We’ve been living in France now for 18 months and there are some things that we just love and others not so much and just cannot imagine ever getting used to. I thought I’d make a note of some of these cultural bits & bobs before I get too Frenchy-fide and start to think they are normal.
Things I love about French life:
- Sundays – these are family days in France, pretty much nothing is open other than some cafés, restos and museums. I love this! Even our local hypermarket is closed most Sundays, so no family outing to Carrefour (shame – not!). Sundays are a day to see friends and family, or to curl up on the sofa and watch the 6 Nations or a Fred & Ginger DVD. Yes! love love love
- The food – fruit and veg in France taste like they are meant to. Cucumbers have a flavour – yeah crazy huh? Tomatoes are red and juicy. I am guessing that travelling that little bit further to the UK can often be to the detriment of flavour, but I’m no expert
- Apero – what a great concept! A great way to meet neighbours and spend time with friends having a little tipple and a nibble of something
- Bonjour – whenever you go anywhere, and sometimes just walking down the street, people say ‘Bonjour’. You walk into the boulangerie not only do the people working there say bonjour but so do all the customers waiting, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the school gate (however, just to add, lovely as this is, getting past a mere ‘bonjour’ is not an easy nut to crack)
Things I find I can cope with:
- Bises – After 18 months I think I am finally getting used to when and how to give the french ‘bises’ (welcome cheek kisses). It’s not simple people! For example, on a Thursday and Friday I drop Victor off at our childminder at 9h – Bises – we chat and I leave – no bises – I then go and pick him up at 17h – no bises – and then I leave with Victor in tow – Bises. As long as we never move region we’re ok for now but I still have an issue when meeting non-frenchies living here, are they or are they not ‘bises’ people??!
- Vous/voyez vs Tu/Toi – basically, if you meet someone new you always ‘vous’ them unless they are a child. Wait for them to initiate the ‘toi-ing’. Unless it’s someone in a professional position, such as a doctor/teacher and then always ‘vous’. Oh and you always always ‘vous’ the older generation, even your own grandparents. Simple right?
- The French medical system – I have to say this took a while to get used to. The UK has it so easy with the NHS, it being free and all. However, although yes I still don’t have my carte vitale (my card making me eligible for health care) I can still receive the care I need it just makes the admin side of things a bit slower (never good!). Our experiences so far have been very good. For example: Rog recently saw the doctor about an issue he has with his knee, appointment the next day, “yes, you have a problem; here have 10 sessions with a physio and an X-ray of your knee.” He was offered an X-ray the next day and then started with the physio 4 days later. No waiting, no letters saying your next appointment is in 4 weeks. Bish bash bosh here you go. I still can’t understand why the French take soooo many extra vitamins and can be hypochondriacs about some things, but I have started to now be much better at giving Victor his VitD (which the doc always asks me if I am doing), so perhaps I am turning a little French after all!
Things I just don’t think I’ll ever get used to/still don’t understand:
- The French way of driving – Oh My Days! I’ve heard Italians are bad but seriously people, to quote the great Take That, “‘av a little patience!” French drivers are very quick to use their horn but not so much their indicators, to overtake even if they are then about to turn off the road and need to then pull in-front and across of you, to not stop at pedestrian crossings and to drive up on the curb, over a footpath and on to a side road if they are stuck in a queue (yes I saw this happen – twice!). Let’s not even mention the fact that they just cannot do roundabouts properly, I mean seriously, you are not meant to drive all the way around a roundabout on the outside! Argh! Oh and traffic lights appear to be merely a suggestion rather than an obligation, at least to the average Renault driver
- Nights out – I haven’t been on loads of these but I’m still confused as to what the culture is. I think the meal is the most important thing, therefore when us Brits are usually in the pub by 22h, French people are still eating and being merry in a resto and may not venture out until well after 23h. Then I believe they would usually head home and continue festivities there, but that doesn’t account for how many bars there are…are these just for students? I don’t get it. Perhaps more research is required…
- Cooking – it seems to me that the french, despite their reputation, don’t actually cook much. For a start, finding a rental property with an oven, or even a space for one, is not an easy task. As the majority of people work full-time, earn Tickets Restos (lunch vouchers) and have a 2hr lunch break, so they can afford the time to eat out most days at a local Brasserie or such like. Kids then get a ‘gouter’ (snack) at about 17h to get them through to a lighter meal of say pasta or a salad and baguette at about 20h. I have cooked and prepared a number of things for french people and they are always amazed that I have prepared something from scratch. I’m not convinced the french are so good at cooking as they are eating (out)
- Drink driving/using your phone while driving – although both illegal a lot of people are happy to do this. The number of people I see on their phones while they are driving is shocking. The French government have just brought in a law making even hands-free sets illegal, I’m not sure this will change much. And families going over to friends’ houses with their kids, all staying up to the wee hours of the morning and having had their fill of booze, getting back into their car to drive home…WITH THEIR KIDS IN THE BACK!!
- Begging on the street – as I’ve mentioned in another blog this is one thing that shocks me still (thankfully – I hope it always does). Even yesterday I was taking some money out at the cash machine and a little Romany girl came and walked with me for a while asking for money. We chatted a bit but she didn’t speak much French or English; it’s so hard to communicate when what they want is a few euros put in their battered paper cup
Well there’s my list for now. There are many more things great, bizarre and silly that I could waffle on about (French admin, school holidays, opening hours, Sunday quiet time, war sirens) but perhaps another day.
Moving culture always takes some kind of adjustment. I guess we all spend our lives adjusting to what the culture around us is doing and saying even if we have never moved. I am conscious that it can be so easy to look at all these differences with a proud ‘we do it best’ attitude, but who does that help? I could certainly write a very similar post about British culture. French culture is different, it just is. Who am I to say we do it better?