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Our man in Paris

Our man in Paris

18 Dec 2012 BY Tim Wells

Since 1997 John Lichfield, The Independent’s correspondent in France, has been sending dispatches back to the newspaper in London. More than transient news stories, the popular ‘Our Man in Paris’ series consists of essays on all things French. Sometimes serious, at other times light-hearted, they offer varied vignettes of life in the hexagone and trace the author’s evolving relationship with his adopted country.

Many of Lichfield’s themes concern the mysteries of Paris and its people. Who is responsible for the city’s extraordinary plumbing? How can you drive around the Arc de Triomphe and survive?  He also ponders the phenomena that intrigue many foreigners, such as the eloquence of the capital’s beggars and the identity of the intimidating but fast disappearing concierge. Visiting places as different as the Musée d’Orsay and Disneyland, he explores culture high and low as well as the everyday pleasures and problems of living in Paris.

Leaving the capital, the dispatches also cover provincial France, especially a part of rural Normandy where the author has a house. Here he writes of a dysfunctional farmer neighbour, the difficulties of tending an ‘English’ lawn and the threat of a new high-speed road development to his tiny commune.

Nor are more general aspects of French society ignored. A section deals with politics, examining the Sarkozy phenomenon as well as anti-French sentiment in the United States, while another follows the author’s children through the bureaucratic French education system. Predictably, there are pieces on French food and restaurants, while Lichfield also guides the reader through the linguistic minefield of tu and vous as well as exposing the continuing spectre of the German Occupation and collaboration.

Our Man in Paris is a highly readable account of our nearest neighbours and their idiosyncracies. Perceptive and affectionate, it provides a wealth of insights into France and the French.

John Lichfield has been with The Independent since its launch in 1986. He was previously US correspondent and Foreign Editor. In 1999 he was named Foreign Reporter of the year in the UK Press Awards for his dispatches from France. He was born in Stoke on Trent in 1949 and educated in Macclesfield and Cambridge. He is married with three children.

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