Week 3- 10 things I'm not sure I understand about the French.

July 22, 2015
Whilst this week hasn't been the most eventful of weeks, it has provided me with time to reflect on what I have learnt so far in France and allowed me to compare my life in England with my life here. These past three weeks have been a learning curve for me so I've decided to write about French habits that I've found particularly amusing- and not always in a good way.

1. Eating habits

We're led to believe that French women don't get fat thanks to the many diet books pushed towards the Angloworld direction however if their eating habits are anything to go by, I'm not sure why only one in four women in France are packing too much timber nowadays. During my first week here, I was invited many times to eat with my bosses. Loading my plate with delicious salad, meats and bread, little did I realise that this one course number one. A second course followed with a different choice of meat, followed by a course of bread, then cheese followed by yoghurt. Did I mention that the banquet started at 20.30? I am quite certain that if I ate that much that late each day, I'd probably be double the size that I am now. My manager asked what time we eat in England, exclaiming "Mais nonnnn!" when I informed him the considerably more sensible time we tend to eat across the Channel.

2. Celebrating totalitarian dictatorship

No German who counts himself a civilized man laments Hitler's defeat or death- he was a monster, and everyone sees him as such. A good few years before Hitler, stood Napoleon - the revolutionary turned tyrant who came close to putting the whole of Europe beneath his yoke, and only met defeat through the concerted efforts of every other European power. Napoleon was the baddie, the geopolitical monster hiding in the closet. (Hitler is considered far worse, of course - Napoleon wasn't as keen on mass genocide but he's as close as the 19th century had.) During my visit to Bordeaux last week, I counted at least 3 streets, 2 museums and 2 statues celebrating the era of Napoleon, And that's just one city. France just loves to celebrate the 5"6 Dictator despite him being the founder of totalitarian dictatorship and I'm not sure it's something that I completely comprehend.


I've mentioned in a previous post about my distaste for coffee in France. I'm yet to develop an adoration for the espresso- which I feel tastes dangerously close to Bovril- however the French are smitten. So smitten, in fact, that they happily charge around three euros for a double espresso- add another euro if you're wanting milk. I'm also going to take this opportunity to point out that the French ratio of three quarters of coffee (espresso) and one quarter milk DOES NOT make a cappuccino nor adding Nesquick sprinkles on the top. There's little more to say on this subject- France, sort yourself out.

A large black coffee. Also,would a clean mug go amiss?

4. Attitudes towards women

On Saturday we went to the annual wine festival in Sigoules, which attracted an eclectic mix. Dressed in shorts and a tshirts, as you do when the weather is 40 degrees, we were unsure as to why garnered so much male attention. The oggling eyes and the inappropriate, hankering stares brought back memories of a conversation with my French tutor who had told us to be wary as a woman with your attire in France, because men (more namely perverts) are too happy to fondle in 21st century. My initial reaction was to laugh in her face and hindsight has led me to be thankful for my decision, because she wasn't just trying to frighten us. It seemed that some men felt they had a right to look -I don't know why, like I've said shorts and a tshirt?!- and occasionally even dance with their genitals in too close a proximity to our bodies Needless to say, we left quite soon from that area. 

Just another quick point, men still find it hilarious to shout at women as they drive past from the cars. Shouting back only encourages them, my French room-mate told me, so you literally have to accept charming men asking you to 'suchez la bite' as they speed past. Lucky ladies,

5. Supermarkets

£30 in England could probably buy the whole of Aldi and a bit of Lidl too, whereas in France it'll probably just cover the exorbitant cost of some meat and a bit of veg- you're probably looking at just under a week's worth of food. Looking around Carrefour, BOGOF offers are non-existent and price drops are illusive. French Officials recently passed a law in which it is compulsory that supermarkets give a certain amount of out of date products to charity, in order to suppress waste and aid the hungry, which suggests why supermarkets aren't eager to employ great deals where people will buy more than they need. However, living on a stagiere's pay, I could really do with three packs of meat for ten euros, or SmartPrice yoghurt.

6. Driving

On Bastille Day, a group of French guys who Carine (my room-mate) knew had told us they'd pick us up and take us to see the fireworks in Bergerac and after to a party. Being my first proper quatorze juillet, I was brimming with enthusiasm. However when they arrived, their Citroen was spiralling down the road as if it had only three wheels; the lads were what you could only describe as 'rat-arsed'. Carine tried to convince us that it was okay, that they'd only drank beer and wine and that we should still go. Yeah, you first, Carine. So, not only are the French the most abysmal drivers, but they don't consider drinking beer or wine drink driving at all. Not wanting to end my life in a vineyard in the middle of nowhere, I politely declined and ended up watching Gossip Girl in bed instead. Oh well, there's always next year.

The most I got to see of Bastille Day...

7. Cheques

In the UK, the cheque is on par with hair mascara, barbed wire tattoos and Gareth Gates- phased out during the early 2000s. In France, however, cheques are one of the most popular methods of payment. I don't know why either. Every shop that I've been in has machines at the till where the cashier inserts your cheque and it prints all the details then you just sign. In theory, it sounds quick and easy but put it into practise and it takes around four/five minutes to do the three copies needed , which when compared to debit cards, is an awful long time. The first time we saw somebody pay with cheque, Charlotte, my Dutch room-mate, looked on with a furrowed brow. "Oh that's what a cheque looks like, I've never seen one before" she told me after I informed her. 

8. Casual Racism

The French are known for their zero tolerance against religion (except if you're Catholic) and consider themselves a secular state; Religious Education is no longer taught in schools and it is an offence to wear any obvious religious attire or promote your religion. Some women still take their chances and wear the Burkha in this area and consequently are victims of casual racism. Nicknamed Ninja Turtles, the poor women are subject to much abuse. In fact, someone even told me that you get bonus points if you hit them down in the car- cue an awkward laugh and a long glance at my phone. Obviously things have only got worse since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January and it's not uncommon to hear French people just throwing out random insults to attack religions in general. Except Catholicism, of course, because despite being a secular state, you're more than welcome in France if you're a Christian.

9.  Takeaway food

Closely related to point number five about the cost of food in supermarkets, the cost of takeaway food is also through the roof. McDonald's- more commonly known as 'Mac' in France- are more than happy to charge eleven euros for twenty nuggets and three euros for a cheeseburger, which, for me, was probably the thing that shocked me the most since I arrived. The people who I feel most sorry for is the poor students who are being robbed when buying their post night-out takeaway. Or perhaps they don't do that because they're chic- they probably go home to a few rounds of a bread and cheese, actually.

10. Syrup

Finally, something that displeases me the most about living in France is the substitute they offer for cordial. Perhaps this is something that only ruffles my feathers but I am an avid squash drinker; it's cheap, delicious and relatively healthy. The French alternative is called syrup. You can buy syrup in an array of flavours- from iced tea to cola, grenadine to candyfloss and when you want to make your own mouthwash, mint is also available. Of course you don't need me to explain that syrup is just liquid sugar that you mix with water. Every French person that I know has been enamoured by syrup and I've never understood why- what is it they love about indigestion and heartburn all day long? And also, why does it cost so much?

There's not a lot to do in either Sigoules or Monbazillac.

Quick weekly round up- We've had some real mixed weather with thunder and lightening and then temperatures exceeding 35 degrees. I've been to a wine festival and Bordeaux and got chatted up by the French version of Sean Paul in a supermarket- what can I say? I'm irresistible.  

Until next time!
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