It’s easy to do a lot of thinking here…I mean REAL thinking. I think it could be due to a number of things…the peace (we heard our first siren on New Year’s eve…wasn’t a police siren…just an ambulance..maybe someone having a slight crisis or welcoming in the new year with too much vigor ) the lack of any sounds other than ones of nature or the occasional tractor, the stillness or perhaps it’s the absence of distraction. Either way, apart from learning a few things about myself, I’ve learnt a few things about life here in this corner of France. Whether they are based on fact or mere personal observations at this point, I guess I’ll only know in time as I don’t know enough about politics and the deeper aspects of living in here.
France in winter is very under populated. France in winter belongs to the french people. The french people in Brittany are incredibly friendly and helpful. They will try their best to muddle through your questions as best they can even if they resort to speaking french more slowly to make you understand…which doesn’t help at all because they’re still speaking french but they WANT you to understand. The look of eager intensity to try and get through to the blank expression on your face is quite touching and if there’s even one word of English they understand, or one word I say in French that vaguely makes sense, you can almost hear the band begin to play somewhere in their head.
The french are often mistaken for being proud, arrogant and rude and on the surface, when you don’t now them, maybe they are but we’ve come to realize that rude can be translated to honest and blunt. The words may be “Non, je ne comprend pas, my eeeenglis is ver’ bed…but mon dieu, your french is absolutely dreadful (the latter part being said in very fast french accompanied by a look of total disgust and an exaggerated shrug that could dislodge an elephant). They say that only 40% of the french language is actual words – another 40% is gestures and the other 20% is facial expression. Now put it all together.
A Frenchman is trying to get through to a visitor in his beautiful country which he so happens to realise is absolutely stunning and so he is very PROUD of it and doesn’t like visitors brazenly asking for KFC and fish and chips, nor does he like the fact that he is EXPECTED to understand English when he is french and they are the visitor. He muddles along in English before resorting to a helpful comment that he cant help because your french is bad and so his is English. Rude? Tactless? No – just plain fact. Thrown in to this are gestures and facial expressions that we only use in on the stage, and we use them timidly at that. Well now he’s coming across as flicking the air just under your nose with his arms are flaying about wildly, an intent expression on his face and he’s hopping from one foot to another in frustration that he can’t help. Arrogance? Maybe a bit, maybe just the french way of communicating with every limb and muscle.
On the whole, they have a very good sense of humour and they don’t seem to take ages to embrace you as a friend. There are no “cliques”, no hierarchy based on how much you own or where you live, and not too much obsession with eye shadow and strong lipstick. Now this I found really interesting and because I noticed it while watching people in a shopping mall (I’ll get to the shopping mall observation next time) I’ve tried to see if it’s true in all aspects of shopping and people being out and about in general. The french women dress very well in Brittany. It’s said to be the closest summer playground of the Parisians as the beaches are beautiful and the Cote d’Azur in the south is getting a bit crowded and is quite far to travel. The french women seem to concentrate on their clothing, their skin, a good haircut and perfume. A touch of mascara and lipstick and that’s that.
No soap, bars or liquid is overly perfumed as it will conflict with your proper perfume. The range of skincare products in the local supermarket is HUGE, they have shops dedicated to one brand of skin care such as Yves st Laurent etc and no matter how tiny the village, their will be at least three hairdressers.
Family in France is what really matters. Everything revolves around the family, family get togethers and family life. In fact, the government pays a couple EU 500.00 per child per month. The other day, we met an couple with 2 girls, 2 boys and one on the way. Scary..but they seemed happy.
What else…food is actually quite simple and I think. When you’re used to strong flavours and lots of chilies, it can even be quite plain. To me, the french out do themselves and other countries when it comes to wine and pastries, pate, olives and bread. Those are foods that you just want to eat in giant portions. There are very few flavours of potato crisps on the shelves…natural and an amazing tasting balsamic vinegar are the two main choices. Where we would put potato crisps on the table as a snack, they put olives and peanuts…peanuts (cacahuetes…pronounced kuk-a-wet) are the national snack, they even do peanut flavoured chips similar to a “Fling” which, to me, are really horrible..but they sell, so I gather they are delicious to some.
Winter isn’t cold as such, but it’s grey and on most days, the scene of dark grey leafless trees, the still, silvery lake, the grey sky and the bright green grass which on occasion wears a dusting of crunchy white frost is amazingly beautiful but on some days..it can get a bit too much and the need for blue sky and even weak sunshine would be really cheering and welcoming. But everyone here tells me that spring is just around the corner and the flowers of Brittany in spring and summer are something to see. In fact, they bring visitors in from all over the world. So that’s something I’m really looking forward to. At the moment, the villages are brightened up with bright purple and white winter flowering heather and masses of colourful primulas which bravely flower in the cold winter as well as the spring.
Flurries of snow falling about 1.5 cm are due next week but we’ll wait and see…oh and I’m now feeding the birds in the garden with some sort of ball in a net bag that everyone seems to buy and hang in the garden somewhere. The blue-tits that swing on it every morning are really cute.
Good heavens..the sun’s coming out, must go and see…
A la prochaine