Travelling in France – first contact with the french lifestyle
Before living or indeed just travelling to another country, one’s mind is a bevy of preconceived concepts and thrilling expectations. There is nothing quite like the first sights of a new found city; a truly refreshing experience for the soul. However, depending on where you go, dreams can be dashed or definitely brought down to Earth a little. My initial thoughts on french lifestyle were wide and varied. But I did have this vision of baguette toting, chain smoking, wine gorging, smouldering and gorgeously dressed citizens, whose worldliness gave them an air of superiority.
You can thus imagine my delight during my first visit to Paris, when I saw a man jogging through the streets of Le Marais with a baguette neatly tucked under his sweating armpit. I then proceeded to do as all good Parisians would. I sat on a terrace drinking coffee and sneering at the passers-by. A delicate art, the appearance of doing nothing whilst spying on the world around you, but the French have a seductive talent for it.
Better than Paris
After meandering around the country long enough and eventually settling down in Bordeaux, I slowly realised that each city and region had its own customs and nuances that differed from my cultural initiation in the City of Love. In short, France is not Paris. Some of my illusions were indeed shattered. For example, not all French men sit mysteriously in café corners reading poetry and speaking to you enigmatically with their eyes. If a Frenchman does stare at you too long, seek help. Also French folk do not walk around exclaiming “Sacré bleu!” in astonishment, they swear, often and profusely at even the smallest inconvenience. It is strangely charming.
However, of all the long-standing stereotypes and misconceptions that should be addressed, it is the French arrogance that must be deciphered. The French are proud of their terroir and lifestyle. And they are all fiercely dedicated to each of their respective regions. It explains the ongoing battle of borders, as to whether the ancient monastery stronghold of Mont Saint-Michel is located in Normandy or Brittany. The French do not think that they are better than anyone else. They just know that they have created some of the highest sought after delicacies in the world. Their bakeries alone cause major salivation, and the variety of cheeses per region and season is phenomenal. I did mention wine gorging Frenchies earlier, and I must say that the French have never disappointed at any apéro or collective meal I have attended yet; they truly love their food and wine!
Best Wine Region in France?
After a few years living in the prestigious wine region of the south west, my palette has definitely been spoilt. I can tell you that I have indulged as much possible, from sipping crémant on the cobbled streets of Saint-Emilion, to booking numerous wine tours, cruising Bordeaux degustation bars and attending local festivals. Every decadent moment was worth it, as I began to fully grasp the breadth and quality of the pleasure loving French lifestyle.
My advice to anyone travelling to France is this – keep an open mind. For the French, substance means everything. So don’t judge anything or anyone by their looks. Even if sitting on a terrace looking effortlessly suave whilst people watching is a national past time. Drink, eat, be merry and enjoy seeing the occasional beret but don’t be discouraged by any broken delusions. Because stereotypes or no, France (ma belle!) will never let you down.
By Kalpana Barnao