The French have a reputation. You know it. I know it. They know it. Sometimes it's annoying, like when they think they invented brownies and berry cobbler just because they've started making chocolate cakes and crumbles. But what their reputation is really about in my opinion is pride; in culture, art, language, food and wine. And if you think about it, they've got a lot to be proud of. Of course their medical exams are weird and I've yet to visit the rumored horror that is the Prefecture, but nobody's perfect. They know how to live and I'm fully on the lifestyle bandwagon.
I like the fact that most stores close for lunch and on Sundays. It took some getting used to but now I plan accordingly. At least they're thoughtful enough to post the names, addresses and times of the stores and pharmacies that are open on Sunday mornings in the weekly paper just in case you forgot some vital something, like wine which you can buy at 8:30 on a Sunday morning if you like. I have to admit that my Southern dry/wet county upbringing makes me feel a bit naughty buying it then though....like The Sheriff or Miss Tammy Lee from the Evangelical Church are going to pop out and surprise me with an admonishment,"Girl, you may jus' be on th' road ta hell fer buyin' wiiine on a Sund'y!"
It is kind of annoying that my boulangerie closes all day on Thursdays but only because I always forget and want a delicious croissant aux amandes or a banette and feel deflated when I see the shuttered doors.
I'm happy that consumerism hasn't taken the country completely over. There are big box shops here that sell tat made in third world countries for pennies but even those close for lunch. You have to draw the line somewhere, right? And there are extravagances--parfum, lingerie, expensive and rare wines. But these are seen to improve the quality of life, not just to fill it up. The add beauty, art, and joy to life.
Their language may be one of my favorite things. It is well-known that they prefer it if you try to speak French when you're here. Americans like it when tourists and immigrants speak English too. But what I didn't understand until moving here is how much they love their language. And why. They do have a lovely turn of phrase and can make the most mundane things seem beautiful. There are many different ways to get a point across and they like subtlety, word play, and innuendo...it is a French word after all. This is one of the reasons French is hard to learn. For example, what do we call a tablecloth that runs the length of a table? A runner. That is what it does--runs across the table and that's kind of cute and descriptive I guess. But the French call it (channel your inner Depardieu or Pepe Le Pew here) a 'chemin de table'. A little lane down the table. Nice, huh?
And when you taste wine, first you smell, then you swirl and the wine slowly spreads down the insides of the glass. This tells you if the wine is high or low in alcohol depending on how much and how slowly it spreads. Interesting enough on its own if you ask me. But they have a word for this coating of wine inside the glass that makes it even more lovely, 'une belle robe' or beautiful dress. If the wine is good it will wear a beautiful dress. Or then again, maybe you can't always be fooled by a beautiful dress. Works both ways I'll bet.
And as much as I was offended by Msr Fromage last May I have a better understanding of him now. He wasn't able to express himself as poetically in English as in French and that makes the point. Words are tools for creating masterpieces; beautiful, descriptive sentences. As Michele says of her village, "C'est comme un poeme." This summer at the market a kind monsieur told Paul and me that 'our eyes together make the sea--vos yeux, ensemble, les couleurs de la mer' as a way of describing the color of the kids' eyes. Poetry.
Rude, proud, haughty--call it what you will. Aren't we all just as proud of our country and culture as the French? I'm glad I'm learning why and so far, on a good day, it feels like they have good reason.