I am not talking about mopeds but children’s two wheeled push along toys. They are called ‘trottinettes’ in France. They are a method of personal transport that is not the sole domain of 6-year olds. Parents might use one to make the return journey from school more rapid. Businessmen use them on the streets of Paris. Teenagers do stunts on them at skateboard parks. One of my adult business students arrived at a lesson with bruises and scratches. He had been riding on one and hit an uneven bit of paving. I’ll keep to my bike! Now of course there are electric versons of these being used on pavements!
When we arrived in France it was the beginning of the school holidays, but every supermarket was advertising ‘fournitures scolaires’ – school supplies. We saw mothers with supermarket trolleys full of crayons, exercise books, pencil cases and new backpacks. We wondered if we needed to buy all these supplies for our daughter. What was wrong with her old pencil case and crayons? Apparently, it is a custom for French parents to buy everything new for each academic year and some schools ask parents to supply exercise books. We spent an anxious summer wondering if we should do the same until we received ‘La Liste’ from her school, which told us what we needed to supply. Fortunately, there was hardly anything on it so off she went with her old pencil case.
Many school textbooks are lent to pupils by external associations, and the books must be returned in a good state. Special book covers are sold so that books won’t get damaged. Protège-cahiers = book covers.
Since the beginning of their school lives in the UK, our children had worn school uniforms. Every year my husband would take our daughter shoe shopping to get ‘sensible school shoes’. He did the same before she started school in France. However, French schoolchildren do not wear uniforms, nor sensible shoes. After 3 days of school our daughter said that she needed more clothes. “Why?” we asked. “Everyone wears different clothes every day,” she replied. Selecting a new fashionable outfit each day, had never been a problem in the UK. The ‘sensible shoes’ were never worn, but they fitted me, so they did not go to waste.
SCHOOL EXERCISE BOOKS. Looking for lined paper is a problem as nearly all notepads have squared paper, so one naturally assumes that they are for use in Maths but that is not the case. The tall squares are divided by 3 horizontal lines. At school children learn how to form their letters using the lines as guides to the height and width of each pencil stroke. Adults continue to use squared paper to write on.
I got three-quarters of the way through this compilation before I realised that I had omitted this enormous difference between the French and the English. English people wear a scarf if it is winter or cold or because they have a neck muscle pain. French men and women wear scarves because they are not dressed without one. Everyone wears one! OK, I am exaggerating. Children wear them to go from the house to the car in the morning. A nurse who took my blood at a clinic was wearing a huge scarf over her white coat – doesn’t that contravene hygiene regulations? Perhaps it doesn’t in France! I watched a programme on French nationals who had volunteered to fight in Syria against ISIS. They didn’t need a badge that said ‘I am French’ – the fact that they were wearing a scarf with their camouflage uniforms gave them away immediately. I now have a draw full of scarves in every colour and texture to go with all my outfits. To fit in in France and look the part, I recommend buying a scarf and studying the many ways it can be tied, draped, knotted and twisted in typical French fashion.
We put a ‘dressing’ on a salad and ‘gravy’ on a meat dish. French people call these additions ‘sauce.’ Yet we call a liquid for pouring over chips ‘tomato sauce’ and even if it is hot and meant for spaghetti it is still a ‘tomato sauce’. I think it is us Brits who are inconsistent in our use of these words.
French people are very proud of salt that is harvested from the sea, especially if it is done by hand ‘à l’ancienne’, the old-fashioned way. One website says, ‘The colour is grey or pinkish, due not to processing, but to sand and algae present in the reservoirs’. I must admit that worries me, as does the fact that sea birds must fly over the salt pans and leave behind their calling cards. I actually like my salt clean and pure. In the UK we have ‘sea salt’ but ours is made by boiling the seawater until beautifully formed pyramidal crystals appear. Our production is even older, as it was first discovered when a slave kept his Roman master’s bath of sea water hot when his employer was delayed. Salt crystals formed on the surface and Maldon sea salt was discovered.
Shops cannot have a sale when they feel like it. There is a six-week period in January and another in June when ‘soldes’ are permitted. To get around this, many shops celebrate their birthday = ‘Anniversaire’. Our local health food shop recently celebrated theirs with special offers and ‘buy one get one half price’.
Britain’s favourite sandwiches are firstly the bacon bap, closely followed by prawn and mayonnaise, Bacon Lettuce and Tomato (BLT), egg and cress, then, beef and horseradish. The most popular sandwich in France is sadly, the boring and conservative jambon-beurre. So boring that they have to mention the butter on the bread to make this ham sandwich slightly more appealing. We once ordered a ham sandwich in a town centre restaurant and that’s exactly what we got – ham and buttered bread. We had expected a bit of garnish and salad but got no more than what we had asked for. The good news is that Mark’s and Spencer’s in Paris sells BLT’s and all the other British favourites. Parisians are getting a taste for the exotic and queue for the prawn mayonnaise which sells out very quickly.
French life is bound by many unwritten rules. Bread must be torn and not cut or buttered. It must be offered at every meal. Soup is eaten only at supper. Milky coffee is for breakfast. Coffee is served after meals. Roast lamb must be eaten with beans. Cheese should be cut in a manner which preserves its original shape.