Author Rosecrans Baldwin and the American Love Affair With Paris
Posted Sunday, June 10, 2012 12:36 PM
Knowing which co-workers to kiss on the cheeks, watching Claudia Schiffer model lingerie below your office balcony, and being berated for eating lunch at your desk are just part of the job for an American living and working in Paris. Rosecrans Baldwin’s Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, is an insightful memoir of his 18 months at a Paris ad agency.
His follow-up to You Lost Me There (NPR's Best Books 2010, New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice), this funny narrative shows the joie de vivre and frustrations of Gallic living. The book chronicles loving Paris as a boy on family vacations to moving to the City of Lights with his wife as young 20-somethings from New York. Getting a job in Paris is difficult enough, but Baldwin’s limited knowledge of French and advertising makes matters more challenging.
Unlike many recent best-sellers on French life, such as French Women Don’t Get Fat and Bringing Up Bebe, the book is told from a male point of view and isn’t so much an explanation of the French and Paris as merely an observation. While Baldwin is immersed in working on an infant-nutrition ad campaign, his wife Rachel escapes their small noisy apartment by taking French classes and hanging out at sidewalk cafes.
Although the book is nonfiction, Baldwin crafts the story of their year-and-a-half in Paris with colorful characters and French attitudes and habits that American readers will find amusing.
Rosecrans recently spoke about his book with Highbrow Magazine.
Why was everyone in Paris surprised you came from New York to work and live there?
It’s very hard to get a job in Paris for foreigners. I was lucky that I knew someone. The French do have a great affection for America, especially New York. Oddly enough, they seem to like South Dakota also, probably because they’ve seen the movie Badlands too many times.
Did you write the book while living there or after you returned?
I spent about two-and-a-half years writing this book after returning to the States. I had written a series of letters for a publication I co-founded called The Morning News while living in Paris. Rachel and others convinced me to take some of what was in those letters and write a book about our time in Paris.
Have any of your former co-workers in France read the book?
A few. Through Facebook I’ve heard some positive comments from people [who]are in the book. But it’s not out in French yet, so everyone’s English is probably not good enough to read it.
The funniest character in the book is your macho and womanizing French co-worker Bruno, whom you describe as morose. Is his pessimism typical of French men? What about women?
Yes, but to them it’s more of an honest assessment of the world than it is pessimism. French women have that trait also, which can be refreshing.
In the book you point out that you like how the French say exactly what they want, which sometimes forces them to put too much on the table.
The French are direct. It is a testament to your friendship with them that they will engage you in a spirited debate. What might be seen as rude here is just the French way of calling you out on your BS. It won’t necessarily damage the friendship.
There’s a line from a Joni Mitchell song where she is sitting on a bench in a Paris park and suddenly decides to leave. She sings, “It's too old and cold and settled in its ways here.” Why did you and your wife Rachel decide to leave?
It is beautiful and old. In the book, there is a quote from William Gibson that says Paris can be embellished but not changed. Rachel and I finally left because we were sick of big cities. We lived in New York before moving to Paris. Living now in a semi-rural part of North Carolina, we can hike and enjoy wide-open spaces.
At your going-away party in Paris, you slipped out without saying goodbye. Why?
I didn’t want the hugs and kisses that go with a final parting. I am not good with goodbyes, and it was too emotional for me.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing a book of fiction that I’m not quite ready to talk about.
Mark Bizzell is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.