Monday, 10 October 2011

Why the Good Thing About France Might be the French

Often, in expat blogs, interviews and conversations, foreigners living in France are asked what they like about the country. Generally, the replies include food, wine and some combination of the weather, the fashion or the scenery.

I think I have yet to see in writing an example of a foreigner mentioning the French.

Read or listen to expat rants, however, and you will soon lose track of how often the judgement "that's so French"is made in relation to bad manners, bad customer service, bad administration and pretty much any other bad thing you can think of. Given that many of the ranters are people who have expressly chosen to live here, it makes you wonder why we don't all just head back home.

It's as if we all believe that oft-quoted saying about how France would be a lovely country if it wasn't for the French.

(I don't have an awful lot of experience to go on, but I suspect this is less true for foreigners in other countries. Italians are friendly and hospitable, Americans are endlessly positive and even the British get praised in a wry kind of way for their sense of humour.)

I've been pondering the reasons for this for quite a while now and the only explanation I can come to is that it's precisely because so many of us choose to live here, as opposed to being forced by circumstances, that we are so critical: we're continually asking ourselves if we've made the right choice.

Anyway, it seems to me that this situation is very sad, that we whiners are being very rude to our hosts in our endless criticisms, and that it's time to start giving the French credit where credit is due. So here's a challenge: what are the best things you can think of about living among the French, with no buts, althoughs or if only-s allowed? (I know that this will be highly over-generalised and potentially patronising, but at least it's in a positive way!)

Here are some of mine:

The French value intellect: in this country, reading, going to museums, speaking foreign languages and watching Arte instead of reality TV are activities to be admired and will not have you exiled from the society around you for being a snob.

The French know how to drink enough to lubricate the machinery of social interaction without binge-drinking. (And yes, the wine is pretty good too!)

The French love their language. Ask them to explain a grammatical point to you and this is one moment when you are very unlikely to witness a Gallic shrug. When you can understand their wordplay, it gets even better.

The French value peace and quiet. And if people are disturbing that, they won't hesitate to tell them so.

Those are a few to start with. What are yours?

Sunday, 2 October 2011


The other day, I was introduced by an English-speaking friend to a French couple that she knew. We chatted for a while and, at some point in the conversation, I must have mentioned something about Scotland. The French man looked at me a little quizzically.

"So, are both your parents Scottish, then?" he asked. "Tu es arrivée en France à quel âge?"

And he looked somewhat surprised when I told him that yes, both my parents are anglophone, and I first lived here at the ripe old age of 21.

It might not sound like much, but while people are often impressed by my written French, I don't really learn well by listening and find it hard to pick up an accent. The result is that I can see feminine plural agreements in my head even when they're not there in speech and conjugate written verbs better than many French people but have only recently learned to hear the difference between antérieur and intérieur and that the r at the end of Monsieur is not pronounced, ever. After 4 years of feeling like I'm screaming "I'm a foreigner" every time I open my mouth, being able to surprise someone with my 100% non-French origins and upbringing felt like a major milestone!


The weather gods have been capricious this year. The spring was gorgeous, but almost as soon as the school holidays started, the rain began to fall and in July I spent a week in the south-west wishing I'd packed more fleece jumpers and less sunscreen. The past ten days, though, have more than made up for that, with maximum temperatures of 25 - 30 degrees every single day.

This weekend, we were lucky enough to be once again in Brittany, where we explored new sections of the Sentier des Douaniers, which goes all the way around the Breton coastline, and swam in the sea both days. The water wasn't warm, but it was warm enough and, with it being just after the autumn equinox, the big waves more than made up for the bracing temperatures. It reminded me a lot of swimming in the sea as a child in Scotland, where the water is always chilly but we always had too much fun to care.

Phare Breton
(Not the same as Far Breton, which is a kind of cake)

Swimming Beach

Last weekend was more sedate: we had lunch on a barge on the Seine (nice but somewhat expensive) on Saturday, followed by a picnic in the park on Sunday. I love the sun!