upright as are all the repair and craftspeople it
takes to maintain his new possession. But as the title of the book
tells the reader up-front, this man does not exactly blend in. His
language skills improve somewhat over the years, but his behavior
never quite matches. No matter, he is always treated patiently and
politely. There are few new insights here, but for those who love
the move-to-a-foreign-country-and-survive genre, this is a fine
addition to their collections."
"Il a deux amours: la Californie, où il vit, et la Bretagne
où il revit. Dans un livre à l'humour jubilatoire,
cet ancien opposant à la guerre du Vietnam raconte sa découverte
de la Bretagne. Et nous tend un miroir qui renvoie des images drôles
Ce livre, c'est d'abord l'histoire d'un curieux aller-retour.
Sous le titre «Jamais je ne serai français»,
il a été écrit pour les lecteurs américains
et son intitulé pourrait laisser croire à un énième
pamphlet yankee contre l'arrogance française. Rien de ça.
Ici fleurit au contraire une chronique de la vie quotidienne en
Bretagne, version Armorican graffiti, disséquée avec
un regard affûté et une tendre ironie. Ce livre serait
probablement resté en version anglaise sans l'appel d'un
ami américain à Sophie Picon, directrice des éditions
du Télégramme. «Je viens de lire un livre très
drôle. Il démarre à Brest. Ce n'est pas du côté
de chez toi, ça?». Voilà comment ce bouquin,
édité aux États-Unis, a retraversé l'Atlantique.
Paris, De Gaulle et l'eau froide
La France, pourtant, il n'avait pas très envie
d'y remettre les pieds, Mark Greenside, prof d'histoire et de sciences
politiques. «J'étais venu à Paris en 1966, en
pleine guerre du Vietnam. J'avais beau être un opposant à
cette guerre, l'accueil était presque glacial et de toute
évidence, pour les Français, nous n'étions
que d'horribles impérialistes. C'était une période
compliquée, comme les relations avec De Gaulle. Et en plus,
il n'y avait pas d'eau chaude dans l'hôtel où j'étais!».
La totale. Autant dire que quand son amie Kathlyn lui proposa, en
1991, d'aller couler des vacances heureuses en France, le souvenir
du Vietnam, du général et de l'eau glacée revinrent
dans sa mémoire comme une migraine dans les neurones. Mais
même sa phobie de l'avion n'y changea rien: Kathlyn lui fit
quitter l'Amérique pour la lointaine Armorique, appendice
maritime de la France éternelle.
Rabelais sauce américaine
Avec Kathlyn, il l'avoue, cette escapade armoricaine
dura encore moins longtemps qu'un amour d'été. Une
brièveté contrastant singulièrement avec l'histoire
d'amour que Mark Greenside a tissée avec la Bretagne depuis
vingt ans, tombé sous le charme de son ciel et de ses paysages,
du caractère entier de ses habitants et de leurs moeurs quotidiennes
bien éloignées des standards américains. Ainsi,
de ses déambulations au marché du village, avec son
dictionnaire anglais-français, où il essaie d'acheter
un poulet «au beaucoup de promenades» (en clair, élevé
au grand air), il rapporte de savoureuses descriptions. «J'y
ai vu, écrit-il, la plus étonnante collection de dessous
féminins que j'aie jamais eu l'occasion de découvrir,
à mi-chemin entre le marquis de Sade et Mamie Rose: des gaines
aussi amples et résistantes que des joints de culasse pour
poids lourds, des soutiens-gorge si bien bardés d'armatures
métalliques qu'ils pourraient servir à des soupières,
des culottes qui ressemblent à des montgolfières...».
Une verve rabelaisienne, probable héritage de ses origines
hongroises, qui conduit le lecteur dans des aventures banalement
quotidiennes mais bougrement pittoresques.
La profession de notaire
Acheter une baguette fut le premier saut d'un itinéraire
croustillant où le prof au vocabulaire squelettique se débrouille
comme il peut avec le gars du fioul, le gars du plancher, le gars
des assurances. Et une pléiade d'autres gens du cru, lui
faisant découvrir, au passage, qu'en France existe la profession
de notaire... «Moi, aux États-Unis, je ne possède
rien. Je loue mon appartement, je loue ma voiture... Et pour mes
grands-parents, communistes hongrois émigrés aux États-Unis,
il n'y avait pas de doute: la propriété, c'est le
vol! Ici, en Bretagne, je n'ai pas résisté. J'ai acheté
une maison chez le notaire». Le notaire d'où, au fait?
Celui de Plobien. Ne cherchez pas sur la carte. C'est quelque part
dans le Centre-Bretagne, pseudonyme du petit village où il
vit la moitié de l'année et qu'il a préféré
laisser dans l'anonymat pour ne pas gêner les acteurs de ce
livre à la diffusion désormais internationale. Car
après les États-Unis, ce bouquin a aussi eu du succès
en Pologne. «Peut-être, dit-il, parce que les Polonais
sont francophiles. Mais je n'en sais pas plus»."
Heidi Senior, Univ. of Portland
Library, Library Journal Reviews
"This charming book, a tribute to trusting one's fellow
humans and to the French love of problem solving, describes Greenside's
construction of a life in France despite his minimal knowledge of
the language. Led to a rental house in a Brittany village by a female
companion and fellow writer, Greenside ended up purchasing a house,
thanks to strong-willed neighbor Madame P., and staying long after
the relationship with his companion had fallen apart. The reader
will recognize themes common to accounts by other Anglo-American
owners of French property: the speaker of "a little" English
actually speaks none at all; the worker shows up when he wants to.
Unlike other books, however, all of the main characters are portrayed
positively, in some cases surprisingly so, as when the home's previous
owner gives Greenside a car. The author describes denying his 'American'
self while in France and presents his childlike 'French' self with
honest humility. In contrast, for example, to David Sedaris in Me
Talk Pretty One Day, Greenside presents his fractured French
in the original, leaving some readers out of the joke."
The Elle Lettres Readers
Prize 2009 (Elle Magazine, Dec. 2008)
First Place-Mark Greenside I'll Never Be French (Free Press);
reviewed by Jaime Herndon, Chapel Hill, NC
"Our first nonfiction round of the oncoming year mulls over
(preferably accompanied by successive mugs of some hot mulled holiday
beverage) how people drive us (or draw us) to places we would never
have dreamed of going ourselves. California-based writer and teacher
Mark Greenside won the day with his wry account of how love left
him stranded in a small town in Brittany, France.
This often laugh-out-loud funny memoir describes Greenside's move
to France, against his better judgment, to follow a girlfriend.
From hating the place to eventually fitting in, he describes the
society he found himself thrust into and how fresh bonds between
individuals, however improbable, can make a home and an ad hoc family.
Though the girlfriend soon fades away, Greenside's connections to
the community endure, and this is the story of a life he never planned
for himself but finds is perfect nonetheless."
Barnes and Noble Reviews
"At first glance, Mark Greenside hardly seemed a promising
candidate to extol village life in Brittany. For one thing, the
Jewish New Yorker didn't speak the language; for another, he had
only moved to Brittany at the behest of the girlfriend about to
dump him. When she left him, the stranded expatriate has forced
to fend for himself, struggling with pidgin French and mysterious
village folkways. Eventually, he and his bemused neighbors came
to understand and appreciate one another, thus providing us with
a visitor's passport into the region already being touted as the
Anne Glusker, Washington
"For many Americans, France is the go-to country for culture.
We revere French gastronomy, style, painting, literature. Oh, the
chevre! The mille-feuille and the tarte tatin! Madame Bovary and
the Eiffel Tower! The way the Parisiennes fling their scarves so
artfully around their perfect necks!
Some francophiles are so besotted that they end up moving to "la
Hexagone," as the French refer to their country. By now, there's
a full shelf at any bookstore of tales of those lucky or
unlucky souls who have made the attempt. These books seem
to fall into one of two broad categories: First, there is the lyric
paean to a region (often Provence) where life is simpler and better
than in the United States, the postcard-worthy fields are full of
fragrant lavender, and every village seems to have its own particular
eau-de-vie, each tastier and more potent than the next. Then there
is the trials-and-tribulations saga, full of shaggy dog stories
of zee-French-zey-are-a-funny-race, to paraphrase writer Adam Gopnik.
Both types often feature a house (crumbling wreck, funny workmen,
cultural misunderstandings) or a love affair (short- or long-term,
bridgeable or unbridgeable cultural differences). Two new books
fit neatly into these categories: Mark Greenside's I'll Never Be
French most definitely belongs to the trials-and-tribulations subgenre,
while Mary Ann Caws's Provençal Cooking can be filed under
AP, for Adoring Paean.
Greenside describes himself as a left-leaning Californian who was
brought to Brittany by a girlfriend. The relationship didn't last
long, but his love affair with France, or more specifically with
a tiny Bréton village in the department of Finistère,
did. He now spends half the year in the United States, and the other
half attempting to understand zee funny race. In telling his house-buying,
getting-to-know-the-villagers tale, Greenside captures how an American
in France trying to accomplish the simplest of life's tasks can
feel like a complete and utter buffoon. In one memorable episode,
he describes the way his insurance agent always seems to regard
him with absolute dread, wondering (or so Greenside supposes) what
unanswerable question the foreigner will ask in his mangled French:
'Bonjour,' I say. 'J'ai un question.'
'Ouuuui,' he says, squinting.
'He's reacting the same way I do whenever a girlfriend says, 'We
have to talk.' '
Greenside takes us through his dealings not only with 'The Insurance
Guy' but also with 'The Oil Guys' and 'The Floor Guy.' While he
doesn't exactly triumph, he does endure. The big mystery remains
how he does this, if his French was as bad as it seems to have been.
Since the book talks anachronistically of the franc, the reader
realizes that these events took place in the Stone Age before the
euro; with any luck, Greenside has since mastered the fine art of
the French subjunctive or at least the conditional past
in the intervening years.
The book winds up with a winning description of a 50th birthday
party Greenside threw for himself, and then baf! as the French
comic books would say the story comes to a too-abrupt end.
Greenside realizes that when you try to live a bifurcated, bi-national
life, there's a price to be paid (no matter how good the cheese).
'When something happens here, I worry. When something happens there,
I worry. I now worry two times as much as I used to.' It's cute,
but it's not enough. Greenside could have given a bit more thought
to his irreducible American-ness, to the question of why it is,
exactly, that he'll never be French, and to the auxiliary question
of why he even thought about trying."
John McMurtrie, Chronicle
Book Editor, San Francisco Chronicle
"Imagine Larry David, the maddeningly neurotic but hilarious
comic, spending a summer in a French village against his
will, of course and you get some sense of what Mark Greenside
goes through in his engaging memoir 'I'll Never Be French (No Matter
What I Do).'
The book begins with Greenside being taken to Brittany
by his girlfriend in 1991. They soon break up, but Greenside decides
to stick it out and stay for the rest of his vacation no
easy task for a born skeptic and admitted Francophobe. As he recalls,
'I was in Paris in 1966, and they loathed me, and I don't think
I've changed that much.'
To his astonishment, however, Greenside begins to
warm to the place. The people who live there, he realizes, aren't
all that reprehensible. In little time, and with a lot of help from
Madame P, a sweet, maternal figure who takes this middle-aged man
by the hand (literally) and acts as his guide around town, Greenside,
a Bay Area writer with little income, comes to own a beautiful,
inexpensive summer farmhouse.
It all makes for a heartwarming but never cloying
story of a loner who finds a community he can call home. 'All my
life,' he writes, 'I've disdained the connectedness, closeness,
visibility, complicity the busybodiness and dependence of
small-town and suburban life, and here, in Brittany, in this village
of five hundred people, I find I desire it.'
Thankfully, Greenside captures details of life in
Brittany without making the place seem twee. Brittany, unlike say,
the swishy Riveria, has little pretense to it it's made up
of mostly modest fishing villages and farming towns, and reading
about the province's low-key, no-frills vibe is a welcome antidote
to signs of French life one usually sees abroad: overpriced bistros,
fine wines, haute couture and the like.
The lightest moments of the book, not surprisingly,
come from Greenside, who speaks virtually no French, trying to get
by day-to-day. He can barely buy milk he asks for 'jus du
vache' (juice of the cow) - let alone understand a real estate agent
or negotiate with a worker who needs to replace an oil tank.
Occasionally, Greenside sets up situations that grow
repetitive: He suspects someone is taking advantage of him, and
what's this? they're actually being nice! Greenside
also finds it amusing that everyone he encounters often says 'bon'or
'oui,' which has the author repeatedly commenting on the 'bon-ing'
and 'oui-ing.' D'accord, already.
But these are minor missteps. Greenside's book is
an otherwise fun and high-spirited read and proof that one is never
too old to find true happiness in life. Even among the French."
Elise Pearlman, Newsday
"In 1991, as British expatriate Peter Mayle published his
first book on Provence, Mark Greenside embarked on his own life-altering
French adventure. That summer, the writer and former North Bellmore
native reluctantly followed his girlfriend to Finistère,
a "departement" located in Brittany on the westernmost
tip of France.
While Mayle's books revolve around a host of quirky local characters,
in this disarmingly funny memoir, Greenside - a born skeptic who
does not speak French and is clueless about the culture - becomes
a helpless fish out of water with whom shopkeepers, neighbors and
repairmen must contend. As Greenside places his trust in the local
townspeople, the Bretons become some of the best friends that he
has ever known, and he evolves into a kinder, gentler version of
By the time his romance falls to the wayside, Greenside is in love
with the tiny hamlet of Plobien - a hydrangea-tinted paradise on
Earth, where swans beckon and salmon leap from the river. And when
he is shown an ancient house of granite and slate 'woven together
like a fine Harris tweed,' he succumbs.
Greenside now alternates his time between Alameda, Calif., and Brittany
- where he still can't do anything without asking for help. His
descriptions of Finistère ('the end of the world') are glorious
and should rightfully make this region as popular a tourist destination
Laurie Hertzel, Books
Editor, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
"You know all those books about moving to France, buying
a house and fixing it up? Well, here's another one. This one, though,
is funny. Mark Greenside (who spoke no French) and his girlfriend
(who did) went to Brittany for three months. They broke up, she
left, he stayed and practically the next thing he knew, he was rattling
around the countryside with his maternal French landlady, who was
speaking rapidly to him in a language he could only vaguely understand.
And voila! Almost against his will, he was soon the proud owner
of a rather gorgeous but falling-down house. Greenside's observations
are funny and generous, his encounters with his beleaguered French
insurance agent are hysterical, his house sounds to die for and
the only truly irritating thing about this book is his annoying
habit of including snippets of dialogue in French and then not translating
it for the reader. C'mon, Mark. You know what it feels like. Cut
Cliff Bellamy, Durham-Chapel
Hill Herald Sun
"In 1991, writer Mark Greenside was dating a poet who suggested
that they go to France, where they could rent a house in the countryside
in Brittany. Greenside went along reluctantly. The relationship
with the poet ended, but not Greenside's relationship with the people,
place and customs of Finistere, in the western part of France.
'I'll Never Be French'is Greenside's funny, uplifting
and delightful memoir of how he learns to love the ways of the French
people (without necessarily understanding their customs), without
a good working knowledge of their language. Among the difficult
lessons for a New Yorker American to learn: 1.) It is easy to get
a loan for a house in France; the difficulty is getting the bank
account; 2.) No one from carpenters who fix old floors to
people who fill the fuel oil tank to bakers knows what a
down payment is; 3.) Homeowners' insurance isn't what it is in the
United States (and that's a good thing).
Greenside portrays Bretons as a people who are clean,
and want things to be in their proper order, socially and otherwise.
Yet they are generous to a fault with Greenside particularly
Monsieur and Madame P, his landlords and take him under their
wing. Even in the most convoluted of business deals, Greenside never
gets taken advantage of, as he suspects.
This book is recommended to anyone who has been to
France, or wants to go to France, or has Breton roots in their past."
Jessica Harrison, Salt
Lake City Deseret News
"American has funny, frustrating life in France
'I'll Never Be French' is a delight to read.
At some point in our lives most of us imagine even for just
a moment what it would be like to just pick up and move from
where we live now, putting down roots in a new country where everything
is, in fact, foreign.
For author Mark Greenside, a summer vacation with his girlfriend
to France gave him the chance to do just that.
In 'I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do),' Greenside shares
his adventures living in a small village in Brittany.
Greenside, a native New Yorker living in California, never wanted
to live in France, and after a disastrous trip to Paris in 1966,
the last thing he wanted to do was return to the country.
So in 1991, when his then-girlfriend suggested a visit there, Greenside
was decidedly against it. But in the end, he allowed himself to
be dragged along to a tiny Celtic village at the westernmost edge
Greenside's experience in that village was unexpected, and though
his relationship with his girlfriend fizzled by the end of the summer,
his relationship with the town's inhabitants was solidified.
Before Greenside knew what was happening, he was purchasing a home
in a country where he didn't speak the language, didn't understand
the monetary or banking systems, and had no knowledge of legal procedures.
Greenside's experiences setting up his new home fluctuate from surprising
to humorous to pathetic. He finds that in stark opposition to his
life in the United States, where he's relatively successful and
knows how to get what he wants, in France he is helpless with a
childlike dependence on others, and he's just fine with that. He's
grateful for his life in Brittany, calling his time there 'days
It's easy for the reader to empathize with Greenside's experiences
shopping, trying to fix the washing machine or hammering out details
with the oil, floor and insurance guys who doesn't have these
sorts of problems here at home?
Written in a playful and conversational tone, 'I'll Never Be French'
gives readers a glimpse of French life beyond Paris. Greenside's
descriptions of everyday activities and village events are refreshing
in their honest simplicity.
Greenside's 'joy of seeing and being part of this communal experience'
comes through in his writing, making 'I'll Never Be French' a joy
Javan Kienzle, Detroit
Free Press Staff Writer
"If you liked Peter Mayle's Provence, Tom Higgins' Lyons
('Spotted Dick S'il Vous Plait') or anywhere Bill Bryson went
or even if you haven't read any of them run, do not walk,
to the nearest copy of Mark Greenside's 'I'll Never Be French,'
a funny, funny book."
A French-speaking New York girl talks her non-French-speaking
California soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend into renting a house in the Breton
village of Finistère or, as she translates it, the
end of the world.
It is indeed the end of his world as he knows it. However, he is,
mercifully, taken under the wing of 'Madame,' a neighbor who, he
says, epitomizes 'the French at their best: helpful, of real assistance
in a crisis, making a difference, being friendly, genial
'gentil' Lafayette saving America, Jacques Cousteau saving
the sea, Docteurs Sans Borders saving the world, being clean and
'propre' and blaming the whole 'catastrophe' on the English.
To be able to help and clean and blame the English in the same act,
it's a French dream come true.'"
James Rowen, The Political
"Mark Greenside is an old friend and former college roommate,
a teacher and published short story writer, and now author of a
smart and funny book I'll Never Be French (no matter what
I do) and after reading an advance copy I have but one thing
to say to you fellow holiday shoppers and lovers of good writing:
Buy This Book, especially if you have traveled to
Europe and wondered, as you walked through little, picture-postcard-perfect
towns, 'What would it be like to buy a little place here?'
Then imagine you are my friend Mark: you have never
owned a home anywhere in fact, you eschew owning property
of most any kind.
Also, you 'speak,' shall we say, little actual French
(this I witnessed during a summer more than 40 years ago when a
group of us UW undergrads hitchhiked and free-loaded through Europe),
and because you have held socially-redemptive, but low-paying jobs,
you have no money to acquire a complete house that nice neighbors
you met on another vacation to France decades later have decided
you shall acquire.
What do you do with this improbable tale after ending
up with a cool house in a cool spot Brittany, France!
that all your friends now want to visit so they can continue their
You write a book about it how it happened,
what you learned along the way, and what it's like to now have a
foot in two cultures.
So congratulations to Mark: it's a long way from Elm
Drive C and Mendota Ct., oui?
Federation of Teachers Community College Newsletter) October 2008
by Fred Glass
"Merritt College instructor Mark Greenside's new book,
I'll Never Be French, No Matter What I Do, is not unique in telling
the story of an English speaker attempting to make his way in the
French countryside. Peter Mayle's best seller, A Year in Provence,
is perhaps the most famous recent example of Anglophonic adventures
and misadventures in the land of wine and cheese. David Sedaris'
Me Talk Pretty One Day is another. There are similarities. Like
Sedaris, Greenside doesn't speak much French, and gets himself into
numerous whimsical scrapes with the locals through linguistic ineptitude.
Like Mayle, Greenside purchases a house (in Brittany, and much to
his own surprise), and in his efforts to remodel it finds himself
in various struggles with local craftsmen. But Greenside's account
differs in important ways, including subtleties of tone and-although
I'll Never Be French would not be considered an overtly political
book-some key divergences in politics and cultural sensibility.
One thing that bothered me in reading A Year in Provence was how
Mayle treated his workers, both in events reported in the narrative
and as characters in the book. He never attempts to do anything
more than view them through the lens of stereotype, using them more
as objects of his humor than as living dynamic humans. That, of
course, is the prerogative of a humorist; but it also reveals a
choice about the depth of one's cultural engagement in another country.
By contrast, Greenside is ruefully, often painfully aware of his
outsider status, and of the sharp limitations placed on normal adult
effectiveness when attempting to speak with the vocabulary and understanding
of a three year old. He has a great deal of respect for the rhythms
and rules of life in another culture. In patiently seeking to solve
the problems of daily life, he puts himself into situations where
the lines between amusing and humiliating can quickly blur or dissolve.
His record of his attempts to navigate these treacherous cultural
and linguistic waters forms the existential core of the book. Greenside
has been teaching in the four campus Peralta Community District
since 1971. He began as a History and Political Science teacher,
and now teaches English and Creative Writing. Greenside credits
his experience in France with giving him a greater empathy for his
students: 'Teachers as teachers most often are in control, or at
least feel in control, in the classroom, that's the normal state
for us. We make the assignments, we grade the papers, we give the
final grades. It's difficult and humbling to find yourself in a
situation where you essentially you have no control. And a good
reminder of how students feel, especially non-native students or
students whose cultural background doesn't make them feel comfortable
in an academic setting.' Active over the years in the Peralta Federation
of Teachers, Greenside has served as president, chief grievance
officer, member of the negotiations team, and chair of the local's
COPE committee. Currently he is Secretary for the union. He thinks
these experiences explain one of the differences between his point
of view and that of Mayle. Unlike the latter, 'I'm curious about
working conditions, what a work week is, what the basic pay is,
benefits are, how the health system works. It is always intriguing
to me, because they are doing better than we are.' Greenside feels
his decades of teaching have had an important impact on his writing.
'To the extent that I teach about writing, it makes me a better
writer. It makes me more honest with myself, and encourages me to
do what I tell my students they have to do. Whenever I get bummed
out or displeased or don't like what I see on the page, I think
about what I tell my students to get over a block or discouragement
and it helps me.'"
Ann Tatko-Peterson, Oakland Tribune
"Alameda native discovers himself in France
What happens when your soon-to-be-ex girlfriend drags you off to
a tiny village in France? For Alameda native Mark Greenside, a reluctant
summer vacation turns into a long-term stay and an entertaining
book, "I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do): Living in
a Small Village in Brittany" (Free Press, $24).
Greenside's story is much more than a tale of an American living
with little money in a country where he barely speaks the language.
It's humorous as he deals with cultural differences but also heartwarming
in his encounters and growing fondness for the locals.
Greenside will be in the Bay Area for the following book events:
7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Alliance Francaise, 1345 Bush St., San Francisco;
7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at Books, Inc., 1344 Park St., Alameda; and 7
p.m. Dec. 1 at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera."
Virginia Center for the
"I'll Never Be French Has Deep VCCA Roots
It was 1990 and the last thing on Mark Greenside's
mind was living and working in France. But during a VCCA residency
that spring, he met Fellow and poet Kathryn Levy, whose innocent
suggestion that they travel to France, literally changed the course
of his life. "Kathryn is a Francophile, fluent, a lover of
most things French, except their politics," said Mark. "It
would not have been a surprise to anyone who knows herexcept,
of course, methat she wanted to return to France, to Brittany,
where she'd been before, and wanted me to go with her. I'll Never
Be French is the story of our trip over and the first few years
of my life in Brittany."