We had a great time in France and it’s always good to be back in my hometown. This time, I got to enjoy French life for four weeks and I introduce Mark to his other culture. I am not the most patriotic person and I rarely get homesick but I do need to visit my birth country once in a while. It feels comfortable, it feels safe and relaxing.
Then I remember why I left in the first place… There are things from the New World I miss badly after a few weeks!
Don’t get me wrong, French food is great. I enjoy cheese, bread, pastries and “comfort food” such as croque-monsieurs (the French grilled cheese sandwich) and crêpes. But after a while, I miss “ethnic” foods and flavours. In Canada, I cook with Sriracha sauce, we shop at the Chinese supermarket and I can find spices and products from all over the world. The same goes for restaurants: I can find true Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, etc. in any sizeable Canadian city. Problem is, France doesn’t do ethnic food very well. Case in point, Chinese restaurants. French seem to think Chinese food is just riz cantonais (fried rice) with a couple of nems (spring rolls) and shrimp crackers. Where are the jiaozi, the baozi, the spicy eggplants and all the great Chinese staples?
Okay, I am not a coffee connoisseur. I am sure these Carte d’Or Expresso are the real deal but gee, when you feel like sipping a comforting hot drink while reading a magazine, the 1.50 euro thimble-sized cup just won’t do. Even Mcdonald’s coffee cups are tiny. I needed a Starbucks grande, at least!
We had a heat wave when we were in France. In Nantes, it only rained once the entire time we were there (that’s almost unheard of in Brittany!) and it was well above 30°C. Problem is, most French cities aren’t built for such temperatures and it gets very stuffy indoors. Few places have air-con, including public transportation. They were seven of us in a two-bedroom apartment—trust me, I miss the convenience of air-con at night!
Longer Business Hours
I had to rush to Monoprix a few times because I had forgotten something and I barely made it—the supermarket closes at 8 p.m. Businesses close on Sundays (and sometimes on Mondays as well, just because), rarely open before 10 a.m. on weekdays, and some even close for the entire month of July. In Canada, I never have to worry about running out of bread, milk or eggs—there is always something open, somewhere.
I wouldn’t say the French are rude but they aren’t naturally nice and polite with strangers the way Canadians are. I hated fighting to get on the bus with the stroller because no one would let us through, and I am certainly not used to having the door slammed in my face.
I am a fairly regular size (my pair of Levi’s jeans are a US size 6 for instance, most of my clothes are either size S or M and I wear anything from size 4-8 depending on the cut) yet I found a lot of clothes in France were way too small for me. Funny thing is, French women aren’t that thin—where on earth do they shop? I do remember struggling to find pants that would fit well when I was a teen. In North America, sizes are a bit bigger but mostly, there is a larger choice of sizes available.
I missed being able to take Mark to local playgrounds or parks. French playgrounds in Nantes are pretty lame compared to the ones we have in our neighbourhood, where there are swings, slash pads, etc. And don’t get me started on the French obsession for the perfect lawn with their “do not walk on the grass” signs everywhere. Gee, Canadians walk on the grass and our lawns are as good-looking!
I am not going to start the endless argument among expats about which country has the lower cost of living, but I did find grocery shopping in France much more expensive than in Canada. Fruits, veggies and basic products were pricier in general, and even French staples like cheese aren’t that cheap anymore. A baguette is at least one euro—I still remember when it was 3 francs, which is about 0.50 euros.
Good Customer Service
The French are nice people, really. Just not when they are working in the service industry. As a customer, I always felt I was a nuisance and God forbid there is a problem to be dealt with—you will hear a lot of “merde”.
Whoever invented the azerty keyboard, mostly used in Europe by French speakers, was an evil person. Seriously, the Canadian Multilingual standard keyboard I use here makes more sense, no?
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