(This list made when we first arrived in France.)
Just arriving 2 weeks ago to the land of Brie cheese, wine and baguettes, we note cultural differences. Some are similar to the rest of Europe and a few are just specific to France.
#1 Dog Pooh
Imagine a walk where you do not have to look down to see where you step, but up into the beautiful sites of the French scenery around you. What a dream!
Like many places in Europe, with no open fields for the pets to do their business, you will find animal feces on the road. Village living, I thought, would be exempt from this practice with loads of fields and marshes to take your dog. It is not, to our recent discover. Parks even provide doggie dodo bags, yet, watch your step in France.
Where we are from in Canada, it is up to a $2000 fine if caught leaving your bacteria full animal excrement on the street or even the park.
On a happy note: I did notice street cleaners each morning cleaning the streets of Capestang, and they get most of the crap off the road before we get there. Other lanes seem exempt from cleaning, so we stick to the main roads. We learned our lesson.
#2 Daily Bread
Give us this day our daily bread, especially when made fresh three times daily, soft and warm for our consumption. My pants are tight; therefore, I must be in France! Between Brie cheese, fresh bread, and cheap wine, I have not a chance. I plan to take Alfonz down the naughty road of gluttony with me. It is my favorite sin!
If happiness is rest, then the French must have mastered the art of happiness. Between 12:00 and 1:30, but sometimes-stretched way out until 4:00, is their traditional siesta time. The store signs turn over to ‘closed’, and do not bother slipping in just before thinking they will take you. They will not let you in.
The French value their time; as they work to live, not live to work. Brilliant! Canada should adopt this custom.
It might stem from the hot summers when a nap seems like the thing to do during the hottest part of the day. It just does not stop after the summer heat dissipates, but carries through the whole year.
One interesting off shoot of this, is trying to figure out when stores are closed or not. Sometimes they stay closed until late in the evening, and others stay open. Some take Sundays and Mondays off, where others open only during the Sunday markets. A man told us, once you think you have figured the store schedules out, you will realize you know nothing at all.
#4 Very Late Dinner
The French eat dinner in the late evening, after 7:30, some as late as 10:00pm. We are so hungry by the time 5:30 rolls around, we feast and still go out for a walk to burn it off, and have a little snack, maybe a yogurt and apples, before bed.
We slowly change towards the French custom, and try to eat later and later. It is so hot in the summer months that most people do not eat until after it cools down, and that is where the tradition came from.
#5 The Double Cheek Kiss
Not to be confused with the much more popular French kiss, for obvious reasons, the double-cheeked kiss done upon first and the last time you see someone during the day. You start on the right side, and then the left. Most do not actually kiss but make the sound- very cute, and very French.
#6 No Helmut Laws
Our family is used to the constrictive, yet useful laws around road safety. It is mandatory to wear protective gear while riding your bike, scooter or skateboard in Canada.
Here they ride without helmets. A fall from a pedal bike on one of these steep side streets could crack your child’s head open like an egg, yet most kids ride without any protection. Daniel and Angelina have used helmets while riding their whole lives. When we got here, the kids asked, ‘Why do the French not use helmets?’ We assured them that it will be an eventually law. I hope so for the safety of the French children riding the streets.
#7 Church Bells
I cannot sleep. The reason is simple. The bells are only a hundred yards from my head and will not registered as background noise. My brain will not think that 12 loud rings from a bell is a normal sound in the middle of the night. I wake up every hour on the hour. Last night I even woke up just before and thought where are the bells. Sure enough, it followed right along. Cross your fingers for me for a change on this front or I will go insane from lack of sleep. It is part of living in the heart of a village, maybe when we buy our home, we will live outside.
#8 Home for Lunch, School Kids
I love this! Alfonz and I are house hunting and not able to be home during the day, just like families that work. Most school kids go home for lunch, especially if they have a younger sibling home with mom and even dad will join them for the home cooked meal.
With no brown-bagged lunches aloud in school, there is no cause for allergy alarms. The school provides a basic nutritious hot lunch for a small fee, if you are unable to get your children home. If we had already bought a home, we would try picking the kids up to adopt this tradition like the majority of the French families. They say, “A family that eats together stays together.”
If it is not raining, our neighbours’ laundry is hanging out their window, drying. The lady next door must be the cleanest woman ever; hanging her clothes, sheets and comforters outside every chance she gets.
Sometimes I nudge Alfonz smiling when I see a back yard full of hanging clothes. I begged him in White Rock to let me have a line strung from one corner of our yard to the other. It was always no. However, here, if you do not have a line with dozens of clips holding up your clothes swaying in the breeze, you are not energy efficient or very French now are you?
I caught my kids washing their feet in it and Daniel slept walked during the night to relieve himself in it. It is the infamous bidet. On Oprah, I saw an extraordinary French woman claim that sex is free and should be enjoyed as often as possible, being good for your health, and may keep you young. She went on to say that this is a normal opinion in France.
Now I understand the necessity of the bidet. Water is very expensive in France and to take a North American version of a shower each and everyday is highly unlikely. The idea of a quick wash makes sense. The bidet was invented sometime before the 17th century, used in brothels and for some reason has caught on. Most residential bathrooms have one. If you come to France, do not be alarmed, now you know what it is for.
Vive la France!