Sunday, November 30, 2008

Living in the French countryside


If you live in someone else's country there are always going to be things that you think are better in the country of your birth. Likewise there are lots of things that France and the French could teach the people the other side of the Channel. It is now six years since we first saw our house, our pretty house in Brittany - which is in the north-west of France (about a six hour drive to Calais and a four hour drive to Paris). For the first couple of years I wasn't too sure that I was going to like living here long term.Now - well I love it.

The thing is that however nice our way of life here is, there are still things that can irk me. Some of my personal gripes are probably due to the fact that I am quite an impatient person and we live amongst a rural community where the pace of life is quite slow and serene, not as it would be in a very large impersonal town. So, here we go...

If you are in a supermarket queue be prepared for quite a long wait. The people in front will be either related to, or a close friend of, the cashier and will want to catch up on things. When asked to pay for their shopping they might look a bit surprised and then have to have a long search for their purse or wallet and, oh look, they've also forgotten the loyalty card - hang on a tick, it's here somewhere.

You will be driving along an empty road at a fair pace and all of a sudden a car in a driveway will decide that now is the time they want to pull out in front of you, causing you to jam on your brakes. They will then turn off a little way along. I think it's a local sport actually, as is tailgating you to the extent that the driver behind can almost see the colour of your eyes. It's not because I'm driving on UK plates either - I bought my car here and our other UK car is French-plated.

Most of the shops close for lunch between noon and 2pm. It's something we've got used to over the years but, occasionally, at 11,55 you think 'oh bugger, I should have got x,y,z'. Having said that, since the Brit invasion here the supermarkets (and we've got 4 in our town, she said proudly) have now decided to remain open all through the day. For the French however, these two hours are sacred and you'll just find the Brits in the shops at that time.

Then there is the local chasse - the hunt, which takes place on Thursdays and Sundays during the season. I hate the thought of hunting; I know all the arguments for and against but it is not something that I could ever do. However, it is a local sport (sport, right - arm the foxes with guns and then it might be considered a fair sport) and, as our garden backs on to a wood, we see and hear the hunters quite often.

I shouldn't go on about these little things really, it is part of what living in the French countryside is all about. It's just that sometimes one can get a bit irritated. Look, if I was in a big city I'd be moaning about the fast pace of life because that's what I'm like.

(the image above is from a great book I've just bought so I don't feel too guilty about pinching it for here)

35 comments:

Frankofile said...

Of course we grumble sometimes - as you say we can always find something to grumble about! At the moment for me it's the driving. Exactly as you say. Isn't the death rate on French roads twice (relative to population) that on UK roads?

Henry the Dog said...

My mum laughed so much at this post because it is all absolutely spot on. Mum actually does her supermarket shopping between the hours of 12 and 2 because it is virtually empty at those times, even at the weekend. Mum doesn't like hunting either but she says that at least in France they have to pass an examination to get a certificate to hunt, and that the hunters are more respectful of wildlife in general (i.e. what they can and cannot hunt at specific times of the year, if at all). When mum lived in the countryside in the UK she said that she saw guys shooting many things that they shouldn't have, including certain types of birds of prey. Mum hated that:(

Blu said...

I guess that having moved from a rural town in the Uk I dont find it too much of a problem. I agree the white van man can be seen driving at full steam all over Europe, only in France the vans are smaller. I prefer the attitude in the supermarkets here I find it less stressful, many here still close during lunchtime.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Good post FF. I am always fascinated by differences/similarities between cultures. I keep meaning to write about life up at Hadrian's Wall. They tend to shut for lunchtime here too, half day Wed, half day Sat. But there are two supermarkets open all day and everyone but everyone smiles at you even in the street (a lot of them say "hello" too). It's just that little bit weird when I go back into a city again. Going back to the future?

Mama said...

Funny how that's our biggest grumble over here, supermarket chatting and driving habits.

No hunting thankfully.

I try to grumble about my life in CA to my friends n family in the UK, but they will have none of it!.

Your book looks very interesting, Kathy

Brother Tobias said...

Your description of shop queues could have been written about the Highlands of Scotland, or perhaps anywhere rural. It takes time to switch from that english, urban sense of urgency to a more relaxed mien, but after a while it's rather relaxing.

French Fancy said...

Frankie - I find myself driving much faster here than I ever did in the UK. I suppose it's the lack of traffic - I never do it after a drink, I want that on record - unlike some of the locals (oops, sorry to any French reading this). We were told by a local bar owner that the Gendarmes will seldom stop drivers going too slowly, because that would mean they'd come from the nearest bar).

Henry - I do believe in live and let live and all those cliches though. Glad our neighbours also don't like the hunt. It's the pack of dogs they have with them that upset me - at the end of the season you hear about some of them being abandoned in the woods and forests and I get so anxious about them.

Blu - our supermarkets used to close at lunchtime as well - a source of much grumbling at chez FF. Then Carrefour took over Champion and decided to open which then meant our Lidl, Intermarche and Le Clerc following suit.Mr FF thought it was a shame but I thoroughly approve :)

Hadriana - I too am fascinated by the differences between country and city folk everywhere. Come on - tell us about some of yours. I guess there is also quite a strong dialect where you are. The Breton accent speaking French is quite thick - we notice it when we go to Paris because we find the Parisiens a lot easier to understand (sorry to any Breton reading this).

Blimey, a post full of apologies

Mama - I've been to California twice and thought that, as long as one had enough money - and I don't mean mega-bucks but comfortable - life could not get much better than that. I loved Santa Barbara because it was like the best of European style crossed with American service and standards. Also SF - such a perfect city and also Laguna Beach. Better stop - it could be a long list of PCH places I adored.

Bro Tob (can I call you that?) - that's it really. I did my country time in Winchester before moving here so it wasn't such a shock as, say, moving direct to here from North London.

muddy red shoes said...

Ho Ho, the chasse, I had forgotten how horrible they were, and its not just brits that hate them, our best friends, french couple, had a running battle with them too. I found walking the woods during the hunting season really scary!

French Fancy said...

Hello muddy old Sarah - how lovely to see you here. Your paintings hanging around our house do you proud.

The chasse - hate it hate it hate it



x

Casdok said...

Its interesting to read the differences you have found. But as you say we would always find some thing to moan about!

Thank you for the well wishes.

Elizabeth said...

I think I'm going to love your blog.We read the same books.....
Yes, as a foreigner one can observe the ways of the natives - however odd they are......
I'm a sort of life long ex-pat.
We were in Morocco for 2 years and returned to NY in June.
I was born in England though and almost everything gets filtered through that.

East Anglian Troy said...

I think rural people in shops are slow everywhere. You have it spot on with element of surprise when they are asked to pay. Then the slow counting out of loose change then the fumbling of the items into a little shopping bag.
Not sure I like the idea of foxes with guns. The chickens and baby lambs have it tough enough without them facing armed foxes. And don't get me onto the french shooting songbirds!

French Fancy said...

Hello Casdok - I am a bit of moaner (if Mr FF could see me using the word *bit* - oh would he laugh)

I suppose us expats will always be outsiders - at least you can understand perfectly what people say to you :) I understand about every third word, put my own spin on it and sometimes - if I'm lucky - come up with the right answer.

Oh Troy, don't I sound like a grumpy person, intolerant of people with only change to pay with. It's not quite like that - the older people here seem to do it quicker than friends of the checkout ladies - they just keep on and on chatting.

I'm just a sentimental townie with regards to little cute foxes. I know they can be a nuisance but they deserve better I think than being hunted. I think poisoned meat is a nicer way to go - as long as it was quick - than being chased by a pack of dogs.

david mcmahon said...

I've been to Paris a couple of times, but never to the countryside. I hear its call now ....

willow said...

I think I could learn to get used to it!! Heh-heh! ;^)

And I want to hear some charming stories about your father and Danny Kaye!

Goin Fishin said...

LOL! I live in Texas - and I am surprised to say - this state is just like yours! We dont live near any hunting areas though.

Lane said...

Love hearing about the differences. It's not moaning, just describing in an interesting way:-)

When I moved away from London, I couldn't get 1) the quiet and lack of sirens and 2) the way people drive really slowly. Could never go back though. Oh no:-)

lady jicky said...

The country folks here in Australia are slooooow too (I am a city chick) and as for hunting !
Its a "sport" - now that is a joke.

nikkicrumpet said...

I'm sure there is good and bad....I think my biggest freak out about living in Europe would be the size of the homes. I'll admit I'm a spoiled American...but I like me some SPACE....lots of room. I look at most of the homes there and I'd feel claustrophobic!

Mama said...

FF because your blog is fabulous I have an award for you, come by and collect it, hugs Kathy

French Fancy said...

david - Paris is my favorite city (I feel a bit disloyal to London now). Everyone should visit Paris at least once in their life.

Willow - have you recovered from all your merriment over the pond? I will do a post about my dad soon, probably later this month.

Goin Fishing - see you decided on the hat then :). It's cute and suits you.

Lane - oh, I forgot the lack of sirens. In fact I can't remember when I last heard one.

lady jicky - I've got slower living in the countryside. When I now visit a city I feel slightly (a lot) overwhelmed by the people and the traffic. Yes, I've become a country bumpkin (do you know that phrase in Oz?)

nikki - You are absolutely right. I visited a few Californian homes and was staggered at the size of them and also at the things that are standard, such as walk-in wardrobed and double basins in the bathrooms. They weren't millionaire places either, just comfortable family homes.

Mama - aw, thanks. coming over now.

Brother Tobias said...

Bro Tob's fine. Better than Bot Orb, which is what it would be backwards.

French Fancy said...

What about Broto? Is that too much like a dog or perhaps a cleaning product? Perhaps we could try Brias? Mind you then I'd have to be Francy.

Moannie said...

When we lived in France we had 11hectares and the locals used to tramp all over shooting at anything that moved. I made such a fuss [I think I was younger and prettier then] that they were so shamed they promised to move on. Then they bought me dead birds and left them by the door.

French Fancy said...

Oh Moannie, Frenchmen and a woman - don't they live up to the stereotype. The first time one of our neighbours came round to introduce himself he kissed my hand and then kissed my arm up to the elbow and said 'enchantez, madame'. I felt myself go bright red and it's not even as if he was attractive.

You do see lots of signs up now saying 'chasse interdit' - so maybe it is slowly losing popularity.

cheshire wife said...

I could almost have written this myself. For France read Cheshire. At times life here is so different from living in Surrey that I feel as if I am living in a foreign country!

Congratulations on your POTD nomination.

Merisi said...

I came over here from David's "Authorblog". Congratulations on being on his favorites' list!

My little newpaper store accross the street opens at 7.20am, and religiously observes lunchtime, from 12.30pm to 4.00pm. As luck would have it, I either would love to buy a paper before 7.20am or right after they close or before they open again in the afternoon. Sometimes I walk up the steps to shop there, just to quiet my guilty conscience about not supporting a neighbourhood store. They are precious, and being mostly run by the owners, it is understandable that they cannot keep the stores open 24-7.

However, I appreciate the quality of life they give, being able to shop for almost all my daily necessities by walking in my immediate neighbourhood, not having to drive miles for a pint of milk, I do my shopping there, and will continue to do so.

Carol and Chris said...

LOL My Dad lives in France too and I think he would put those in his list of grumbles too....

C x

Louise said...

Over from Authorblog and so glad I came. I like your humorous writing style!

French Fancy said...

cheshire wife - Maybe it's true then, that it's just a rural versus city mindset, regardless of it being a different country. Thanks re POTD - I see you've been there, done it - so congrats to you as well :)

Merisi - hello there. My goodness, what a long lunch hour that is - it must be owned by a French person. I take your point though - they do open very early and they've got to have some sort of life.

Carol - you must have heard all my grumbles already then from your dad. I think every expat says the same thing. I know there are lots of French people working in the UK and can only guess at the criticisms they voice about 'us'. I could probably write it for them.

Hello Louise - that's very nice of you to say so. My, this authorblog thing does seem to send some good people my way. Thanks by proxy to David.

marc aurel said...

That habit of pulling out in front of you and then turning off the road, while you still have your foot on the brake and your hand hovering over the horn, (grrrrr)....is typical of road behaviour here, when we get a few hundred kilometers outside Toronto. I think country people know that they own the land. They've paid their taxes for generations and they own the roads. Particularly if the land has not been especially profitable for them, they have rights that mere recent buyers of property can never aspire to. So the roads are their's and everyone else must adjust to them. And we do.

French Fancy said...

Hiya Marc - I never thought of it like that. Maybe it's the same mentality here - 'I'm a local, you're a visitor driving through and I've got more rights to this highway'. Well, I'll still grumble each and every time it happens.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hi FF, I've blogged about the difference here too! Well done on getting Post of the Day! Actually the accent is not very thick...the dialect, I'm afraid, almost non-existent....

French Fancy said...

Thanks Hadriana - I love reading posts about the differences between regions, accents, habits etc. Then I start to wonder if, when I do it, it seems as if I'm mocking the lovely Breton community we've chosen to live among.

Oh well :)

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