The end of August marked my one year France-iversary. That’s right. A little over a year ago, I staggered out of the train station in Lyon, weighed down with two massive suitcases (and a backpack!), blinking in the late afternoon sun. I still remember that first taxi ride, during which the driver managed to give me a full lesson on Rhone Valley wines.
A year later and the cultural differences (good and bad) still fascinate me to no end. So, in no particular order, here's my list:
10 Things I Love About France
1. Le pain (bien cuit). Simple but oh so good. Everyone here has their corner boulangerie that they swear is the best. Bad bread is simply not tolerated. "J'ai galéré pour trouver du pain pendant les vacances." Having spent the entire month of August in the city, I shared her struggle--bakeries, restaurants, shops, literally everything shuts down. She told me how she was forced to go to Paul for her bread in August when just about everything was closed, including her beloved boulangerie. She was not impressed. but admitted that the bread at Monoprix is acceptable in a pinch: c'est potable.
2. The wine. A decent bottle will cost you around 3 euros. Three euros! If that's not enough to convince you to indulge, French people will tell you that a glass with dinner is good for the digestion. Plus, it just makes the food taste better. Another Madame Blot-ism.
3. The year-round outdoor markets. Sure, we have outdoor markets in the U.S., but they aren’t as embedded into the culture as they are here. For more on mastering the art of the French market, read this post.
4. The charming old buildings. Everywhere you look, there’s a stunning structure--inside and out. I have a thing for ornate staircases and doors...
5. Being able to walk everywhere. Who needs a car when you can walk to work with this view?
6. Lunchtime. I’m not necessarily talking about the food itself here (see items #1, 2 and 3). What I mean is the way the French make an event out of each repas. Food matters are taken very seriously and mealtime is practically sacred. French people don’t snack, but when it’s time to eat, you can bet they are seated at a proper table, where they take a few hours to relax and enjoy every bite.
7. The vacation—err, I mean work-life balance. Seriously. Five weeks is the legal minimum amount of vacation. Five weeks!
8. Sundays. Speaking of work-life balance. The French give a whole new meaning to the day of rest. They go for walks. They have long family lunches. They linger at cafés. They just enjoy. And why not? You have an entire week to run around. Sundays are for relaxing. Say what you will about being productive on the weekend, but lazy Sundays sure beat grocery shopping and laundry in my book. Also, raclette parties.
9. The train. I have a love/hate relationship with SNCF (more on that later). Being able to take the train just about anywhere is incredibly convenient, especially when you don’t have a car. One hour and you find yourself in a new city that feels like it could be in a different country. Plus, it’s SO much more pleasant than flying.
10. The language. Only the French could make even the concept of a pop-up bar sound romantic: les bars éphémères are all the rage in Paris right now. Such a beautiful, complicated language that makes even the most mundane idea sound sophisticated and cool.
To sum it up, France is pretty great. But. It's not all baguettes and rosé wine, people. There are some aspects of the culture that aren't so easy to love. So with that, I give you:
10 Things I Hate About Living in France
1. The complaining. Much like this list, French people complain. A lot.
2. Anything administrative. Even what should be the simplest to-dos like setting up your utilities or applying for an apartment become extremely long and complicated processes. Undoubtably involving a dossier that contains an alarming number of official documents.
3. The lines. Especially at the grocery store, post office and the dressing room at Zara. Going to the grocery store is never a quick in-and-out deal here. Oh no. So just prepare yourself for one open cash register and a line that winds through the store.
4. Getting dressed up to run the smallest errand. Sometimes I just want to wear sweatpants to run to the grocery store, okay?
5. The concept of customer service doesn't exist. Or at least it doesn't exist in the same way that it does in the States. Every time I go to a restaurant or shop here, I get the feeling that the person working there is doing me some kind of favor by helping me. In restaurants, the tip is always included in the bill, so why would the server go out of his or her way? The situation in a shop is a little different but the feeling is the same. Picture the following scenario: You're shopping at a store like Monoprix and you're ready to check out. By some miracle, you spot a cash register with no line. So you make a beeline with your cart. Then you notice that the cashier is not alone, but deep in conversation with another employee. You are expected to wait until they've finished their conversation, even if it lasts for several minutes. The cashier will then address you with a 'Bonjour' at which point you can proceed with your checkout. Attempting to cut this exchange short will earn you a sharp retort or a dirty look at the very least.
6. There is dog poop literally everywhere you walk. Strangely enough, there seems to be some sort of dog poop radar that is acquired after a certain amount of time. That's right. I was walking with a friend once who introduced me to this special talent. As we walked, we inevitably approached a pile of dog poop right in the middle of the sidewalk. Just as I was about to alert my friend who was looking down at her phone at that moment, I noticed her expertly sidestep the danger zone without even looking up.
7. All the smoke. I'm not sure on the numbers, but most French people I know are smokers. So different from the U.S. where it's rare to find people my age who smoke.
8. Shops are closed on Sundays. Sometimes I need to run to the store and my only day to do it is Sunday!
9. The SNCF. If you’ve ever experience train travel in France, chances are you’ve encountered some sort of strike/delay/mysterious incident that causes your train to be delayed for an amount of time that is indeterminé, or just cancelled altogether. Even more maddening is the fact that they rarely can give you an accurate time estimate, let alone tell you what's going on. Once, on a train from Montpellier to Lyon, we were stopped for three hours and to this day I still don't know why.
10. The lack of public toilets. Every time I leave the house, this is always a top concern. In the U.S., bathrooms are abundant--and free of charge. Then I moved to France and realized this was not necessarily the case. I remember when I first moved to Montpellier and being utterly mystified. Surely the grocery store must have a bathroom somewhere. What does everyone else do? Are all French people just walking around dehydrated so they don't have to go? To be fair, this has gotten better in recent years. But still.
There you have it, some of the best (and worst) aspects of day-to-day life in France.