We have now been living in France, or more accurately, France profonde for a little over a year. We celebrated our anniversary with a barbecue in the rain in the November (the French were very confused), made lots of friends, acquired a puppy and learned a bit more French.
What we have also learned here is that things are very different to London. I’m not sure what we were expecting.
Below is a little summary of the most important things that you will inevitably find yourself saying or doing as an Anglais in your first year in France profonde. And hopefully some sage advice.
1. “That’s a lovely log pile.”
Logs take on a Messiah like importance here in the winter. You may have been fooled into thinking that because you live in South West France the weather will be clement, sunny and warm all year round. It isn’t.
If you are lucky enough to have central heating it will still cost you the debt of a small country to heat your house. We don’t have central heating. I have watched television wearing a bobble hat, which was a low point. A wood burner is the most essential piece of kit that you will ever invest in, buy the biggest one that you can find.
2. “I’m going to nip into the supermarket, I’ll only be two minutes.”
You won’t be. You never are. It will always take a minimum of half an hour in any French supermarket, even if you are buying a baguette and some eggs. Never go to do your shopping if you are in a rush. There will always be an old lady in front of you paying by cheque and sticking her vignettes into her booklet at the end of the cash desk. There will always be someone who’s sister is married to the checkout assistant who wants to catch up on the gossip. Patience has never been one of my key strengths and it has occasionally been tested to its limit in an Intermarche queue.
3. “I’m going to nip out and do some shopping at 1pm.”
Ha ha ha ha. No, you won’t. Everything will be closed, you fool, it’s déjeuner. Our top experience of this was choosing an enormous wood burner at 12:10. A forklift truck lifted it down from the top shelf, we discussed its merits with the sales assistant, got our credit card out of the wallet and walked to the cash desk at 12:28 ready to pay. We were, very politely, told that it was now lunchtime and could be come back at 2:30pm please? There are no exceptions to this rule.
4. “It’s Sunday evening, shall we go to the local bar for a drink?”
This is always a gamble, a bit like playing a cruel game of bar roulette. In fact, in winter, you can substitute Sunday evening for any evening in the week. Because the bar might be open; or Katy may have sold enough coffees in the morning and has gone home to watch TV. You will never know until you have got changed, put makeup on and driven up there. There will then ensue a debate about you should drive around to find a bar that is open or just give up and go home. We have now circumvented this by having the phone numbers of our local bars so that we can check in advance – this is a very important piece of advice.
5. “My lesson starts at 10.30am, I must be English and get there on time.”
When the French say that something starts at, say 10.30am, what they actually mean is that 10.30am is the time that everyone will get together. There will then be at least half an hour of smoking, drinking coffee and chatting before there is any action. Always allow an extra hour (at least) for every appointment.
6. “We are going out tonight, I’m going to get dressed up.”
This will rarely happen. In fact, if you do go to your local village bar dressed as you would to go to the pub or to a restaurant in London you will get some very funny looks. I know, I’ve done it. “Jeans and a nice top” is not a phrase that is bandied about in France profonde. I wore a beautiful pair of thigh high, grey suede boots once (they look better than they sound). I haven’t done so again. I arrived here with a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes and boxes and boxes of lovely, glossy shoes with heels. I haven’t worn any of them. First, even walking to the car from our front door in winter will mean that the heels will sink into mud, suede is ruined and you will generally be smeared in mud before the evening has started. Second, the French will think you are mad and you will brand yourself forever as a ros bif.
I occasionally find myself dressing entirely inappropriately to go to someone’s house to have dinner, just so that I can get things out of boxes.
Buy jeans and jumpers and thermals….say a fond farewell to kitten heels and wafty tops.
Vive La France!
This all sounds a bit like I am getting at the French. I’m not at all. I have found the French to be unfailingly polite, patient, kind and with a wicked sense of humour. They have welcomed us into our adoptive country and their lives with grace. They can be unflinchingly direct at times but this is normally when you are about to mess something up. I am actually full of respect of the way that they take their time to do things, they don’t rush like we did in London. Time with family and friends is precious and if that means that they close their shop for two hours at lunchtime so that they can eat together then so be it, you just have to arrange your day around this.
Our first year has been challenging at times. Sometimes very challenging. However, we’ve made it through and have made friends for life through the good times and the bad.
Now, please excuse me whilst I go and put my Jimmy Choos on to bring in some more logs for the fire.