We have just passed our 3rd year anniversary of living in our restoration home here in France. It got me to thinking, do I miss our life in the UK? The answer, is sometimes. Or rather, some things. We miss pubs, curry’s and being able to walk into, well, anywhere and be able to converse with ease and understanding. But, we have enjoyed the odd aperitif or even beer in the bars in our village, I make a mean curry now, and the latter will just take a bit of time. We have realised that we really, really like French life.
10 Reasons Why We Like French Life
Good use of Time
This has to be the most important feature of France I like. As a culture, we have noted that they give themselves time for what needs doing. Whether sitting alone with a coffee in a café, to enjoying lunch with friends, to simply chatting in a shop. And they always take the time to greet people, properly.
I haven’t met a French person yet that seems to move at a rapid pace, even if actually very busy. They prize personal time and time spent with family, time to digest food, time to walk. You rarely see anyone rushing here in France. (This does not count driving fast.)
They Are Extremely Polite (generally)
It is very rude in fact not to greet everyone upon entering/exiting a shop, Post Office, etc. One of the first things you pick up on here is ‘Bonjour, messieurs dames’ (the latter bit being run together), which is a shortened version of Hello Sirs and Madames. Since you say it each time you enter a place where there are people (mixed sexes otherwise you would just use one or the other greeting) you can understand why it has been shortened.
They won’t barge into your life, but have to be invited to come in. Their homes are their castles. In fact each house, at least here in the country, is enclosed with a fence and has a gate across the entrance to the drive. You don’t just show up at someone’s gate unannounced, you always contact first, even if only 5 minutes prior, to ask if you can come by.
In French life this has to be a given. I mean, who doesn’t think of food and France? And for good reason, the food here is really, really good. Shopping isn’t done on a bulk buy system, but generally a few times a week, at least to the market. Fresh really counts for something. Whether one cooks at home or eats out, the food is not processed, rather made from scratch. (Saying this, the French do love their fast food as offset.)
What I adore, it is about quality, not quantity. Yes, portion sizes are smaller, but often there are lots of portions (so lots of lovely tastes) or often more than one course. I have never left the table hungry in France, no matter what size the portion on my plate. And even at a very simple place I have had a good meal. Not all food is haute cuisine (thank goodness – too much of a good thing and all that), but rather it is more often simple and simply tasty.
Carrying on from the food theme, but looking at the starting point, most good sized towns have a weekly, if not more frequently, market. And this doesn’t just mean veg. At some markets you can buy everything you need, from furniture to cantaloupe, fish to toilet paper. Yes there are shops and supermarkets to go to, but for quality and freshness of food you can’t beat the markets.
A very large portion of the food one buys here is grown here. (Wondering if those farmers subsidies have some merit.) Yes, there are options in super markets to buy from other countries or out of season, but we’ve learned to rethink this. The main reason is taste. Eating seasonal foods means they are fresher and truly tastier. Okay, yes, I like broccoli any time of year, but there is something special about waiting for when they , or any fruit or veg, comes into season. Think Strawberry season.
Money means something
The French respect money. Incomes here are not extremely high (or low), just, well, normal. Enough to live on. As a rule (and yes, I am generalizing), people don’t spend beyond their means. Banks don’t and won’t extend credit or issue credit cards easily. Since buying quality extends from food to household goods, cars etc. it’s about saving up for the items one needs or wants.
France is not a throw away society the same way many other ‘developed’ countries are. Once an item is not needed, a large majority will sell that item on. Le Bon Coin is the main go to site to buy second hand here in France (listings are for free). It doesn’t matter if it is only going to garner 1 or 2 euros, it will still be listed. Every bit counts.
Exercise is natural
The French take exercise naturally. They walk everywhere, and every town has long walks you can join (and by long, I mean long!). They also park their car then walk to the various shops in between and generally don’t move their car to each shop unless too far a distance to carry what they are going to buy. If not walking, it’s bikes, whether families out together or groups of cyclists in lycra pushing the pace.
It’s not just about moving, it’s about being outdoors whilst doing it. There are almost no gyms, particularly here in the countryside. Even the rest areas alongside roads have places you can take a little exercise.
No Need to Please Everyone all the Time
I love the confidence of the French people. It has to be in their upbringing. They know how to say ‘No’. If something doesn’t suit them, they say no. They don’t try to please you, or worry that you will have hurt feelings. It just simply is. They can’t do it, the answer is No. Plain and simple and you know where you stand.
I think France began the concept of random acts of kindness. People here are some of the most helpful and friendly people I know. It really caught me off guard with how helpful people have consistently been, particularly neighbours.
I had a sort of assumption that because we did not speak French very well that we would be sort of avoided, but it has been the very opposite. People have gone out of their way to speak to us, help us when we have had a question, help us with our French and with understanding the area and its history. We have come to realise we are not alone, if we ever need anything.
You can Breathe Here
There is space. Now for some, this may not be an issue, but coming from the UK, which is a small island with LOTS of people on it, you realise when you come to France how empty it is. Almost no cars on the road, almost no people about, and almost no queue at the shops. And bonus, almost no litter (without roads and roundabouts having to be sponsored by clean up crews).
You’ll note we do live in a village in the countryside and not Paris, where like most cities, things are much, much more crowded. But outside of Paris, there is beautiful country, hills and streams, lots of little lanes, and all to ourselves. Except on a lovely weekend afternoon when we might have to share it with a few ‘taking the air’ in a promenade.
I find the French, in these ‘modern times’, a little old fashioned. Because time and people are so precious here a few of the things we think of as necessary in our life have less importance in France. The internet for one. We rarely get a response, particularly in business, from an email if we have not met the person yet.
As mentioned, when you enter a shop, everyone generally greets you (and vice versa), recognizing that you are there. But in fact, whenever you meet anyone you know, you always take the time to greet and say a few words. If you invite someone for drinks or dinner, it will quickly be reciprocated. They don’t over stay their welcome. There is a sort of unwritten time frame of how long to stay, depending on what you have been invited to. So in general you know you won’t be up late, if you invite people to visit.
And there is wine…
Wonderful wine. Enough said.
Of course with all of the above I am being fairly general and there are always exceptions to be found. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty we don’t like, but that is true of any country we have lived in. There are bits you like, bits you don’t. French life, for us, is about thoroughly enjoying and discovering more about our adopted home. Except when we have to deal with French paperwork. Now that definitely goes in the ‘do not like’ pile.
Want more reasons? A Vlog I follow is Andrea Heckler, an American expat in Paris. Here she and Cheryl, a UK expat, talk about their likes and dislikes of Paris, France and French Life in general.