Title: Champagne Baby
Author: Laure Dugas
Publication Date: 4/12/16
How I Found It: Penguin's First to Read program
Date Completed: 4/26/16
Summary: Any lover of food/travel memoirs is familiar with the troupe in which an American (or Brit) moves to France and falls in love. Not in love with a person, necessarily, but with the food and the culture and the country. Laure Dugas' turned the experience on its head when she moved to NYC from France.
What I Thought: I really enjoyed Dugas' twist on the classic travel memoir. Her perspective as a European coming to live and start a career in America is certainly unique in comparison to the many memoirs I have read written by Americans going to live overseas. Her point of view is especially interesting as her time in the US occurs during the height of the Bush years - and when our relationship with the French was not quite as, uh, incroyable.
I found Dugas' journey really interesting. She moved to the US to work as a promoter for her uncle's wine. Despite growing up in France and in a wine-making family, she knew very little of the technical details about wine, so she learned on the go. Though that gig was only six months in length, she moved on to get other jobs within the industry and continued learning. The book follows her education not only in American life and culture, but also wine. While the chapters themselves focus on her career experiences, her newfound friendships, and her perspectives on American culture, each chapter ends with a couple pages devoted to sharing her wine knowledge. The world of wine is incredibly complex (Kevin watched Somm on Netflix one night when I was gone and still talks about how fascinating and intricate the culture of wine is), but Dugas breaks down some basics, particularly in regard to French wine, and makes things easy to understand whether you are a connoisseur or some one who has never had a glass.
Reading the book really made me excited about my pursuit of French fluency. Much of the time, I feel as though I am practicing in a vacuum. I'm learning, I know, but I have very few outlets to practice with others. By the way, if you speak French or know anyone who wants to practice or any way for me to work on my speaking/listening skills, please let me know! I was thrilled to discover I understood nearly all of the little dialogue pieces or asides Dugas included in French. And, upon finishing the book and imagining walking into Dugas' wine shop or restaurant in Paris someday, I realized I have the vocab ability to tell her I read the book, enjoyed it, and a few other things. That made me excited to keep learning and practicing. I would absolutely love to play out that imaginary scenario some day. This imaginary scenario is not unique. If I liked a book, I often think about how I would express that to the author, should I ever have a chance to meet them.
One thing I did think was that, while Dugas traveled the country in those first six months with her uncle's company, most of her time was spent in New York City. I love NYC and it is our national equivalent to Paris in many ways. Still, just as the French would express a great difference between Parisians and those living in the rest of the country, so we would express that New York and its residents carry their own certain flair. "New York values" and all (cue me rolling my eyes so hard at politics in America right now). My point being, I think Dugas would have had a wildly different experience had she spent her US years in another state or city. She does mention the difference in culture from NYC to California or Miami or Nashville. Yet, she does not get the same experience as she would have living in any of those places. I think more geographically diversity would have lent itself to some interesting additions.
I definitely enjoyed this book. It's an interesting take on a plot line I know well by now. It makes me want to talk to more expats living here in the States and talk to them about their experiences. If you are not into wine, there is still an interesting story here and you could skip right over the more informative sections. Still, you cannot exculpate yourself from it entirely with this book. After all, Dugas is, admittedly, a champagne baby. It's in her blood and, thus, her story.
Quote I Loved: "[Las Vegas] is like the gift-store version of everything that is wrong with America."
Will I Re-Read: Possibly, yeah
A Reduced Review: A classic travel memoir - except that the destination is America; it's a twist that offers a unique perspective on the differences between French and American cultures.