For years, newcomers to Paris have known that the acronym FUSAC is one of the first words to learn when adapting to their new environment. Transferring to Paris? Seek out FUSAC’s ads for apartment rentals or find great used furniture sales. Leaving? Sell off your household goods quickly by posting an ad. Job searches, advice, it’s all been there for the past 28 years. And, what’s so incredibly impressive about FUSAC is that it is founded and entirely run by a devoted couple, Lisa and John Vanden Bos, with their assistant Caroline.
Many of us at INSPIRELLE can remember picking up our free copy of the FUSAC magazine at one of the English-speaking bookstores or shops in Paris. Today, FUSAC is available exclusively online, and its owners have packed all their knowledge and experience with expats into three books: 90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French, Speak Easy Puzzles (volume 3) and, most recently, the FUSAC Free Guide to Paris.
Chapeau to FUSAC! INSPIRELLE spoke to founder Lisa Vanden Bos to learn more about how they paved the way for expats and businesses in the city of light.
My goodness! Which expat hasn’t heard of FUSAC and all that it offers to the expat community living in France. But how many of us know what FUSAC’s name stands for?
FUSAC was originally France-USA Contacts. But, with the French penchant for using abbreviations and acronyms,it pretty quickly became FUSAC. Using FUSAC also allowed us to have a more open door – beyond just Americans – and it helped us create a brand. (Now the word is often used for Fusion-Aquisitions, but we used it first!)
Lisa, how do you explain FUSAC’S 28 years of success as an indispensable resource guide for the Anglophone community in Paris?
FUSAC was the central source for information before the internet existed. We distributed copies to all the places that English speakers went in Paris and the surrounding area. It was widely available, nicely displayed and delivered very quickly as soon as it came out. That is what allowed us to build our reputation, which then was enhanced by “bouche à l’oreille” (word of mouth).
Who is behind the writing and production of FUSAC?
Myself, my husband John, and our assistant Caroline, who has made herself indispensable, all participate in writing and production.
What is your role with this established community business?
Everything! When you have a small company you wear many hats. Each of the three of us has some specific duties, but we all participate in just about all the tasks.
From printed magazine to website and now book publishing, what kind of books are you putting out there and tell us about your latest publications?
Our two latest books are: 90+ Ways You Know You Are Becoming French, Speak Easy Puzzles volume 3, and we also recently published the FUSAC Free Guide to Paris.
FUSAC readers are people who are interested in languages and either are, or wish to be, bilingual in French and English. Our readers come from both sides — either as French speakers or as English speakers wanting to learn the other language. So we tried to develop a game that could help both groups. And a game has to be fun, so we chose idiomatic expressions, which play with the colorful and cultural part of language.
To be bilingual and have a flowing conversation, a speaker needs the depth and color which come with idiomatic expressions.
They are the cultural part of a language and are central to everyday conversations. Without knowledge of idiomatic expressions the speaker cannot become completely integrated.
The purpose of these games is the translation and the transposition (because they don’t really translate) of idiomatic expressions between French and English. The reader chooses the French word or expression to match the English equivalent.
For example, in English we say “in for a dime, in for a dollar” however in French, the expression is about wine (surprise!): “Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire”.
In English we say “To make a mountain out of a molehill”, but in French the molehill is cheese (another surprise!): “En faire tout un fromage”.
The Speak Easy Puzzles books contain 50 or 60 puzzles each. The new book is richly illustrated with original watercolors. There are also some puzzles based on proverbs and quotations.
90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French developed out of an article that was written by Shari Leslie Segall, a long-time Paris resident originally from Philadelphia. The article generated tons of comments from FUSAC readers who began measuring their Frenchness and tallying up scores. We were having so much fun that Shari had the great idea to make it into a book. We knew it had to be small and cute, un brin humouristique and have whimsical illustrations. We teamed up with artist Judit Halász for the watercolor illustrations and thought up more points that are ways you know you are becoming French: mannerisms, tastes and idiosyncrasies… Such as when you:
- finding nothing wrong with saying, in English, “I’m going to close the light” or “I have to get down from the bus at the next stop”
- firmly believe that 5 weeks of vacation is not nearly enough
- eat radishes or ham sandwiches with butter…
What’s the best way to get out of living in an expat bubble when living abroad?
How to meet the “locals” is one of the questions we get most frequently. We’ve published articles on this topic. And basically I say learn French so that you can join in French activities, volunteering, classes, groups, etc. If you only speak English, you’ll only be able to hang out with English-speakers. But remember “local” can also be English-speaking expats (or immigrants).
I think it’s important also to keep your “expat” circle. It’s important to have a place to be yourself, be able to speak easily to people who share your background a bit more closely, and to talk about some of the difficulties. Being away from your roots and putting down new roots is not an easy task, and “old” expats have lots of experience to offer to newer arrivals.
When does an expat know he or she is at home in Paris?
Two of the official criteria for French nationality are to have lived in France for at least five years and to speak the language at a certain level. And these make sense. It is when you no longer rehearse the phrases before entering a shop, when you are relaxed in day-to-day life, and not worn out by the struggle that you are integrated and feel at home. And that takes time. I don’t know if it takes five years, but I’d bet it is not much shorter. For a fun checklist, pick up the book 90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French – you’ll realize you’re more French than you think!