Everyone has heard about French eating snails and frog legs. Fun fact: I have never ever seen frog legs and the only time I saw snails on the menu was in these tourist trap restaurants in the Latin Quarter in Paris. These foods are a bit of a stereotype, like saying “Chinese eat dog meat”—the average French person doesn’t actually crave snails or frogs. On the other hand, some beloved foods are… well, strange from an outsider’s perspective.
Whenever I see people with a clueless look on their face, a city map in one hand and a guidebook in the other, I tend to stop and offer help. It’s good karma for travelers like us. Plus, I’ve been there—lost in a new city, unable to read the damn map properly, looking for directions, etc.
But tourists can be really weird.
The first thing I did in France was to get a haircut. I needed a fresh start.
One of my goals for this trip was to “reboot” my brain. After a major lifestyle change—going from an office job to freelancing—, the nine months of pregnancy and then the first eight months with bébé, I was in survival mode.
Step one: Pick up a few educational toys, such as stackable rings, a baby book…
It’s now time for a real trip, to Mark’s other “homeland”—France.
Mark is going to meet his grand-parents, his uncle and his aunt, and his great-grand-parents. And hopefully it’s not too late to start the baby on a healthy diet of rotten blue cheese, bottles of wine and baguette crust, nom de dieu!
I’m usually happy to visit France. I enjoy traveling and I love seeing my family. The first few days there, I immediately feel very French as I reconnect with my roots—it feels like slipping into an old pair of jeans. I catch myself thinking that it would be really nice if Feng and I could rent a place in one of Nantes’ funky neighborhoods.
This summer, “A Journey to Nantes” art project (“Le voyage à Nantes”) kept the crowd entertained. The 8.5 kilometre-long “cultural urban trail” across the city, from one landmark to another, was spiced up with various street art projects, from tree houses to urban playgrounds.
When we organized the last-minute trip to London, we also decided to cross the channel and to visit my parents in France for a few days. It just made sense: we had already flown 5,600 kilometers to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, may as well travel a few more hundreds kilometres and stay with my family for a bit.
On Saturday, I have to go vote for the first round of the Presidential Elections at the French Embassy in Ottawa. France will only vote on Sunday, but as “French abroad” we have to cast our ballot a day earlier.
The line-up to go through security was interesting. Most travelers were flying short and medium haul flights to either other parts of France or sunny destinations like Morocco, Tunisia or Turkey. And each and every one of them had some banned items in their hand luggage!
Even though I haven’t lived in France in ten years and even though I’m registered as a “French abroad”, I still received a carte d’électeur at my parents’ address to vote for this year’s presidential election. So technically, I guess I can vote twice. Ahem… election fraud, anyone?
Living in Canada means that I’m relatively sheltered from campaign craziness—I didn’t even know all the candidates who had qualified, ten of them in total. But of course, this week I got a crash-course in 2012 presidential elections: it is the main focus in the media and the hottest topic on the street here.
A decade ago, José Bové, the farmer syndicalist, was fighting against junk food (he famously sacked a McDonald’s franchise to make his point) and French would rather have some baguette with stinky cheese than a hamburger. But the more I walk in Nantes, the more I wonder whether the French diet is still a good diet.
Everybody speaks French! In Ottawa, I rarely hear “Parisian French”, and if I do, I tend to turn around and glance at whoever talked. Well, I keep on doing that here: whenever I hear French, I turn around. And I really have to stop doing it. This is France.
I’m a bit disconnected from French news. But recently, a few headlines caught my eyes again, mostly because they quickly spread internationally. First, there was the tragic story of the Dupont de Ligonnès family—the father is still on the run by the way.
The U.K and Royalists around the world celebrated the Royal Wedding, the U.S.A finally got “America’s most wanted” and Canada woke up from the federal elections with a hangover—Harper in a majority government, seriously?
Meanwhile, the headlines in France were all about a grisly case that took place in Nantes, my hometown.
I entered France with my Canadian passport and I decided to become a woman with a mission. I was going to find out if French were rude. About an hour after setting foot in my former country, I was ready to say yes. As soon as the plane landed, you could tell the French returning back home from the Canadians: the former loudly rushed out of the plane while the later politely let each other go first.
I felt like one of those people who are offered drugs at a party, got hooked and ended up selling their car for a few grams of crack or whatever is trendy these days. The girl at the counter had me hooked on the best cream ever by giving me a free sample. I decided to do the sensible thing: I just said no. I’m not spending that much on a cream, this is ridiculous, no matter how good it is.
I pushed the door open, slightly annoyed myself, and let him in. “Ah oui, ah oui!” he exclaimed in surprise, suddenly realizing I was not a drama-queen after all. We stared at each other, unsure of what to do. Fortunately, after 6 weeks in France, I had my Frenchness back and I could try to solve the problem as diplomatically as possible.
Crêpes are Brittany’s specialty and crêperies can be found everywhere in Nantes. These very thin pancakes are made from flour, eggs, milk, butter, and a pinch of salt. Normally, crêpes are slightly sweeet and galettes are unsweetened: the first one is served as dessert and the second one is the main meal. They are traditionally served with very cold cider.
We are on our way to France and will stay in Europe until July 31 st. I haven’t spent a summer in France since 2003 — at the time, I was coming back from Australia and New-Zealand and I spent the summer studying for my university exams. It was the hottest summer ever in Europe and I spent half of my time camping at the beach with a bunch of friends. Seven years later, I don’t have that many friends left in France but Feng and I should have fun nonetheless — I remember summer in France as a nice season.
In France, the saying goes that “le client est roi”. But in fact, the customer is anything but a king: at best he is an idiot, a minor annoyance in your day. As this funny article on “How to play the French service game … and win” explains: “The customer is king. But we all know what they did to their royal family. The guillotined head of Louis XVI bounced across the Place de la Concorde as a few thousand Parisians laughed at it”.
I was absolutely unaware of our reputation abroad until I started traveling. Then, I realized that the French were said to have this little je ne sais quoi. In plain language: French were libertine, were doing it all the time, routinely had several mistresses and lovers and had a god-given talent for romance.