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Readers recommend: The best books, TV series and podcasts about France

We asked our readers for their recommendations for books, films, TV series and podcasts about France and the French - here are some of the best.

Readers recommend: The best books, TV series and podcasts about France
There are some excellent books available all about France. Photo: AFP

So if you’re looking forward to some down time over the holidays, here are some recommendations for entertainment, from heavyweight political biographies to funny TV shows and podcasts about the intricacies of the French language.

Books

Love or hate him, few can deny that French President Emmanuel Macron is an interesting character, and his achievement of creating a political party from nothing and ascending to the highest office in the land within two years was quite a feat.

There are plenty of books about him and modern French politics, but Sarah Jackson recommended Adam Plowright’s book The French Exception: “Macron’s rise is an extraordinary story and the author tells it well.

“You’ll also learn a lot about France – such as the moment when Macron becomes enraged with a protester because he insists on addressing him with the informal “tu” form. I couldn’t put it down.”

Here at The Local we also enjoyed Sophie Peddar’s book Revolution française, which focuses on his rise to power and early days in office.

As a foreigner in France, often feeling a little lost, it’s comforting to know that others have been through this before, and some of them have written very funny books about it.

Stephen Clarke’s classic A Year in the Merde got several recommendations and Jeremy Mercer’s Time was Soft There – a paean to the Paris landmark bookstore Shakespeare & Co – was also recommended.

Margaret O’Hare suggested: “‘Big Pig, Little Pig’ by Jacqueline Yallop. A beautiful read, adored by the Francophiles in my life that I have given it to. My husband isn’t a great reader but even he gobbled it up. It is both a debunking and a celebration of life in rural France. Meat-eating foodies will be enthral to the end.

“In fact it’s a sort of modern ‘A Year in Provence’ which I read for the first time only recently and was delighted to discover that it has aged very well. A slightly mischievous paean to the glorious French psyche.”

And of course anything relating to French cooking is also popular, with Margaret adding: “I forgot to mention Felicity Cloake’s ‘One More Croissant for the Road’ a delightful canter around France à velo in pursuit of culinary perfection in regional specialities (plus the odd croissant). Part road-trip, part recipe book, part love-letter to the French lunchtime, it is a witty and easy read.”

Another tip for food and history lovers was A Bite-Sized History of France by Stephane Hinaut, which “combines stories about French food and history. A great book for a Francophile,” says Julia Gray.

The Greater Journey by David McCullough was recommended for anyone interested in history, while here at The Local we loved Anne Sebba’s book Les Parisiennes – about how the women of Paris coped with war, occupation and its aftermath in the 1940s – and the astonishing Resistance story A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorhead.

For French-speakers we can also highly recommend journalist Valentin Gendrot’s book Flic, describing the year he spent working undercover as a police officer in France.

Box sets

Winter is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good TV series or box set and many of our readers recommended Bureau des Legends, with Sarah Jackson saying: “We got completely hooked on this in the last lockdown and binged on the first four series. It’s about the French secret service. The acting and scripting are both exceptional, with lead Mathieu Kassovitz being particularly good.” 

In a similar vein, at The Local we loved Engrenages (released in the UK as Spiral) about the work of a French police unit in the grittier areas of Paris.

READ ALSO ‘Vile snobs’: Why are the French so annoyed about Emily in Paris?

A classic historical series also recommended multiple times was Un Village Français, with Kim Sieminskie saying: “It shows all sides of World War II. The French are not all good, not just the obvious collaborators, but the every day people who have to made hard choices; the Germans aren’t all bad or evil. It is compelling and the characters are so interesting….. I loved it!”

On a lighter note – many people also recommended Dix Pour Cent (released in English as Call My Agent) which as well as being very funny also gives you a crash course in French celebs as many of the big names in French cinema and music make cameo appearances as themselves.

Another funny French offering on Netflix is Au Service de la France, set among France’s secret services in the 1960s as the country slowly lets go of its colonies.

READ ALSO The best Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

Podcasts

The French podcast market has flourished the past couple of years and for someone looking for something French-themed to listen to, our readers also had good suggestions.

Julia Gray recommended Paris-centred podcast the Earful Tower, hosted by former Local journalist Oliver Gee, saying: “He takes listeners on walks throughout Paris and interviews a wide range of Parisians. He also does some Facebook live events.”

While Rebecca Bright recommended The French Revolution section of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast.

Anyone keen to discover new parts of France can sign up for Join Us In France Travel podcast, of which one listener said “I learn so much”.

 

She also recommended The Thing About France, which sees France through American eyes. The podcast compares French and American culture, history and relationship through interviews with Americans authors, journalists and others. In one episode, feminist icon Gloria Steinem discusses the difference between French and American feminism.

For those who want to get all the week’s main news stories about France compressed down to a half-hour, The Local recommends Spotlight on France, hosted by two RFI journalists, Sarah Elzas and Alison Hird. A new episode is out every Thursday.

READ ALSO: The 10 best things about Paris that the movies never show

Other recommendations were Dinner For One, which is hosted by a New Yorker living in Paris and according to the description explores what happens “when the Paris fairytale ends and real life begins”.

For French speakers, we also recommend Kiffe ta race, a great listen for anyone interested in race and racism in France. One of the hosts is Rokhaya Diallo, one of the most famous anti-racism activists in France.

One reader recommended France Culture’s radio programme Les Pieds Sur Terre, which is later released as a podcast, saying it was a French version of This American Life.

 

Not strictly about France, but The Europeans is an interesting podcast that covers quite a lot of French issues, since one of its co-hosts lives and works in Paris.

READ ALSO 12 popular French films that teach you something about France

Media subscriptions

And for a gift that keeps giving all year, don’t forget media subscriptions.

Many readers were kind enough to suggest The Local (and we do offer gift subscriptions, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page) but other popular recommendations were The Good Life France, France Today; Bonjour Paris and language site Frantastique.

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MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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