Absence makes the heart grow fonder, particularly when you move away from a place that has so many lovely things going for it as France does. Even some of those peculiarities that initially culture shock newcomers can gradually become the object of fond reminiscence.
Shopping at the Market
In France, people tend to shop at their local markets often, stocking up on fresh produce, cheeses, and charcuterie. In the process, there’s good-natured and reassuring snippets of conversation, recommendations, and recipes exchanged. Somehow, shopping in a large impersonal supermarket, however practical, never quite feels the same as feasting your eyes in a French market.
Fresh Crusty Bread
In France conversations almost unfailingly veer towards food. It can be anything from preparing, buying, or planning a meal, a specific regional specialty, a foodie event, a seasonal favorite, or simply talking about the very food you are eating. That has the effect of always being a common topic of conversation and an icebreaker with perfect strangers—a bit like talking about sports in other cultures. The moment you discover you share the same weakness for cassoulet: instant kinship.
Good Affordable Wine
When shopping for wine at your local shop or in the supermarket, you can decide whether to splurge on a luxury choice or go for an affordable, but really decent, bottle of wine. The French grow up hearing and reading about wine, and they really know their stuff, so as you learn more about your favorites at your own pace, and your friends and acquaintances help you discover new regions and labels, you start to develop a palate… and a whole universe of delight opens at your fingertips.
It’s such a little thing, but it can make a huge difference. In France every time you enter a shop, waiting room, or office you are greeted with a bonjour Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle. As people arrive they greet the group already there, and they same thing as they leave with an au revoir. It’s a bit weird at first, and slowly it becomes second nature until you really miss it when it’s gone.
There is an undeniable je ne sais quoi, something that makes you notice, in the way a young girl matches a floaty dress with a denim jacket, or a lady casually ties her foulard. This is a source of constant wonder. Even if you’re not into fashion, you can’t help but notice in the métro, a shop, or queuing up at the post office. When you encounter people that aren’t slaves to trends but quietly own their style instead, that’s the definition ofchic.
The Low Volume
French people tend to be quieter in restaurants, public transport, offices, and pretty much everywhere. This means that sitting at a table at a crowded restaurant doesn’t mean you’ll have to use a megaphone to order from the menu. As soon as you leave France, the noise pollution in public places immediately hits you and that’s when you remember, ah, yes, the volume is just a little lower in France.
Pharmacies and Parapharmacies
The wonder that is the French healthcare system is easily taken for granted day in and day out. Until you don’t have it, that is. An important element of this care is dispensed in the ubiquitous French pharmacy. As patrons file through, one by one, they pick up their medication, as you do, but also their favorite essential oil, organic lip balm, detox tea, or inexpensive luxurious day moisturizer, coupled with advice and tips on how to use each product, and what to do at each time of year to maintain both health and appearance in top form.
The High-Speed Trains
Once you try it it’s addictive. Traveling by train beats flying because the stations are usually located right in the center of town so you save the long and expensive commute from/to the airport. The high-speed TGV network in France means you can reach a ski area in 2.5 hours, or the Mediterranean beaches in just about 4 hours from Paris. The trains are so convenient and they run (mostly) on time, they have a handy café/snack shop, plus you can get inexpensive fares if you either plan ahead or get your ticket at the very last minute. In the company of a good book, the trip is over before you know it. Bliss.
Flirting is a Thing
They say French is the language of love, and there is a slightly different approach to flirting in everyday interactions. Even the cheesemonger or the poultry vendor at the market may remark on what a beautiful day it is, made even more beautiful now that madame is here. They may proceed to use the same term of endearment to refer to some particularly tasty tomatoes. It doesn’t amount to a pickup line and is devoid of sleaze. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything, it just adds a little spark to the daily business of life.
The Variety of Landscapes
France has the balmy mediterranean sea, the panoramic Atlantic shores, the mountains, rustic countryside, and the glitzy Riviera. What else could you ask for? There are so many fascinating villages, historical landmarks, and art centers that you can just jump in a car, drive for an hour and find yourself in a completely different landscape altogether. Plus you’re bound to find the regional specialties are different, so there’ll be delicious new things to taste and discover.
These are sweeping generalizations, but you may find that children, in general, are a little less fussy in France. In the book Bringing Up Bebé by Pamela Druckerman, the author explores the possible reasons, after observing than French children were just far better behaved—notably at mealtimes—and generally more in command of themselves compared to her and her American friend’s children.
Yes, of course, there’s cakes and pies wherever you go, but there’s a special allure at a French pastry shop. The delicate tartes au citron, éclairs, tartelettes aux fraises, macarons and millefeuilles get wrapped with the same care as luxury crystalware. It’s just that little dash of fairy dust that can make any regular afternoon feel like a special occasion.
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