How many days are there in two weeks? An English speaker will answer fourteen. However, two weeks is called a ‘quinzaine’ in French, which means fifteen days.
When I worked for one company, I could eat in their canteen. Every day I would choose from the ‘dishes of the world’ option. One day it was ‘Hungarian goulash’, but when I tasted it there was no paprika nor red peppers, it was just a meat stew. ‘Chilli con carne’ had no chilli or kidney beans and ‘Indian curry’ contained no curry flavour. It was then that I realized why the French think that their cooking is the best, because they massacre the recipes of the rest of the world. People think they have tasted foreign food and it turns out to be horrible, so therefore their food must be the best! Put a little bit of spice in a dish and people won’t eat it, ‘Ca pique’ they cry. Attempts at replicating foreign foods are pretty pathetic. One Saturday I was in a frozen foods shop and saw curries on sale. Thinking that a curry would make a nice change on a Saturday evening, I bought a packet. The taste was overwhelmingly disappointing. We looked at the ingredients to see what was in it. There was neither cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek nor chili to be seen. The only flavouring was……..mustard! A moussaka I bought, contained no lamb and had the texture of baby food. When an Indian restaurant opened in town we tried it out. The food was lovely with plenty of flavours, but no fire. The waiter came to ask if everything was OK. I said that the food had plenty of flavours, “but we are English”, I added. He didn’t stop to ask any more questions. He disappeared and returned with a bowl of hot chilli sauce. He obviously knew the difference between the tasting needs of his French clientele and those of English diners! One spicy food that is often eaten is couscous. The chorizo sausage should add piquancy to the dish. If not, it is often served with a small bowl of extra chili sauce.
You won’t find small square pieces of towelling on sale for washing faces and bodies. The French use a ‘gant de toilette’– a toilet glove. A rectangle of material is folded and sewn together on 3 sides to form a bag that you slip your hand inside. It comes with a hanging loop.
If the US is the number one market for McDonald’s, who comes second? France, yes France! Here, where junk food is called ‘malbouffe’. There are now 1,380 franchises in France and 30 new ones open each year. It had a difficult start because it had to persuade ‘the French to eat with their hands’. Using locally grown ingredients and providing easy access for young people into the job market has helped its popularity. McCafés serve French macaroons, croissants, pain au chocolat and good, reasonably priced, coffee. Demonstrators recently protested because their town council had barred the construction of a McDonald’s! They have become so popular! Subway, Buffalo Grill, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Quick, the French/Belgian version of McDonald’s are also doing well. You will constantly hear that French people despise fast food, but take that with a pinch of salt!
French people of all ages seem to be more dedicated followers of fashion trends. I was surprised to see my neighbour wearing handkerchief hem skirts then another year tulip skirts when they were in fashion and she’s in her 80’s. I was quite shocked to see one of my students wearing woolly tights under shorts, as she was a professional woman in her 40’s. When neon colours were in fashion, bright greens, yellows and shocking pinks were everywhere, then a year later, no one was wearing them. A French friend, when asked for her thoughts on the differences between the British and the French, observed that British people have the confidence to wear what they like.
For me, the philosophy and practice of fair-trade, ‘commerce équitable’ is a step forward in solving the problems of the world. If small growers are paid enough to support their families, buy medicines and pay school fees, their children will have a future and will not need to emigrate in order to find work. I was very involved in selling and promoting Tearcraft and Traidcraft in the UK. There are 2 groups that sell the same types of products in France and have volunteers running small shops. Fairtrade items can be found in large supermarkets but it is nowhere as big or as well-known as in the UK. The UK is Europe’s biggest Fairtrade market selling three times as much as Germany and six times as much as France. In one of our English teaching books there is a chapter on Fairtrade which I enjoy presenting. Many students, when asked, ‘Why don’t you buy more Fairtrade?’ will say, ‘because we prefer to buy French products’. (See entry for SUGAR)
There is usually a ‘Salle d’exposition’ in medium sized and larger towns where wine fairs, environmental fairs, gardening fairs take place with professional exhibitors manning stands. Free tickets are often given away in the workplace and if you sign up to a mailing list you might be sent free tickets to the next year’s event. Other regular events are themed round pets, tourism, food, weddings, homes, antiques etc. The best one to look out for is the Salon de Chocolate!
I have, in the past done some service as a paid examination invigilator. It is incredible how many ways students can think of to cheat. France has come up with quite a good idea for preventing students slipping a piece of ‘scrap’ paper with their notes on it, into the examination room. Each exam has a different colour of scrap paper. When I asked for some ‘scrap paper’ at the university – ‘brouillon’, I was offered paper in all sorts of lovely pastel shades. Yellow is used for one exam, pale blue for another and pink for a different subject, or even green. The choice is made at random to ensure that students can’t predict which colour will be used. An exam cheat in France risks being banned from taking any exam, including their driving test, for 5 years. In 2012 one hundred and forty students were punished in that manner. That is an idea that could be copied in the UK.
Some things the French have observed about the English have crept into their language. Our love of custard had led to the dessert being called ‘crème anglaise’. However, I was astonished to learn that it is never eaten warm. One of my retired students was describing what he made in his soup maker. The machine could blend and heat eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk to make ‘crème anglaise’. ‘Then, while it is nice and hot you eat it?’ I asked. ‘No, you put it in the fridge to cool,’ he said. All of my students affirmed that ‘crème anglaise’ is always eaten cold. So don’t expect hot custard on your ‘tarte tatin’.
A garden with flower beds and winding paths is described as ‘un jardin à l’anglaise’. Something that we are often guilty of is ‘filer à l’anglaise’ which means to leave a gathering without saying goodbye to everyone. It’s hard enough getting used to going round everyone in the room to shake their hand or to kiss them upon arrival, without having to repeat the whole process when we leave. In our family we try to avoid it by calling out a loud, ‘Goodbye’ to everyone and giving an expansive wave of the hand. So yes, we do have a tendency to ‘filer à l’anglaise’.
There is a small footplate on the back of dustbin lorries and a vertical handrail. The dustmen jump on and off between stops like naughty schoolboys used to do on the back of red double-decker buses. Health and safety wouldn’t allow that in the UK.