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.

IMG_4005

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: Arles and Pont du Gard

Arles and Pont du Gard (the latter you may recognize, the first perhaps not) are both in the south of France, but enough off the beaten path that we, as American tourists, don’t always have the time to see them. Understandable, with the limited vacation time we get! When people ask me for advice on where to go in France, I usually ask them what they are interested in. Seeing the sites you are “supposed” to see? Nothing wrong with that. There’s a reason places like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, St. Tropez, and Nice are so famous. When time is limited, I hate to miss those major attractions. What if you never get back to Paris, and you didn’t grab your chance that one day to see the Eiffel Tower or the Mona Lisa? But when people want to get away from the throngs of tourists, get a more “authentic” experience, I have tons of suggestions there, too. Arles is perhaps in the middle. It’s still a tourist destination, but less crowded than many others.

Arles

Arles

Entering the midieval portion of Arles

Entering the midieval portion of Arles

Here’s one of Arles’ main claims to fame: It’s where Van Gogh painted Cafe Park By Night:

453 Place where Van Gogh painted Cafe Park by night

While we were in Arles, we attended a bull fight. It wasn’t the fight to the death kind, I couldn’t stomach that. In this type of fight, the bull has a thick collection of yarn laced around his horns. A team of players tries to distract the bull, while one of them uses a special tool – a rigid (and aggressive looking) extension of his hand – to tear at the yarn. If all the yarn is torn before the timer goes off, the players win. Otherwise, the bull wins. The bull always lives to be tormented another day. The players display an impressive array of acrobatic skills as they run, dodge, then leap from the bull pen to cling for their lives to the surrounding barriers.

458 Look out!

461 Run!

Just on time!

Just on time!

467 going for the yarn

469 Mad bull

477 Yikes!

Awards Ceremony

Awards Ceremony

Here are some photos of Pont du Gard, a well preserved aqueduct from ancient Roman times:

498 Pont du Gard

The Rhone at the Pont du Gard

The Rhone at the Pont du Gard

502 Pont du Gard

Inside the Aqueduct - we were able to walk through from one side to the other

Inside the aqueduct – we were able to walk through from one side to the other

Photo Day: Les Villages Perchés en Provence (Part II)

Part II of those charming perched villages:

Tourette-sur-Loup

Tourette-sur-Loup

St. Paul de Vence

St. Paul de Vence

Moi, in St. Paul de Vence, 2008

Moi, in St. Paul de Vence, 2008

St. Paul de Vence

St. Paul de Vence

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

St. Paul de Vence - this place is made for photos

St. Paul de Vence – this place is made for photos

Newer part of St. Paul de Vence

Newer part of St. Paul de Vence

Photo Day: Les Villages Perchés en Provence (Part I)

As I gaze out the window on falling snow and a ground covered in blankets of white, my thoughts drift to warm places. So now, I’ll sip my hot tea and take an armchair trip to the South of France. Care to join me? On y va !

The steep, rocky mountainsides of Provence create not just natural beauty, but lend to stunning, charming architectural wonders perched high above the Mediterranean.

Pottery in Vallauris

Pottery in Vallauris

Mougins

Mougins

Mougins

Mougins

More of lovely Mougins

More of lovely Mougins

Mougins

Mougins

Gourdon

Gourdon

Gourdon

Gourdon

Gourdon

Gourdon

Perfume distillery in Gourdon

Perfume distillery in Gourdon

I have a fascination with doors and doorways. Loved this one.

I have a fascination with doors and doorways. Loved this one.

Photo Day: Aix en Provence and the Abbaye de Sénanque

I’ve never been to Provence in the fall, but summers there are magical. Here are some more of my favorite photos:

 

Aix en Provence

Aix-en-Provence

Place du General de Gaulle, Aix-en-Provence

Place du General de Gaulle, Aix-en-Provence

Fresh fruit of Provence

Fresh fruit of Provence

Abbaye de Sénanque, from the road above

Abbaye de Sénanque, from the road above

Abbaye de Sénanque and lavender field

Abbaye de Sénanque and lavender field

Me in a lavender field

Me in a lavender field

I adore sunflowers!

I adore sunflowers!

Vineyard tucked into the hills of Provence

Vineyard tucked into the hills of Provence

Another view of the Abbey, with lavender fields

Another view of the Abbey, with lavender fields

Lavender

Lavender

Je t'adore, belle Provence!

Je t’adore, belle Provence!

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

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