Decimal points are commas – ‘virgule’ in France. Your child’s school work will be marked out of 20, so hopefully they will get 19,5/20.
When I tell my grown-up children that we regularly go for coffee in McDonald’s, their reaction is as if I was recounting a visit to a Wimpy Bar! Their image of McDonald’s is of a ‘60’s fast-food place with sticky fake gingham wipe-clean tablecloths, chewing gum on the floor and dirty cups on adjacent tables. Anyone who has been to a French ‘McDo’ is always pleasantly surprised. There is free internet access, screens where you can tap in your order and pay, so that the dishes are ready and awaiting collection. Each branch has been completely renovated to include a barista and a coffee machine that serves, lattes and cappuccinos from freshly ground beans. Do not forget that there are no Starbuck’s, no Costa’s, no Nero’s in our town and only 100 Starbuck’s in all of France! Whereas there are 800 in the UK. (1,030 in Jan 2018 and growing!) We are reliant on finding a good cup of coffee in one of the hundreds of local bars. Our demand for ‘un grand café crème’ could result in anything from a small cup of black coffee with a small jug of cold milk to a medium sized cup of milky coffee. We used to visit a different bar every week and give them marks out of 10 for the size and quality of the drink. At one restaurant my ‘grand café crème’ was so small that I ordered a second. As a result, I had paid a total of 7€ for what was the equivalent of a small coffee in Nero’s or Starbuck’s. Since a McDonald’s is only 3 minutes-walk away, at the bottom of our road, we can have a decent sized good quality coffee for a very reasonable price. If I say that once I asked for a ‘deca(decaffeinated) grand café crème’ in a bar and was given a drink prepared from teaspoon of instant coffee and cold milk, you will realise how much we appreciate McDonald’s! If you see a Memphis Coffee restaurant it is not very well named. The one thing you cannot do is to walk in and ask for a coffee! When I offered someone a pre-lunch coffee, I was told that French people drink coffee after a meal.
Have you ever dreamt of running away to join the circus? Well, you can if you live in France. Joining the circus is a legitimate career choice. Circus skills are taught in schools as part of the physical education programme. Our daughter learnt to balance on a low wire, juggle and throw a diabolo. Our neighbour’s son became such an enthusiast of the subject that he used to ride his uni-cycle up and down the road. There are two circus schools in France, where students can get a degree qualification. While researching this book I found, to my surprise, that there is a school in Bristol that also teaches circus skills. ‘Stop clowning around’, is probably never said by teachers there! Circuses regularly appear in town, usually setting up in supermarket carparks. French circuses still have performing animals and often a part of their attraction is the mini zoo they bring along with them. We were looking at the animals one day, when we heard anxious shouts from the big top. A tiger that should have been returning to its cage by means of a tunnel had found a gap. Fortunately, there were enough fair-ground workers on hand to prevent it from escaping into the town. We beat a hasty retreat!
In many European countries these lovely golden flowers, (that’s the origin of their name – chrusos is gold in Greek) are the symbol of death. So don’t buy a bunch as a thank-you gift. Your host might take a step back in horror! They are on sale everywhere in October, as it is the custom to put flowers on the tombs of departed relatives for Toussaint – All Saints’ Day on 1stNovember. One advantage of having a house that overlooks a cemetery is that the view from our dining room window becomes more and more colourful each day, as people arrive with armfuls of potted plants. Chrysanthemums can now be bought in all colours, so for a month we can see a mosaic of orange, yellow, red and purple. (See CEMETERIES)
French people will tell you that the custom of having a tree, originated in Alsace near the German border, in the early years of the 16thcentury, but why and how, they cannot say. British people should know from their ‘Ladybird book of Christmas Customs’ that the inspiration came from St. Boniface, missionary to pagan Germany. One day, he was travelling through a dark forest when he came across a group of druids preparing to sacrifice a child under a sacred oak. Boniface interrupted the ceremony just in time, and told them the gospel – that it is faith in Jesus Christ that saves us. The pagans believed the message, so he called for an axe with which to cut down the tree. As it fell, it revealed a small pine tree that had been growing amongst the roots. He told the gathering to take the pine tree as their new symbol. Its evergreen leaves would remind them of the eternal life they had gained. The branches pointed upwards to the true God in heaven. The custom of having Christmas trees started in Germany and spread though France via the protestants in the Alsace region. Prince Albert, being German, introduced the Christmas tree to his wife, Queen Victoria, and soon every British family had a conifer in their homes in late December. I would say that the tradition of Christmas trees was not French but crossed the border from Germany.
Not many people send Christmas cards, perhaps the reason is to avoid seeming to hold a religious belief? However, New Year’s greetings cards are very common and can be sent anytime during the month of January. Some families come up with novel ideas. Our friends sent us a card with two nearly identical pictures of them and their three girls. The idea was to spot the differences!
When reading about Reims during the occupation at the start of the 1WW, I came across this account in the archives. “The provision of food for the civil population was of constant concern to the municipal administration, who created a committee to buy large quantities of basic necessities: meat, potatoes, sugar and chocolate.” Chocolate! – as a basic necessity! That surprised me! Even if chocolate has been part of the French diet for nearly 400 years after being introduced to the French court by Anne of Spain, when she married Louis XIII, I wouldn’t have thought it was a staple of the common man! Were ‘pains au chocolat’,drinking chocolate, chocolate based breakfast cereals and spreads already part of the ‘petit dejeuner quotidienne’? One site tells me that at the time of the French revolution breakfast was a cup of coffee or tea and at most some chocolate drowned in milk.
Each day of the week in a French diary has a saint’s name written under it. These are the 365 classic names that are safe to choose for your child. From Napoleon’s time until 1993 parents had to choose from an official list. Jean-Marie and Marie-Anne comeout as the most popular. I have 15 people named Marie, and variations of it, on my address list. The cruellest usage of the name must be the parents of twin girls who named one, Marie-Anne, and the other Anne-Marie. Imagine being the considered as the mirror image of your twin all your life. But, woe betide you if you try to think of something a little out of the ordinary. When you register your new-born, the registrar has the right to veto the name you have chosen. A judge nearly refused to let a family call their daughter Megane because their surname was Renaud. It sounded too much like a brand of car. Another story relates that the parents of twin boys were refused the choice of Orly and Oissy because they are the names of the two Paris airports. Just recently a family who wanted to call their daughter Nutella were taken to the Family Court and fortunately lost the case! An incentive for choosing one of the classic 365 is that your child gets 2 birthdays! Not only do they celebrate their actual day of birth, but they might also get flowers or a small gift on their saint’s day.
In the UK, we feel it is our right to have 2 children in order to replace ourselves on the planet, but to have 3 is greedy and selfish as it will cause a population explosion. In France, having three children is far more thee norm. Firstly, your tax bill is divided by the number of children you have. Some people have managed to live quite comfortably off the child benefit from a large family, plus never paying any tax. Secondly, historically France has felt threatened by Germany and has tried to make sure that they are equal in terms of population. If another war happened France would like to win! Thirdly, as soon as you have three children, you are officially a‘famille nombreuse’.Then you can apply for an official card and get reductions wherever you go. SNCF (French railways) give discounts of up to 75%, lesser savings can be had in supermarkets, clothes shops and restaurants. If you raise enough children, you can claim a silver medal (Médaille d’argent)for 6 or 7 but a gold medal (Médaille d’or) awaits those who produce 8 children or more! I recently learnt that upon retirement, people with three or more children get 10% extra in their pension. Little girls seem to be more girly in France, they giggle and squeal and wear skirts and dresses and ribbons in their hair for much longer than British girls.
I do not think there are many people outside of France who know that there are two names for chicken depending on how it is cooked. ‘Poule,’ sure enough, is listed in my dictionary as ‘(CULIN) (boiling) fowl’. Whereas ‘poulet’ is defined as ‘chicken’. I stumbled on this when I bought an organic frozen chicken. I cooked it in the same way as I had always done, in a casserole surrounded by vegetables and 2cms of water to give it plenty of moisture and flavour, while at the same time a bit of roast chicken colour. The bird looked a bit old and scrawny when it went into the oven and did not improve one bit on cooking! It was shrivelled and dry and the meat refused to come off the bone, so I took it back to the shop. ‘Mais, madame, vous-avez achetez un poule et pas un poulet!’ They tried to explain that I had bought a ‘poule’ and not a ’poulet’. The first should be boiled for several hours to make soup and the other could be successfully roasted. ‘Poule’ is the name for a female and also gives its name to expressions of endearment such as ‘ma poule’ or ‘ma petite poule’. Perhaps the poor poule that I had bought was was an old bird at the end of her egg laying life. ‘Poulet’ refers to the young of the species before it is obvious as to whether it is a male or a female, and which is killed upon reaching sexual maturity. When I asked one of my French friends the difference she fetched her recipe book to show me, ‘Poule au pot’ and‘Poulet rôti’ – chicken in the pot and roast chicken but with slightly different names that I had never noticed or realised had existed.