Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Having been in France for a few months now, there are definitely things I'm getting used to. Driving on the right, eating more cheese and going to the bakery most days is fine. My most French sentence ever was (about the local supermarket), 'their baguettes aren't great but their pain de campagne is ok'. Definite signs of settling in. But there are still some things that I'm finding a bit weird.
Firstly, there's crossing the road. Some of the crossings are clearly labelled and I know that cars are going to stop. Others are just stripes on the road, and I'm never sure if it's ok to go or not. There have been at least three times when I've been stood looking both ways, holding the hand of a tiny person, and cars have whooshed past. So what is that about? Definitely weird.
Regularly munching on this is something I can get on board with
Today I went to the post office. Before getting there, I had to park. Not a strange task in itself (although as a recent Londoner I haven’t driven regularly in nearly nine years) but I got very confused by the different coloured markings on the floor. Some were yellow. Some were blue. Some were white. While the disabled signs were pretty clear, the colour-coding wasn’t obvious. Fortunately I’d had this conversation with my Frenchman back home. You can park on the blue ones and get out your ‘parking timer’ that you keep in your car. On it, you turn a wheel to choose the time you arrived there. That way, people can check it to see if you’ve gone over the time. Is it just me that feels like this is way too reliant on people’s honesty about when they arrived?! Maybe I’m just cynical.
Then, there was the post office. Another gauntlet to run. Thankfully, in a post-Covid world, people come and ask you how they can help you. For starters there is no One Queue To Rule Them All. Instead, there are three different desks with confusing signs like ‘priority’ and ‘pro priority’ (what is the difference?). Then there’s a row of machines that look like they belong in a bank, and then another row of yellow machines where you can weigh and do your post yourself. Because I wanted to avoid conversation, I tried to do that, but found I was flummoxed when it came to returning my parcel. With no idea which counter I should be going to, I stood in the middle of the room, perplexed, until a helpful lady came and looked at my parcel, stamped my proof of postage and sent me on my way. Another hurdle jumped, and I can figure out what the other counters are for another day.
It would be boring if we were all the same
Recently we went to visit people to eat waffles. Definitely something I’m on board with. Predictable comments about British people drinking too much abounded, but there was also some laughter about cucumbers. Apparently there’s a French saying that it’s weird that English people peel their courgettes but don’t peel their cucumbers. I was very confused. For starters, the only times I’ve peeled a cucumber is when you take off stripes of it and then slice them to make them look all fancy (admittedly not very often). And who peels a courgette?
Intrigued, I decided to ask around. This is actually a common saying, and I found people in their 60s and in their 30s who were all under the impression we peeled them. Where did that come from? It seems as though, when they’re aren’t differences, we’re just inventing them anyway. If you are British and do in fact peel your courgettes, I'd be very interested to hear from you.
Things are definitely more challenging here. But each time I make an outing, I’m learning how it’s done here, and lessening my anxiety about going out the next time. And really, the main thing I can say is that French people are not at all grumpy and have been very helpful when I’m impolitely using the ‘tu’ form and clearly have no idea what I’m doing.
A great view is a great view, whatever you decide to peel
All I can conclude is that perhaps we’re not as different as we like to think. At the weekend we took the cable car up to the top of the Saléve mountain which is just behind our house. Just like there would be back home, there were people walking, eating ice creams, looking at the view and having picnics (I didn’t check to see if their cucumbers were peeled).
Apart from assuming someone is making fun of me when they say ‘bon appetit’ (do they think we’re sitting in a stupid place? Is it too early to eat? My British sarcasm radar is clearly too high), it was a lovely day. With the possibilities of getting out into the world increasing, I’m looking forward to finding out more about this new place and figuring out what other weird things they assume about me…
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