What has been most ticklesome (and teeth-pulling) is the French / English divide.
We each live with a host family; some with widows, others have tots around – but all have an opinion on our country and our habits. And vice versa. Myself; I’ve been laughed at for drinking a beer while watching the rugby (uncouth?), using the measuring cup as a water glass (all the glasses are mouse-sized) and my tendency to break everything. The latter is more just me, I tried to blame France. Which didn’t work.
Anyway, during these days and evenings spent in our new homes, we’ve encountered some pretty strange questions about what England has to offer in terms of food and recreational activities. The most exceptional have included:
*Are there sandwiches in England? –It was Earl Sandwich, not Dauphin Sandwich
*Do you have cheese? How about Goats’ cheese? Even blue cheese? –No cheese exists outside of France. You are correct
*Are there swimming pools? You are a winter country. –This makes no sense
*Did you know Champagne is a special type of fizzy wine made in France? –Errr…
*Riding schools / horses
*Screw-top wine bottles
*BREAD –There are no words
You could allow some leeway for those who’ve never been to England, but we’re not martians. I’m loathe to use a hashtag but ♯whyFrancewhy is getting some serious action in Alès of late.
Wine is their tea. Most offices stockpile Côtes du Rhône rather than Twinnings.
After a heart to heart with my boss, she promptly offered me a glass.
On a Monday.
And how they drink it is rather important. Over lunch with a colleague, I was told; “If you put ice in your wine, you are offending it.” Sorry, rosé lovers.
They drink every day, but never a lot. When I’ve accepted a second glass of wine over lunch, out comes the wry smile with an aside of ‘Of course you will, anglaise…’.
Likewise food, they eat most things we consider an indulgence, daily, but in moderation. No snacking between meals (brioche with coffee doesn’t count) – in our first week at school we were warned that snacking leads to obesity. It’s customary to aggressively clean your plate with bread when you’re done; usually with half a slice, the other reserved for cheese. Fromage is always eaten before pudding. Never after or in place of. NEVER.
When I declared (as I have done on most Mondays recently) to Theirry (French pops) that I wasn’t eating cheese or drinking wine this week, he looked genuinely perplexed, sighed heavily and declared: “But soon you will leave France where there is no good food or wine. You are stupeeedd.” He’s pretty into his cheese course.
Nothing silly like working environments or illness stops them lighting up. In fact people have been known to finish an entire cigarette before noticing that they’ve been smoking at all. I saw a 80something man, wheeled out of the local hospital to have a fag – still attached to a drip. Alès also has about five shops, purely dedicated to e-cigarettes, which for a town of about 40,000 seems excessive.
I’m sure this is partly being in a small southern town, but everyone says bonjour everywhere, no exceptions. If you don’t reply – as I’ve sometimes missed the opportunity out of ill timing or disorientation – they’ll assume you’re rude/foreign.
Walking down the street BONJOUR
Sweating on the cross-trainer BONJOUR
While swimming BONJOUR
My angry Londoner often resurfaces, grumbling that there’s no time for this relentless embracive madness; but then my freckle-faced Southerner shushes, has a bite of cheese, and says ‘France has obligatory two-hour lunch breaks. There’s time to kiss everybody in Alès.’
Speaking of which, definitely not the done thing if you’re bonjour-ing a complete stranger in the street (even France has limits), but again you seem a bit aloof if you don’t kiss on introduction. In this part of France it’s three pecks, elsewhere it fluctuates between two and four. The distinction was once used to differentiate Catholics and Protestants but times have since changed. I hope.
Quelquefois tu dois aller avec le courant.