Spring and Les Villes et Villages Fleuris

Spring is here. When I lived in San Diego, the arrival of spring meant days were now 72 degrees instead of 68; time to put away the scarfs and boots and break out the flip flops. Here in Colorado, spring means green blades of grass breaking through, blossoming trees, tulips, and then this:

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That’s my backyard two days ago. We got 17 inches of snow. We went sledding, built a snowman, had a snowball fight…. Spring along the Front Range means your what-to-wear dilemmas look like this:

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I’m done with the snow. I stored my snowboard mid-March, got a pedicure, and started wearing sandals. Visions of flowers and beaches and hot sun toasting my bare legs are dancing through my head.

Alas. I’ll fill my thoughts, instead, with Les Villes et Villages Fleuris de France.

This was a new discovery for me last summer. As we drove into a village in Bretagne, my husband pointed to a bright yellow sign and exclaimed, “Ah, un village fleuri !” and he went from mildly cranky/exasperated Frenchman-driving-car into happy, relaxed, joie de vivre Frenchman mode.

VILLES-FLEURIES

The Concours des villes et villages fleuris is an annual contest in France where communes are evaluated for their aesthetic beauty. When the label began in 1959, it focused mainly on the beauty of the green spaces and floral displays, but now communes are judged in three categories: “la qualité de l’accueil” (the quality of the welcome and ambiance to visitors and residents), “le respect de l’environnement” (looking at the respect shown to natural resources and preservation of green spaces, as well as events that celebrate nature), and “la preservation du lien social” (how do the green spaces and gardens promote social interaction and utilization of those spaces within the commune). In all, it is an attempt to look at the overall quality of life impact on those who live in and visit the commune.

No limits exist on the number of communes that can be awarded, so it isn’t a true competition. The label earned can be anywhere from 1 to 4 flowers, or the prestigious gold flower, given annually to 9 communes. According to Wikipedia, as of 2015, approximately 12,000 French cities, towns, and villages have received the award. Four flower status has been awarded to 226 of those.

To learn more, here is the link to the French site.

http://www.villes-et-villages-fleuris.com/accueil_1.html

And here are some of my favorite flower pictures from France:

Solidarité

Like so many, I am deeply saddened by the events in Paris. I could delve into my thoughts on the politics of the situations we as a changed, evolving world face today, the ideology of how to improve things, my own pessimism regarding our ability to ever bring peace to this kind of fight, or the grief that those who have lost must feel so acutely. Thankfully, none of our loved ones were hurt. To talk of my own grief for a country I love seems self-centered at a time when so many are so personally affected.

So instead, I’ll talk about why I love France. It’s in part the obvious: the beauty – both natural and man made, that exists throughout the country. The fabulous food. But it goes much beyond this. While listening to NPR today, I heard a guest comment that we (Americans) have certain things we admire about other countries. We admire the Germans for the machines they make – their cars. The Swiss for their watches. But when it comes to the French, we love the way they live. We idealize it, bien sûr. We also poke fun at it (another strike? Geez!). Yet it is the French way of life, the joie de vivre, the bon appetit, the je ne sais quoi that we so admire and wish to emulate. For the French celebrate life. Art. Family. Food. History. French culture is a celebration the things that make being human great. The essence of humanity.

So I continue to celebrate France. France, Paris, Je t’aime pour toujours.

 

Ten Things I Love About The French

1. I love the appreciation the French have for good food and good wine. A Frenchman I know once stated that when a person isn’t willing to indulge sometimes, enjoy great food, let go a bit, it “really says something about that person.” He couldn’t comprehend people who never eat the good stuff, even if it might go straight to their thighs. Lest you think the French are okay with gluttony – they aren’t. (I think half the women in France are starving themselves because they certainly aren’t exercising!) They just aren’t into denying themselves the pleasures of life.

2. I love Sunday lunches, where families gather to spend a couple hours together over a nice meal.

3. That je-ne-sais-quoi French people possess. The way the women seem to never style their hair yet it still hangs in perfect waves with just the right amount of flyaways to say: I’m beautiful, and I’m not trying. The slightly arrogant, stooped posture of the men that says I’m more intellect than athlete, and I don’t care what you think about it. What is it about French people…it’s so hard to put a finger on it, it’s that je-ne-sais-quoi. They can drive me crazy, but I still love them.

4. I love that they flirt with most everyone, even in the most benign situations. Not to be anti-feminist, but turning a simple transaction – like buying a container of aspirin – into a dance of compliments and innocently arching eyebrows puts a smile on my face. I call it the French version of customer service.

5. I like that the French enjoy intellectual conversations and pride themselves on being realists. I like that they will engage each other in a verbal battlefield over ideas and current events, yet not take the conversation personally or allow it to damage a friendship. Except sometimes I don’t love this. I should probably put this on a list about things I don’t love about the French, too.

6. I find French men’s abhorance for white socks (even when exercising!) endearing.

7. I love that the French believe, and pursue, balance in life. Between work and play, time for children and adult time, in indulging in their desire to enjoy amazing food but not overdoing it….

8. I love the way my French friends are always happy to spend time together. We linger over meals, enjoying long conversations, enjoying each other’s company, playing games, long after most of our other friends have decided it’s time to get back home, or go to the next party, or who knows what. The French prioritize people in their lives in a way that I wish we did better here.

9. Scarves. I stayed in Paris long enough to learn several different ways to wear a scarf, and wear it well, but not so long that I stopped smiling at people. I love the elegance of scarves, and the way the French propel scarf-wearing to an art form.

10. Get away from Paris or any other major city, and you will find the French to be some of the most welcoming, gregarious people you will meet in your travels. Even Paris is getting better – complete strangers have – gasp – smiled at me and offered to help me when I appeared lost or confused. Parisians in restaurants have complimented my imperfect French and cute accent. Learn a few key words and get ready to knock down those stereotypes!

Ten Things I Love About France

Because it’s all about lists these days, right? In no particular order:

1. Walking the streets of Paris – the entire city is a work of art. I love to simply stroll along the avenues, people watch, gaze at the architecture, find unique spots in each quartier, inhale the scents, leading to #2…

Latin Quarter

Latin Quarter

2. The smell of a patisserie. I’ll never forget the time I was strolling down a narrow street and was stopped in my tracks by a rich, buttery scent pouring out a patisserie door. I stopped, whispered, “Oh. My. God.” Closed my eyes, and stood there inhaling deeply, unselfconscious until I paused, looked inside, and saw the pastry chef watching me with an amused, and pleased, smile on his face.

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3. Flower boxes on windows.

132 Window in Nice

4. Fields of lavender right next to fields of sunflowers in Provence.

Abbaye de Senaque

Abbaye de Senanque

435 More sunflowers!

5. Provence. For its beauty, its romance, its cuisine, its otherworldness.

6. Riding a bike through Bretagne.

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7. Eating galettes and drinking cool apple cider on a hot day in Bretagne.

IMG_1790 8. The French language. For all the grief it causes me, I love the sing-song beauty of this romantic language.

9. The Impressionists.

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

10. And Paris. I really love Paris. Cliché? Perhaps. Still, to me, she will always be romantic, mysterious, something I will never quite touch nor truly understand, yet a place where I come alive and life beats forward at a quicker, more exciting, more beautiful pace.

I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

She’s there, she’s everywhere
But she’s really here

         -Cole Porter

011 Same as G Belmon painting

La Politesse, and a Few Tips on How to Get Along With the French

Arc de Triomphe on Bastille Day

The French can be unfailingly polite.

No, really, I’m being serious.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone who has traveled to France comes home with some story about a rude Frenchman or Frenchwoman who treated them horribly and worse, seemed to enjoy it. It’s almost like we look for those moments now: it’s a rite of passage. We need a commemorative “I survived talking to a French person” T-shirt.

Yet the truth is, there is much politesse in the French culture, we just don’t understand it  because their social rules are different from ours.

I’ve witnessed arguments between strangers where despite the obvious disagreement, they continue to address each other as “Madame,” et “Monsieur.” Usually without sarcasm. Ever had a homeless person hop onto your metro car to ask for money? Their speeches often mirror each other, and usually begin with a grand, “Mesdames et Messieurs, pardonez-moi de vous deranger.…” Translation: Ladies and Gentlemen, please pardon me for bothering you…. Even the term used for the homeless is more dignified than the word “homeless.” It’s SDF, or “Sans Domicile Fixe.” Translation: Without a fixed home.

Whenever I travel to France, it’s as if a flip switches in my head and I go into French mode. Things that would drive me crazy here become tolerable, because I’ve spent enough time there to understand why things are as they are, and to better know what to expect.

Kind of.

Who am I kidding. There are some things the French do that I will never understand, no matter how many times my husband or my French friends try to explain them to me (or deny their existence). At any rate, here are a few examples of things you can do to make your next trip to France run more smoothly:

When entering a store, always greet the shopkeeper with a “Bonjour.” While here in the US it’s not uncommon to enter a store without acknowledging, or being acknowledged by, the employees there, in France it’s considered incredibly rude. Same for leaving. Make sure you say, “Au revoir.” Toss in a “Bonne journée !” or a “Merci !” for good measure.

Flower shop in Paris

Flower shop in Paris

Try out some French, even if it’s only to say, “Pardonez-moi, mais je ne parle pas Français. Is it okay to speak English?” After all, the French have grown tired of people walking up to them and barking out a foreign language. I know I’d grow tired of it. I’ve been scolded by patients incensed that I don’t speak Spanish fluently, and that never brought out my benevolent side. Ease into the conversation, and the French are much more likely to be okay with speaking English.

Personal space there is very different from here; the French require much less of it. So if someone is bumping right up against you without acknowledging that they’ve jostled you, don’t take it personally. It’s all normal for them.

Chances are, the waiter is not ignoring you. The French like their meals long and uninterrupted. Unlike the US, where tables must turn over quickly in order for the restaurant to make money and the waiters to make adequate tips, in France, if you reserve a table, it’s pretty much yours for the night. A waiter won’t bring your bill unless you ask for it. To do otherwise would be rude, the equivalent of asking you to leave.

Just because the French person you’re speaking with isn’t grinning and enthusiastic, it doesn’t mean they’re annoyed with you. Well, they might be. But it’s more likely that it’s just a cultural thing: the French don’t grin and get enthusiastic in conversations with strangers. They are more reserved and tend to hold back until they get to know you. Give them a chance to warm up and you may end up making a great new friend. I’ve been told by my European friends that they knew I was American because I’m always smiling. I see this as a good thing, but I’ve also come to realize that the huge grin that comes so easily to my face is hardly a universal trait.

Ladies, enjoy the French version of customer service. I posted on this previously, here. Now’s not the time to go indignant feminist – let those shopkeepers flirt with you and treat you like a queen for a few moments. It’s really fun.

As for forming lines – they aren’t going to do it. This is one of the areas I have the hardest time with in France. After being shoved around trying to claim my coat at the counter after parties, swept past repeatedly while waiting in line for a toilet, and literally shoved off metro cars, I finally realized I had the necessary skills to survive, all learned during my years of playing basketball. It’s all about claiming space, blocking out, and moving toward the ball, or as the case may be, the toilet. Don’t be afraid to get wide, or even throw out a forearm to ward someone off. When it comes to lines in France, expect nothing less than pure Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Another tip: get out of Paris. Paris is gorgeous, stunning, there’s tons to see and do, but it’s still a big city. And like any big city, people are in more of a rush, stress levels are higher, people are more closed off to outsiders, and fatigued of tourists. That’s not to say that pleasant Parisians don’t exist – they absolutely do. But if you want to experience a little more joie de vivre, more bienvenue, hop on a train for the countryside.

I hope your next encounter with a French national goes smoothly. If all else fails, a French shrug (see this post here) and a resigned, “Eh ben,” are perhaps the best responses.

Me in a lavender field

Try a visit to Provence. Beautiful country, friendly locals!

Photo Day: Avignon

These photos are from a trip we took while spending summer in the south of France a few years ago. “South of France” – even the words themselves  evoke beauty and romance, n’est-ce pas ?

Le Palais des Papes - The Popes' Palace, temporary home of the Popes during the 14th century

Le Palais des Papes – The Popes’ Palace, temporary home of the Popes during the 14th century

Hotel de Ville, Avignon

Hotel de Ville, Avignon

My hubby, at the Grand Escalier D'honneur in the Palace

My hubby, at the Grand Escalier D’honneur in the Palace

Gothic Arches in the Palace

Gothic Arches in the Palace

My kind of gift shop!

My kind of gift shop!

The Palace from the Pont d'Avignon

The Palace from the Pont d’Avignon

Sur le pont d’Avignon

On y danse

On y danse

Sur le pont d’Avignon

On y danse tous en rond

This is a charming children’s song that I happily sang for the rest of the day.

Pont d'Avignon

Pont d’Avignon

View of Avignon from across the Rhône

View of Avignon from across the Rhône

A man tends to flowers on his balcony in Avignon

A man tends to flowers on his balcony in Avignon

Me at the Waterwheel in Avignon

Me at the Waterwheel in Avignon

Advertisements for the upcoming theater festival

Advertisements for the upcoming theater festival

Liebster Award

liebster awardThere’s nothing like an award nomination to boost morale and motivation! A fellow Francophile at Oh Sacré Bleu nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thank you, and Yay!

This award is a pat on the back for newish bloggers from fellow bloggers, meant to help spread the word about our favorite blogs out there in the blogosphere.

As part of the Liebster award, I must do the following:

  • Post the award on my blog
  • Thank the blogger presenting me with the award and provide a link back to their blog
  • Write 11 random facts about myself (uh-oh)
  • Pay it forward: find 11 other blogs with less than 200 followers that I enjoy reading and nominate them. (This is a tough one! Many blogs I follow have more than 200 followers, or have already been nominated, or I don’t know how many followers they have and couldn’t figure it out, but here are a bunch of really great ones that I’m happy to share. Sadly, I had to leave many of my discoveries off the list.) Okay, so, my dad was a math teacher, leaving me with a strong left brain, and I have to wonder… if every nominee faithfully nominates 11 blogs, after about 10 rounds, we’ve well exceeded human population … but I digress. It’s great to receive and spread blog love.
  • Answer the 11 questions the award presenter asked me, and ask my nominees 11 questions

Here we go:

Random Facts About Me

1. Many of my relatives are cowboys, the real deal (read about them here). I, however, am horribly allergic to horses.

2. I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. to work out.

3. I’m left handed.

4. I’ve sprained my ankles well over 20 times between the two of them. Ridiculous.

5. My mom wouldn’t let me take French in high school, despite me really wanting to. She said, “Carol, you live in Arizona. You’ll never have any occasion to use French. You’ll take Spanish.” Then I married a Frenchman. I like to remind her of this story.

6. I  need a social media detox on a regular basis. I have a crappy little phone with no internet access and I like it that way. I often leave it behind, as well as my laptop – life feels freer and simpler when I disconnect from all devices. I’ll take a paper map over GPS any day.

7. I’ve been to 5 continents. Missing Australia and Antarctica.

8. Even though the bottle says rinse then repeat, I don’t repeat. I’m rebellious like that.

9.I recently discovered that I’m dairy intolerant. It’s really pissing me off.

10.  I’m a redhead. I’ve always been one, and I’ve always liked being one.

11.  I have a doctorate degree in physical therapy.

Eleven Questions from Oh Sacré Bleu

1. Why do you blog? Because I love to write. And I think I found a good subject to blog about.

2. Are you in any way a ‘cultural failure’? i.e. You don’t do something that is typical of your nationality or culture (e.g. an Indian who doesn’t like spicy food, an Irishman who doesn’t drink alcohol etc) I think being a Francophile makes me a cultural failure, doesn’t it? It certainly did during the “freedom fries” craziness. I also don’t like apple pie, I can’t get excited about baseball, and I can’t bring myself to eat a corn dog. I just threw up in my mouth a little thinking about corn dogs.

3. Do you believe in ghosts? If I say no, will the ghosts find out and come to get me?

4. What’s a really bad song that you secretly like? See You Again by Miley Cyrus. Yeah, that’s right. She was in Hannah Montana mode when she rocked this one.

5. One country you can’t wait to visit? Only one? Ok. New Zealand.

6. Dogs or cats? Dogs. Big dogs.

7. Favourite city in the world that you’ve visited? I have to say Paris, right? I love Paris. Not to live, but to visit.

8. Do you collect anything? Randomly and unconsciously, I do. Buttons. The extra ones that come with new clothes. I don’t just collect them, I hoard them. Weirdo.

9. Favourite destination in your own country? Yosemite National Park

Happy happy me, in Yosemite Valley

Happy happy me, in Yosemite Valley

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

10. Worst thing about living in my country is…. Angry, hateful, bitter political climate.

11. Best thing about living in my country is….Diversity. People, cultures, food, terrain – you can find it all, here.

 

My Nominations:

C’est La Vie Cuisine Yummy recipes and a slice of life from a Frenchwoman living in the U.S.

Little Miss Frenchified An American teaching English to Strasbourg high school students.

Multilingual Parenting Advice and insight from a parent who has been there and done that.

Learn French With Jennifer A French teacher married to a Frenchman gives us a word a day. Great resource for French learners.

Stumbling Into Paradise Fun stories of adventures in learning French (complete with stereotypical hardass French teacher) and traveling.

The Head of the Heard Stephen shares his adventures of living in a foreign country and raising a multilingual child.

Au Lit! An Aussie married to a Frenchie living in France

The European Mama A Polish mom married to a German living in the Netherlands and raising three kiddos

Brian Goldsmith Photography For some fantastic armchair traveling

Meg Travels Beautiful photos and anecdotes from around the world

Traveling Frenchies Family of Frenchies, traveling the world

 

Okay, you guys are up: Eleven Questions for My Nominees

1.     If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

2.    What is the best book you’ve read recently?

3.    What is the nicest thing a random stranger has ever done for you?

4.    Your life will be made into a movie. Who do you want to play you?

5.    What was your favorite childhood toy?

6.    What is your guilty pleasure?

7.    Sweet or savory?

8.    If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

9.    How many and which languages do you speak?

10. What was your favorite subject in school? Least favorite?

11.  If you could have any job other than your current one, what would you do?

Now what are you waiting for? Go check out these blogs! Go!