Many of these cultural differences have been written about elsewhere and, as my parents have lived in France for the last ten years, my frequent visits have meant that I’ve felt that I knew the French way of life. However, this last visit has brought those differences between the two cultures into focus as we prepare to move to France in less than eleven weeks.
Sundays and Lunchtimes
I did say some of these have been written about many times before – but the upcoming move has meant that I’m more aware of it. Apart from the bakers that are open for a short time after mass and the Carrefour express in the town centre everything is shut on a Sunday. It reminds me of Sunday’s as a child. Driving down the road you’re struck by the stillness present.
This isn’t just a religious ‘Be still and know that I am God’ thing either. It means that families truly have time to be together. In the UK we don’t live very far from our family, but as everyone is always working there is little or no time to get together. I haven’t seen most of my family since Christmas because of this. When you add marital breakdown and blended families into the mix it makes things far more difficult.
We met two groups of English people this Sunday and both remarked at how different the Sunday culture was in astonishment. We’re so used to a non-stop consumer culture that being met with quiet is a shock.
Despite the small inconvenience though this is actually something I’m really pleased about. Perhaps having family here makes a difference, but that time to bond and come together is something I hope we’ll treasure.
I’ve put lunchtimes in this category because the stillness at lunch is also palpable. Driving into town after 12 o’clock I’m struck by how few people are around and in the supermarkets, on the whole, you only seem to hear English voices.
Again I’ve read many books and blogs that have talked about the politeness of France and experienced it firsthand, but the everyday reality of it is starting to hit home. This isn’t a criticism, I was just unaware how some of those social niceties had slipped.
I’m always polite in the sense I say please and thankyou, and expect my children to do the same. I would say that I have the demeanour of someone who is friendly. Yet the custom of greeting each person before you start a transaction with a simple ‘bonjour monsieur’ or ‘madame’ had caught me out a few times. Partly because I’ve been so focused on getting the French right, but also because it’s not part of my rhythm of speech.
I actually really like this formality – it is making the point that the person you’re speaking to is of importance, not a side note to your business.
When I first started coming to France I missed this out, even though I knew it was expected, because of shyness. Now though I focus before entering a shop and remind myself, as a priority, to greet each person I’m speaking to with this simple greeting. It’s especially important because, coming to live in a community, means I don’t want to be known as rude – and I especially don’t want my children to be known as rude.
So each time we enter a shop I encourage La Belle Fille to say it too.
The French are like American politicians standing for election as president and will kiss any baby or child within close proximity (well, at least any politician going for election prior to our current suspiscion of any man we don’t know).
La Belle Fille, at the tender age of 4, looks at me mortified as her hair is ruffled, her cheeks pinched and she’s kissed and ‘coucou’s are thrown at her in abandon. It is obvious in her expression that she’s not used to it as she has a kind of ‘what’s happening?’ look about her. She’ll get used to it!
I’m British. As anyone who’s watched Bridget Jones knows – we like to drink and we swear a lot. At least my generation anyway. Swearing has almost, unfortunately, become a form of punctuation.
In the 90s there was an emergence of what was called ladette culture and to behave like rowdy young men became de rigour for young women too. That means there was heavy drinking from both sexes as no one was applying the brakes (everyone knows that sober people find drunk people annoying so any guy trying to chat up a girl had to curb his enthusiasm for the grape and grain beforehand).
Wine is drunk in far less quantities than the UK, at least in the farming communities I’ve come to know in the north.
My liver will like me and, you never know, I might finally start to act like a lady after all these years.
You don’t have to be embarassed of religion in France. Despite it being a secular culture Catholicism is still permeating everyday life. You go to the local bakers and there are little cake toppers signifying children taking their holy communion.
In the hyper markets there are the robes worn at confirmation on display for sale.
As you walk down the lanes there are nooks dedicated to Jesus, Mary or other saints.
You drive through areas and see not only churches but Calvary crosses on the highways.
I love that. I feel like I truly am about to come home to the ‘older sister of the church’.