So I have been meaning to send you an update for a few days now, but I’ve been very busy settling into my new university and my new surroundings, as well as making as many new acquaintances as possible. Sorry, then, for the brief interlude, but it means that I have lots to talk about.
I want to start by discussing what my favourite things about France are. Being English, I have been to France many times, as it is frankly a far better holiday destination than our own green and pleasant land. There are certain things about this country that make it, as I mentioned in an earlier post, an Englishman’s idyll, so I thought I would share with you what this consists of for me.
I will say that it is the food that I love the most about this place. I am the kind of person who lives to eat, rather than eats to live, so is why I will never agree with what Kate Moss once said, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. It is also why I will probably always have good bone density and muscle to bone to fat ratio on my body. So hang me for it. This is why being in France is ideal for me. I’m not talking about eating junk out here, as frankly, France has much less of a junk food culture (when one eats traditional fare – I don’t eat McDo though I’ve heard it’s better here) than we English do, and has less of an obesity problem.
What I therefore love about France is its culture that is not afraid of eating good quality food. People here actually spend money on getting the best quality ingredients – rather than the largest quantity. English people could learn from this. Going to the boulangerie every day for the fresh baguettes and croissants is an essential part of the day – a daily pleasure though, rather than a daily chore. People take time to have lunch here, whereas in working England it is seen as an inconvenience that distracts from more pressing matters of the day. As a result, I think that the French are far more relaxed when going about things, or maybe it’s just that I am so used to living in London now that everyone seems far more relaxed.
On a more personal note, I would say my own diet out here has improved. There is a book entitled French Women Don’t Get Fat, which essentially lays out the way they eat out here – 3 meals a day: a small breakfast, a decent sized lunch and a light dinner. The best flavours of France are much easier and cheaper to come by here, by which I am referring to olive oil, cheese, good quality bread and fresh meats and fish. The market culture certainly helps you get the freshest vegetables directly from the grower – and saves you a lot of money in the process. Living in France means that you have to adapt to the culture, and it has certainly benefited me. This is not to say, though, that I eat badly in England, but I am certainly eating more healthily here.
What is better still is the nostalgic element to everything. I attach a profound novelty to going to Carrefour, a pan-European chain of hypermarkets, where you can literally buy everything you ever need in your entire life, ever. For my American readers, it is a lot like Wal-Mart. They even sell Pepperidge Farm cookies – which my mother says was one of the only things she really enjoyed about living in the States (when I was less than 2) and we lived in a different economic situation, which made things somewhat less enjoyable.
I have many memories of my childhood family holidays, renting out a gite and locating the nearest Carrefour. On our last trip as a family, we went to the area around Nimes and Aix-en-Provence, and on one of our last evenings had quails legs in tomato and garlic marinade which we had picked up from Carrefour the same day. I really must head south one weekend! My goodness!
Another memory is the French exchange I took part in when I was about 15/16, sharing a room with my friend Katherine, who has similar experiences in France and being served chicken with runner beans for dinner – so simple, and therefore, so French. France is a far less complicated country to understand than Russia and that is the most beautiful thing about it. The food is highly representative of the culture, and the culture, highly representative of the food. I love that.
I want to mention here one of my favourite Francophile Brits, the TV chef Rachel Khoo, who recently was on BBC2 with her series The Little Paris Kitchen. I’ll leave this one up to you guys to research, but I find her lifestyle choice very inspiring. Her website: http://www.rachelkhoo.com/ . She had a high flying job in London, which she chose to give up in order to move to Paris and train to become a chef. I think this is what I will do when I have made my first million at 25 and seek early retirement and more temperate climes. I jest. Sort of.
The second thing, aside from food, is the shopping. Yes, ok, I know, this potentially will shoot to pieces anything I have ever claimed about being a feminist, but hear me out on this one. All the clichés are there – I have ovaries and two X chromosomes, therefore am genetically predisposed to enjoy shopping. So sue me. But my approach is not about being fashionable and stylish and wanting to follow the latest trends. No. I have long proven myself completely inept at anything of the sort – plus, as a student, lacking capital to do so. Shopping for oneself is about self-respect. If you look polished, you send off messages that you take yourself seriously and that others should do the same.
The French, if we are to judge their shops, are in agreement with this. I have also seen a similar thing with Russians, though we must consider that the French got there first. Capitalism and all that – we’ll save that for another post, right?
French women know how to wear a scarf. French women can walk in heels. French women know about trench coats. French women combine all of these, with simple colours that never go out of fashion, and as a result, it means they shop probably less often, but for better stuff. With the ‘Great British High Street’ in the dire straits that it is, it would be probably deemed unpatriotic for me to advocate this, however, I do.
Cheap clothing is a false economy.
When I say cheap, I don’t mean price – I mean quality. If you keep buying things that are poorly made for a cheap price, you are signing up for a contract of repeated purchase of the same item. But making an investment in a good quality product, that is stylish but durable, means that you will probably save more money in the long run – especially if you are savvy and shop only during sale periods. It is the French that have really taught me this. Everyone here has a Longchamp bag. Fashionable, yes; stylish and sophisticated, yes; pricey, also yes - but they use them for everything and they are well made.
My point about liking French shopping is focused upon a single place: the French department store “Galeries Lafayette”. There is a large one in Paris, but another branch exists here in Tours. They currently have sales on. My goodness. Its English equivalent is probably Fenwick, it’s a fantastic place. Rest assured that my visits will be restricted only to sale periods though.
Finally, the French community spirit is just great, frankly. People are not afraid of people here. Even in Paris, people will help you on the tube if you’re carrying a suitcase. Granted, they do that occasionally in London, but it is much more of a cause of British awkwardness. The French just get on with things and I have huge respect for that. And a fair amount of British awkwardness about the whole thing too. That’s going to take some work!
I’ve turned this into a bit of an essay, so if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!
I can condense this into a few Year Abroad Resolutions. I have a whole hypothetical list, but these are the most bloggable.
1. Try a new cheese every week.
2. Buy a new scarf – from Galeries Lafayette of course
3. Be less 'British'
Also, there is an app called “Life in Seconds” which my best friend Lucy introduced me to. I’m currently working on my first film, “30 Days in France in 30 Seconds”, which I look forward to sharing with you. If I can work out how to do it!
A la prochaine fois!