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Monthly Archives: March 2012

KEEP YOUR BREATHALYSER HANDY IN FRANCE

Where did so many of us hear that  because  the French are exposed to drinking wine at an early age they learn to drink more responsibly than we Canadians and Americans.?  Apparently, our information source was imbibing in their red wine because as I read one of  Stephen Clarke’s books  Talk To The Snail, ” I learned that “according to the French Medical Institute Inserm, there are over twenty thousand alcohol related deaths per year in France.. . .For a similar population, the UK records only around six thousand.”  Sadly, the French haven’t heard the saying, “Drinking and driving:  there are stupider things, but it’s a very short list.  

As a tourist, this statistic is rather alarming especially since as Stephen Clarke comments, this  statistic could be lowered if only they developed a practice of having a designated driver who is a teetotaller just for the night!  In the meantime, they often crash into the plane trees along the provincial roads.  In 2006, Clarke was only aware of one tactic how the French address this problem:  ” With typical French logic, some regions are trying to tackle this drink-driving problem by (you guessed it) chopping down the plane trees.”   

Around the time that Stephen Clarke wrote his book,  Herve Chabalier, a leading french journalist and former alcoholic, wrote a challenging report to the French Health Minister.  Like Clark,  Chebalier believes that France has always “culturally just seen the good side and never faced the fact that alcohol is the third greatest cause of avoidable deaths in France.”  In his report, he claimed  that a “third of all custodial sentences in France, half of all domestic violence, and a third of all handicaps are due to alcohol”.  Not only is alcohol responsible for 23,00 deaths a year in France but he added, it is  indirectly responsible for a further 22,000.  http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/11/28/14713.aspx

Fortunately, for the French and for tourists, the government is presently taking this problem seriously and as of July 1, 2012, it will be mandatory to have a breathalyser test in the car.  If a driver is caught without the test in his car, he will face a fine of 11 euros from November 1st.   Since this bill has been passed, disposable brethalysers are now available in French bars and nightclubs.  Since January 2010, new vehicles have been equipped with breathalyser tests which even prevent drivers starting the ignition until the test is taken.  Thankfully,  this device needs to be installed in all vehicles by the start of September 2015.  http://www.english.rfi.fr/visiting-france/20120302-new-french-law-makes-alcohol-tests-mandatory-every-car

As a tourist driving throughout France in September and October, I am encouraged by these actions so that the French roads are becoming just a little bit safer!  In the meantime, I will relax in the assumption that the drunken drivers are driving late at night when I am sleeping snug as a bug in my French hotel bed after a full day of sightseeing.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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LEFT HANDED TOURISTS IN FRANCE

If you are left handed you won’t be able to count        the number of times your hostess sighs and mumbles under her breath when she finds a place to seat you.  She will need to rearrange her seating plan so that she can place you at the end of the dining room table so that your left hand doesn’t get in the way of the right-handed wielding fork.    In many situations, from sports to taking notes in school,  left handed people are made to feel awkward and clumsy –  which by the way, they are.  There are more accidents occurring to left handed people since they live in a right handed world.  And how is this information important to my trip to France?

Well, for once, it may be the right-handed Canadian and American that may feel gauche and awkward due to the French way of holding their forks!  I read the following from Adrian Leed’s book  Top 100 Cheap Insider Paris Restaurants.  :

“With the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right, stab the food with the fork and cut the food with the knife.  Bring the morsel to your mouth with the fork still in your left hand, but turned downward.  Rice and potatoes must be pushed up onto the back of the fork”  

On the following web-site, the author speculates why Americans don’t follow the European style of eating:

Eating with your fork in the right hand, with the tines pointing up has been popular in North America for many generations. This variation in behavior is most likely due to the fact that early American settlers didn’t have the luxury of complete cutlery (silverware) sets. If a family shared a single knife, each person had to cut all their meat at once before passing the knife to the next person and, without the aid of a knife to position the food, it’s easier to wield the fork with your more dextrous right hand.

http://www.quora.com/…/Why-do-Europeans-use-a-fork-in-their-lefthand.

The following web-site gives further explanation of the European method of using their knife and fork:

The European, or “Continental,” style of using knife and fork is somewhat more efficient, and its practice is also slightly used in the United States, where left-handed children are no longer forced to learn to wield a fork with their right hands. According to this method, the fork is held continuously in the left hand and used for eating. When food must be cut, the fork is used exactly as in the American style, except that once the bite has been separated from the whole, it is conveyed directly to the mouth on the downward-facing fork.

http://www.chefalbrich.com/etiquette/proper_knife_fork.htm

Some of us left-handed people may sometimes switch fork and knife if they have a particularly tough piece of meat since the left hand is stronger to use for cutting.  However, I’m  convinced that we left-handed tourists will better adapt than the right-handed tourists to  the French style since we are comfortable holding our forks in our left hand. When I was observing how I ate a salad last night, I did see that one aspect of their style is difficult when you have some cranberries, nuts and cheese that you are getting onto your fork with a piece of lettuce.  It really is simpler to keep the fork tines upward so that all those morsels of food make it into your mouth!

Therefore, I  watched the following youtube “How To Use A Fork And Knife”  to help me  improve my European style of eating:

how-to-use-a-fork-and-knife

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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DEVELOPING THE FRENCH ATTITUDE

“French women,generally speaking, know who they are.  In fact, their sense of self-possession slices the air with such enviable sharpness that they often don’t seem to give a damn what we think of them.  News flash: they don’t.” Debra Ollivier

Debra Ollivier’s book What French Women Know  revealed how differently the French woman is from the Canadian and American woman.  She has no concept of why you would want to be popular with everyone since if you are liked by everyone, wouldn’t that suggest you are somehow bland?  Generally, we American women don’t even begin to care less about what others think until we approach our fifties. And even then, many of us chastise ourselves for our new outspokenness since we  know that there is a tendency for older people to become less tolerant and flexible and more  grumpy and complaining.

Just the other day, my husband commented that he was concerned he had been rude to a fellow when this fellow had not done all that he had told him he was going to do.  Greg asked me to watch for any signs that he is turning into a complaining old man!  Last week,  Greg took me out for lunch after we saw one of my doctors and I was disappointed by my sandwich since the bread was quite dry.   When the waitress asked how our lunches were, I almost told her about the bread in my sandwich but I remembered the conversation I had had earlier with my husband.  I stopped myself fearing that this young woman would immediately think, “Right, here’s another older person who is always bitching about something.”   We have been taught to be polite even when someone is being rude to you or gives you bad service!   Sine the French are always outspoken and yes from our point of view, rude, at least their forthrightness is not associated with age!

I think how often I try to cover up all my health problems when I see others and therefore, I give them very mixed messages about my chronic illness.  Am I afraid that these people will find me boring and complaining if I actually reveal how sick I am really feeling?  When I saw the oncologist yesterday, I learned that the pain I have been experiencing is pain from the damage that occurred when I had the tumour last year and pain from the radiation I had.  Therefore, I received good news about my CT Scan.  And yet I felt compelled to apologize for complaining the last time I saw him about this pain.   He immediately reassured me and said, “But that’s what I am here for and that is why we will test you every four months.”  Did I need to ensure that he didn’t see me as an overly anxious, somewhat crazed woman?  Am I still trying to be popular?  That is truly pathetic!

Perhaps, I need to heed more closely to Jeanne Moreau”s advice, “One thing you have to give up is attaching importance to what people see in you.”  Don’t you think that would be incredibly liberating?  And yet, it only works in a country where most people are not attached to any religion and are not influenced by moral issues.  As Debra Ollivier reminds her reader, the French do not have those same traditions as Americans and Canadians who have generally inherited some Judaeo-Christian values. Since I profess to be a Christian, my rudeness or forthrightness or anxieties always seem to be a reflection of how poorly my faith is enabling me to be a good person.  How many times have you heard people comment about a person’s behaviour and show even greater outrage if she professes to be a Christian!

Apparently, I have no answers to the dilemma of how to develop this French “sense of self-possession”  and not care what others think and still try to act reflecting my faith by being a compassionate, loving and forgiving person!  Perhaps that is why so many Canadians and Americans have emigrated to France where they can be in an environment where you are expected to be forthright and to not give a damn what others think!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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FRANCE IS A WOMAN

As I read What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier, I was introduced to Marianne, a woman who has been reinvented many times since 1792 to represent French values.  If I go into the Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate, I will see her bust which is rather regal.

However, I’m really looking forward to seeing her more feisty look in Eugene Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People which was painted in 1830.  Debra Ollivier describes this depiction of Marianne:   “There she is, our Gallic goddess storming the Bastille with bayonet in one hand and French flag in another, her frock unfurled and her bare breasts defiant against the onslaught  of enemy fire.” 

After the Reign of Terror, the Directory wanted Marianne to look less violent and more civil.  Therefore, she no longer holds a pike or lance and she leans on the tablet of the Constitution of the Year III.  However, she keeps wearing her Phrygian Cap.  During the Second Republic, it was decided that Marianne should represent Liberty, the Republic and the Revolution.  Therefore, two images of her were developed – one with a bare breast, still wearing her Phrygian cap, and arm raised fighting victoriously. Her other image is more sedate as she wears clothes from antiquity with sun rays around her head to represent the republic.

Even in the twentieth century, Marianne’s look  continues to be reinvented even though the ideals remain consistent:  Liberty, fraternity and equality. She graces every town hall and mayor’s office with her presence.  Interestingly, since the middle of the twentieth century, she often looks like a French celebrity.  In 1969, Marianne assumed the sex kitten Brigitte Bardot features, in 1985, she became the sophisticated and elegant but still sexy Catherine Deneuve.    In 1999, for the first time, more than 36.00 mayors were allowed to vote who would be the next symbolic representation of France and the model  Laetitia Casta  won.

Who else but a woman could represent all of the historical changes and upheavals and ideals  that France has experienced as a nation! Who better than a woman can reinvent herself so many times in order to remain contemporary, powerful  and significant?
 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN THIS!


Can we really adopt a simpler lifestyle merely by changing our habits and attitudes toward our food? Robert Arbor, an emigrant from France,  currently a chef and owner of  two restaurants in the United States, wrote  Joie de Vivre to share how North Americans can learn a  “simple French style for everyday living.”

Much of that simple style is based on how we approach each meal.  As I read this book, I began writing down some questions that I believe he tried to answer in order for us to experience what he calls “Joie de vivre”  – that love of life.   How we answer the following questions may be clues to what is hindering us from saying each day, “It doesn’t get better than this.”

Do you make time to sit down and eat your breakfast?  Do you see breakfast as your “gentle boost that’s like a pat on the back as you go out the door?”

2.  Do you have a special mug to drink your coffee?  Arbor  believes that “the breakfast bowl (is) one of France’s great achievements.”  He explains that  a “A bowl may get chipped or cracked, but it has to break into pieces before it is replaced. I know of people who have actually glued their favourite bowls back together after these unfortunately breakable objects have suffered sad accidents.  A French person gets very attached to his or her familiar breakfast bowl.”

3.  Are you growing something, if not a garden, at least a pot of herbs sitting by your kitchen window?  Arbor exhorts his reader, ” If you just have one rosemary plant in your kitchen window, take time to smell it and clip its branches for your roast.  . .. Because as you complete the basic tasks of planting, watering, weeding, and picking, you always have in mind that you’re going to enjoy the goodness of things that you have grown yourself.  And that is yet another part of bringing joie de vivre into your day to day life.”

4.  What are you doing to make grocery shopping enjoyable?  Arbor maintains that  ” a  “big part of comprehending joie de vivre is understanding that enjoyment in day-today life is the true key to happiness.”

5.  Is your kitchen a pleasant room where you not only do your cooking but it is the hub of activities and good conversations?

6.  Do you take time to stop and have lunch?  “For the French, le dejeuner is a time to experience the pleasure of eating and a chance to be together in a relaxed way.  Food and friendship go together, and looking forward to the lunch hour each day is a wonderful way to add joie de vivre to your workweek.”

7.  Between 4 and 6 p.m, do you acknowledge your need for a “pause gourmand” and  give yourself a small treat?  “This pause gourmand is a perfect solution to the afternoon blahs. . . . First of all the pause allows busy children and grown-ups to look forward to an afternoon break and treat.  Secondly, a bit of food and drink helps to refuel the body for the evening hours.  And lastly, a treat is a treat – it is fun, it is uplifting, it is a mood enhancer., and you learn how to be good to yourself from an early age.”

8.  if you do not live alone, do you make time to sit together for dinner?  Robert Armor suggests that it could be beneficial to have a later dinner like the French.  “When you eat at 6 p.m., you are still wound up from the day; a later dinner gives everyone more time, so that they can be fully relaxed by the time that the napkin goes on their knees.”

9.   At the end of the day, do you take time to reflect and consider all the good things that have happened today?  “As I go around the house turning off all the lights, I allow peace and calm to grow so that I go up the stairs in a relaxed a state as possible.”

These questions seem almost too simplistic to actually provide answers to our happiness.  Yet, that is exactly what Robert Arbor is trying to tell his readers:  simple and easy changes can help us live our lives with purpose, passion and fun.   For starters, I think I will go and find a special bowl or mug or cup and saucer and begin a new ritual as I drink my cup of tea in the morning!

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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ARE YOU JOLIE – LAIDE?

I am having a lot of fun reading my eclectic assortment of books about France, French culture and French women!  I’m used to choosing my reading material quite carefully – noticing what awards they may have won, or whether they have made it on any bestseller list, or whether they have been written by a favorite author.  However, with this latest reading project, I have typed in the obvious titles either on amazon.com or the library site and I have been clicking “purchase” or “reserve”. That is how my husband ended up picking up the following book for me at the library:  French Women Don’t Sleep Alone!   The author Jamie Cat Callan writes, “After writing this book, I have come to believe it is possible for any American girl or woman to rediscover her own French self- that version of herself that is elegant and discreet, sexy, mysterious, intriguing, charismatic and charming.”

Well, I couldn’t always relate to a lot of the content since there was an emphasis on how American women need to adopt more French women’s ways to meet men.  However, there were two French expressions that I thought were very applicable.  As I get older and don’t always recognize the person being reflected in my mirror, I need to remember the following French expression:    Etre bien dans sa peau”.  The author offers her reader this exhortation and explains, “Literally, it means to feel good in your own skin.  ..  This expression encompasses the unique way a woman presents herself to the world.  She holds an image of herself, a persona, if you will.    This image, this self knowledge, is revealed in everything she does – in the way she speaks, her gestures, her clothes . . in her wardrobe, her accessories, and especially in her posture.”  As I read this, I immediately want to argue that it isn’t easy to feel good in your own skin when you don’t always recognize all the changes in your skin!

Therefore, I especially appreciated the  French expression   jolie-laide”.  The author writes, “This is the French word for a woman who is not traditionally beautiful.  Literally translated, it means ‘pretty/homely,’ but the word means so much more than this.  It means interesting and beautiful in a nontraditional way.”  Wow!!  This expression could depict most of us women who are getting older since our appearance no longer reflects what we have traditionally believed to be   beautiful.  Yet, with this new definition, the lines around our mouth become visual  memories of much laughter and smiles,  the wrinkles around our eyes become reflectors of good times and sad times, the looser flesh on our hands become testaments of the many times we have comforted a crying child or adult.  Yes, in keeping with the French women, I too use my eye creams, my night creams, and my eye concealers to camouflage some of those “memories”, but  I can still exude confidence that comes from “etre bien dans sa peu”  – because “Je suis jolie-laide.”

Just as a last unrelated comment, or perhaps it is related since this fact  helps to create this lovely persona, I was surprised to read that “French women like to wear eyeglasses.  It makes them look smart, but it also makes them look interesting.  And yes, mysterious.”  Well, I can’t say that wearing progressive lenses has made me feel mysterious – more like another reminder of growing presbyopia as I get older!  However, this fact is another good reminder for me to be constantly  aware of any negative assumptions that I have developed to interfere with “feeling good about myself.”  I can’t wear contact lenses – I have tried many – but I have always resented wearing glasses since my asset used to be my large dark brown eyes.  However,  that said,  reading this book is a good push for me to look for new frames since the French woman – or at least this idealized version of the French woman – would make sure she wears a trendy pair of eyeglasses!

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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THE RURAL FRENCH LIFESTYLE


What draws so many Americans, Canadians and Brits to live in France? For Karen Wheeler, she moved hoping that her heart would heal faster from a break up with her boyfriend.  In Tout Sweet, Karen Wheeler  makes a spontaneous decision to purchase a house in rural France after a short visit there.  As she describes the renovations of her old house and  as she  introduces us to some colourful characters – some who are French, others who are expatriates, we inevitably become enchanted by rural living.   Wheeler had been a fashion journalist in London and travelling in circles that were keenly aware of trends and style, and it is fascinating to observe how this chic woman soon adopts a dramatically different lifestyle as so many of her former priorities disappear.    Eventually, she gives away much of her wardrobe that is no longer suitable for small town living.

As I read this book and her second memoir Toute Allure, I better understood that it is the lifestyle that all of these expatriates are seeking.  Who wouldn’t enjoy walking down to the coffee shop every day and chat with friends before wandering down to the boulangerie for a baguette and to a patisserie for an eclair?  And who wouldn’t mind being mocked not because you don’t exercise but because you do?  Even in the urban city of Paris, there are not the same number of fitness gyms since French people don’t exercise like we do.   Why then. don’t they have weight problems like North America does?  Those answers will apparently come forth after I read Why French Women Don’t Get Fat.  However, I suspect one of the main reasons is that they do so much walking.

Unlike the boring tedium of walking around the suburban block, Karen   Wheeler puts on her running shoes  and begins walking to the next village which is about a half mile away.  I was ready to join her as she described “I walk downhill from Villiers towards the old village with its hotchpotch of old houses with mismatched terracotta-tiled roofs, the peeling paint of the blue-grey shutters visible in the spring sunshine and an explosion of orange-pink geraniums on doorsteps and windowsills.”  Who wouldn’t want to walk in a charming area where there would be so many scents to smell and so  much nature to observe and so many little villages to explore?   No wonder Wheeler eventually walks about an hour a day enjoying the variety of her surroundings!

The lifestyle continues to change for this young, formerly trendy fashion writer, and even though she worries about any old friends discovering her new hobby, she loves going once a week to her line dancing class.  Apparently, this is a common past time in the French villages. And what is even more charming are the community events she attends that are often cross-generational.  She described one evening when  “Lined up on the dance floor  (were people) of all ages, from adorable infants and teenager to silver-hair septuagenarians.  I think to myself how refreshing non-ageism the social life in rural France is”.

However, before I drool with too much sentiment, there are always challenges when people may start grating on each other’s nerves and friendships become strained, and Wheeler certainly describes those conflicts also.   Another challenge whether I lived there full time or just pass through as a tourist is the amount of meat the French eat. The challenge could become seriously stressful if I was presented with Tete de Veau!  Karen Wheeler was much braver than me since I would be in a corner retching when unexpectedly she was presented with this traditional dish.   Wheeler ends up at a small village restaurant where each night the chef serves one main course. Unfortunately,  that evening, the chef served “Tete de veau”.  Her French friend apologized and even suggested she didn’t have to eat it:  ” Me, I’ve eaten this all my life, so I’m quite used to it.  But I understand if you don’t want to eat it.”  Karen Wheeler bravely began to eat it even though what she had recently read on the internet was rather fresh on her mind:    “You can, for example, mash the brains, toss in a few breadcrumbs, add salt and pepper et voila – you have a dish that is apparently delicious with a glass of port.  Meanwhile, on another gastronomy website, I discovered that the traditional dish of tete de veau “includes the brain,tongue, cheeks and ears, cooked with onion, carrots, leeks and potatoes.  . .. I discovered several ghoulish pieces of information, including the fact that boiling the head gives off a lot of scum and that you will need in the words of one cook, a HUGE pot … and I mean HUGE  The other alternative is that you saw the head into quarters first.And finally, you must allow the head to cool properly, otherwise – oh my God – it might explode.”   Obviously, I will be reading my menus very carefully so that I am not presented with such a meal!!

Memoirs like Karen Wheeler’s books need to be read even by people who aren’t considering traveling to or moving to France.  Her story along with other people’s memoirs about their experiences in France are good reminders that a simpler, more relaxing lifestyle really exists.  And even if we don’t move away, we need to develop strategies to help us adopt some of the rural French ways so that we are happier and less harried.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in France, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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