Emily Monaco is without question one of my favorite people in all of France — when I returned to Paris after my landlord had moved all of my things to the identical apartment one floor higher, she was the one who got my video tour of the new space (basically a 30-second video of my plants and bed and books and me screaming the whole time, about how bizarre the whole experience was). She’s also a journalist and food expert who’s hosting not one but multiple retreats in France in the upcoming weeks and months: The Nantes Writers’ Workshop, a weeklong writing retreat in Nantes, and a ceramics and food trip called Terre/Mer in La Ciotat, on the Mediterranean coast. (I want to do both of them, of course.) I thought it would make sense to talk to her about those events, and to ask her all the questions I forget to ask her when we’re out and about.
So you’re working on two separate events: a fiction workshop in Nantes and a ceramics + food experience in the South called Terre/Mer. can you give us your best 10-word sales pitch on both of them?
#1: Get inspired by Nantes and workshop your writing Iowa-style. #2: Ceramics and cuisine meet at this terroir-driven seaside retreat.
How did you manage to come and live in France?
I came at 19 to do an internship at the Cannes film festival, and 16 years later I have yet to be banished. (Plus I’m a French citizen now.)
What’s your favorite thing about the French?
How little they care about what people think of them. Also the fact that their local foods are more important to them than their local sports teams. (Give me cheese over sportsball any day of the week.)
What do you find to be the biggest WTF between the two cultures?
Oh man… there are so many. But I guess the relationship to praise? Americans tend to over-praise (“OMG we ate in the best restaurant last night…”) and the French love to critique (“pas mal” [not bad] is high praise here).
What’s the best thing in France you can’t get in the US and vice versa?
I’ll answer this by detailing the contents of my suitcase when I go Stateside – cheese, mustard, and inexpensive pink sparkling [Ed note: I think she means pink sparkling wine? water? She’s the foodie, I have no idea] – and the contents of my suitcase coming back: peanut butter-flavored candy, giant bottles of vitamin C tablets, and the Kirkland brand of red pepper flakes. But also, I really miss half-sour pickles, 24-hour pharmacies, and customer service in America, and I really miss being able to sit at a café with a single espresso, undisturbed, for eight hours in France.
What was the topic of your favorite edition of your newsletter?
I had a lot of fun doing this series on my favorite places to eat in Paris (paywalled, but you can subscribe here). As far as the free Tuesday newsletter is concerned, I quite liked writing about my relationship to my fiction.
As Emily in France, what is your position on Emily in Paris and why is it so terrible?
I’ve only watched one episode, which made me extremely angry given its loose understanding of Paris’ geography. I may someday watch the rest. But from what I understand of the plot, I think what bothers me the most is the idea that American ingenuity can somehow “fix” the French. I don’t think the French are broken.
What are three things every first visitor to Paris should see or do?
Go to one of the smaller museums (I like the Marmottan and the Carnavalet), and walk (or take a boat ride) along the Seine to see the most prominent monuments, and sit in a café and people watch.
What’s your favorite piece of art in paris?
Impression, Soleil Levant (at the aforementioned Marmottan.)
And finally what is your favorite, desert island cheese?
I hate you. (Probably Bleu du Vercors — though Stichelton and Gorgonzola, neither of which are French, give it a run for its money.)