Off with the Rose Colored Glasses! Monseiur Mediocre

Monsieur Mediocre

One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French

Monsieur Mediocre coverWritten by: John von Sothen
Read by: John von Sothen
8 Hours and 48 Minutes
Penguin Random House Audio | Imprint: Penguin Audio
Genre: Biography & Autobiography – Personal Memoirs
Release Date: May 07, 2019

I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.


A hilarious, candid account of what life in France is actually like, from a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ

Americans love to love Paris. We buy books about how the French parent, why French women don’t get fat, and how to be Parisian wherever you are. While our work hours increase every year, we think longingly of the six weeks of vacation the French enjoy, imagining them at the seaside in stripes with plates of fruits de mer.

John von Sothen fell in love with Paris through the stories his mother told of her year spent there as a student. And then, after falling for and marrying a French waitress he met in New York, von Sothen moved to Paris. But fifteen years in, he’s finally ready to admit his mother’s Paris is mostly a fantasy. In this hilarious and delightful collection of essays, von Sothen walks us through real life in Paris–not only myth-busting our Parisian daydreams but also revealing the inimitable and too often invisible pleasures of family life abroad.

Relentlessly funny and full of incisive observations, Monsieur Mediocre is ultimately a love letter to France–to its absurdities, its history, its ideals–but it’s a very French love letter: frank, smoky, unsentimental. It is a clear-eyed ode to a beautiful, complex, contradictory country from someone who both eagerly and grudgingly calls it home.


My Take Oblong Shaped

As the synopsis above says, American’s love to love Paris; or the idea of Paris.  I would generalize that further to all of France, and to some extent all of Europe.

I don’t believe Americans have cornered the market on idealizing other places, it fuels hopeful migration, and gets people traveling.  In Mr. von Southen’s case his earliest idea of France was from his childhood his mother regaled him with stories from her time in France.  This led him to learn French and spend time abroad.  It gave him a first hand, but immature and institutional view of  what life in France was like.

The opportunity to live in France came through his marriage and the decision to raise a family there.  

I think he has a balanced view of France, and America.  And he relates it to us in a  self-effacing manner that is often funny.  He talks about his writing, but not too much.  He talks about his parents, who had him older, and their activities and their decline.  He talks about raising his kids, the political climate of France, and of America. He tells funny stories about how one socializes in France; in particular how one vacations there.  He talks about the great things like the good medicine and family allowances.  His stories about his cultural mishaps are pretty amusing

I have been to France twice and before going I entertained the same ideas about it:  French women do not get fat,  French children are always perfectly behaved, all French people are gourmets.  I had bad hotel rooms but some very good meals.  But I also saw heavy people and poorly behaved children.  France still holds wonder but not in the legendary aspects. 

He does an excellent job reading his work —  in most cases a non-fiction author is the right narrator for the work — but von Sothen’s work in voice-overs and on TV means he isn’t afraid of the microphone.

And now I know how to say “Anais,” his wife’s name, properly (Anna-iss).

This is a good book for any body contemplating a trip to, or life in, France.  Von Sothen’s writing and observations about France are not as funny as David Sedaris’s, but Sedaris is the funniest man alive and no longer lives in France. Von Sothen has stuck it out, becoming a clear-sighted, not-so-much-a-stranger in a no-longer-so-strange-land and it resonated with my own travel experiences.



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