crossAfter living here for so long, I forget which things I found different about France. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a francophile since my first Madeline book.

The culture shock has been urban vs. rural rather than Anglo-Saxon vs. French. We arrived from New York City to a village of 700 next to Carcassonne, which itself is no metropolis at 45,000 (not counting the 2 million tourists each year).

I found it hard to adjust to strict hours for everything After living in the city that never sleeps. The stores open at 10, and even the supermarkets don’t open until 8:30 and close at 8 p.m. Smaller shops close between noon and 2 p.m. Many people still go home for lunch. Everything is closed on Sunday. Run out of milk on Saturday night and you’re out of luck until Monday morning. In bigger cities, there are more options.

1663At the same time, people are clearly lucky to have an incredible level of stability in their lives, thanks to this inflexible schedule. Work hours are written in stone, often 9 or 10 a.m. until noon and 2 p.m. until 6 or 7 p.m., for a 35-hour workweek. No scheduling software that dictates at the last minute that you’ll work late tonight and early tomorrow. Dinner time is dinner time. Nothing is open, hardly anybody works late. They go home to their families.

Sundays are dedicated to a big, multigenerational family meal. There might be outings, to a vide grenier (a kind of mass garage sale) or biking or hiking and picking mushrooms or wild asparagus in the woods or visiting one of the many village festivals.

You can tell the value system by what professions DO work on Sundays: bakers, florists (so you can take a bouquet when you go to the in-laws’ house for Sunday dinner), restaurants. Basically it’s about eating. Everything else can wait. And what is eating but an occasion to share a pleasure with friends and family?

1662I would like to say all this shows the French aren’t into mindless consumerism, but they have succumbed as much as anybody else. There are solderies selling the same cheap, cheaply made junk you find in the aisles of big-box stores elsewhere. The only difference is that homes here are smaller than in the U.S., which generally puts a cap on how much stuff can fit.

While I consider myself a city person, I have to admit there are some lovely qualities about French village life. There’s a softness to the people here. A niceness. Yes, I said it: French people are nice. Also a slowness, because why stress? There’s plenty of time. It’s definitely life in the slow lane.

Maybe I settled easily into my adopted country because its values appeal to me. Family first. Good public schools. Good health care for everybody. Clean environment. The system works pretty well and things are in pretty good shape. Competence and professionalism are rampant. When frustrations arise, they usually stem not from ineptness on the part of a bureaucrat or shopkeeper or customer service representative but from that person’s unbudging adherence to some set of rules that might make sense some or even most of the time but that allow for no exceptions. This becomes less surprising when you look at how French verbs are conjugated: there are general rules, and then not so much exceptions but ever-more-specific subsets of rules. No one-offs. The rules are written in stone.

RF = République Française

This Gallic certitude, this ability–even penchant–to say non, is inextricable from the French savoir vivre, knowing how to live well. Some rules of French life:

  1. Everything should be made as beautiful as possible. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but aesthetics count, whether it’s how you dress or how you serve dinner or turning down the lights in the evening and lighting a candle for ambience.
  2. Take your time. The French won’t be rushed (maybe behind the wheel, but that’s a different story). Stop for a drink at a café with friends. Linger at dinner. Do your beauty routine.
  3. Smell the roses, literally. Use your senses to pull pleasure from every opportunity. The French are particularly strong in the taste department, but not limited to that.

museumOf course these things can be done anywhere. If you want to feel French this weekend, then put together a good meal of honest food–it doesn’t have to be fancy but it shouldn’t be heavily processed–and share it with some people you care about. Set a pretty table. Take your time to enjoy it all. Voilà!




36 thoughts on “Written in Stone

    1. There was a plague epidemic around then, but I think the ones pictured just happen to be when the buildings they’re carved into were built. One of the buildings (with 1663) was a convent next to a church.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You have it in a nutshell … it is about taking time and pleasure in everything. And there is a softness and a decency to the people. I found this a delightful homage to the country I love so dearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A wonderful post. These are the reasons that we keep returning to France. I have heard it said that France is the most visited country in the world.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. The “life in the slow lane” part made me laugh. That’s certainly the case here too and I’m not in a village by any means. I guess after a while you get used to it. But I could easily get used to life in NYC again too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think NYC has moved out of my league. As you get older, you need more and more money there to have a civilized life. I think squeezing into subways and hauling heavy stuff like groceries would be too much; you can only take cabs/cars or have delivery if you can afford it. Not to mention the rents and what you get for your money now.


  4. I love this peek into French life. These are so many of the things I appreciate about French life. I wonder if I’ll be able to make friends with people who don’t have family close so we can have an extended family Sunday meal.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So well written with good observations. Our kids went to the Madeline school in Neuilly. I miss the flower markets…and open on Sundays. My French teacher told me once (I’m not sure if this is true…but it sounds right) that there is a saying in France that “Every man carrying flowers is handsome.” Probably to his mom for Sunday dinner. Happy Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just saw your comment about getting together if we travel to Carcassone. We will be spending a week in Quillan and definitely plan to visit Carcassone. I’d love to meet so you can tell me some stories in person. Let’s plan it. I don’t know why we didn’t look at your Air BnB apartments. Maybe when we move over in December.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, yes, yes to this! “This Gallic certitude, this ability–even penchant–to say non, is inextricable from the French savoir vivre, knowing how to live well.” That was my experience of France from the first time I set foot in the country 40 years ago as a very young (and inexperienced) teenager. And I have found it to be true throughout the years I have had French friends (and loved French men).

    And oh, the Sundays. Quel délice !


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, we constantly hear about how being happy involves saying no. And the French are so wonderfully sure of themselves, and they don’t hesitate to say non. I want some of that!


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