There are labels on many French products to give them an air of authenticity. Would you really know the difference between an IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) and an AOP (Appelation d’origine Protégée) and a Label Rouge? Apparently, there are nine varieties of dried peas and lentils that each bears one of these labels. But what do these labels mean in practice? They mean that the product comes from a region where they were historically grown and must be grown to certain standards. However, they are not organic. Be careful with the label that says, ‘Voted the best product of 2019’. Manufacturers send their sample to a private marketing business who compares it with a few other similar products and gives a certificate to their customer for a fee.
English people use a small spoon to stir their tea, therefore the spoon is called a ‘teaspoon’. French people use the same sized spoon to stir their coffee so it’s called a ‘une cuillère à café’ = coffee spoon. In France, soup is traditionally eaten for the evening meal. The ‘cuillère à soupe’ is a very big spoon that we would call a tablespoon. Forks are often put on the table with the tines pointing down, as it is considered safer and more gentile. Many Frenchmen carry a pocket knife ‘un canif de poche’. The origin of the word possibly comes from Old English when the ‘kn’ of ‘knife’ was pronounced. Desserts are eaten with a spoon, even if it’s a cake or a tart. Cutlery used for an ‘entrée’ is kept to be used for the main course, even in restaurants. Amongst friends you are often expected to use the same plate and utensils for both courses. If you want a clean plate, there is always bread available with which the sauces can be mopped up .
Living and working in France has meant that we needed a French computer with €, é, ç, ^, etc. However, getting used to a full stop being uppercase has been the bane of my life. My writing is constantly peppered with semi-colons because that is the lower-case part of the same key. When giving an email address with an underscore in it a French person might say that it is key 8, not realising that the symbols are in different places on Qwerty keyboards.
Want to work for yourself in France? Like working with animals? Don’t want a 9-5 office job? You could be a free-lance pig killer! Someone who had worked for 26 years as a butcher in a supermarket saw a gap in the market. Legally all other farm animals must be taken to an abattoir to be killed, but pigs are not included in the legislation. This entrepreneur goes to the customer’s house with his box of knives and his mincing machine, does the dirty deed and the clients have enough pork in their freezer for a year. Try doing that in the UK!
An American friend suggested this topic as one I should write about. In the USA, it is a criminal offence to cross the street where there is no pedestrian crossing. In France pedestrians have right of way and young people seem to think that risking their life to prove a point is a matter of principle. My friend drives her husband to work at the university and has to keep her eyes peeled and to drive at a snail’s pace in order to avoid mowing down foolhardy teenagers. It was one of my prayers when my daughter moved back to England that this particular habit had not got too engrained. Pedestrian accident statistics give the figure of 317 for France and 253 for the UK. These are the deaths of people 30 days after an accident. I presume this is a yearly tally. For countries that have very similar populations, France’s pedestrians clearly have 20% more fatal accidents. French law says that if pedestrians have shown that they want to cross, by taking a step into the road, then they have priority. If a driver runs into a pedestrian, he/she is responsible for the injuries incurred unless it can be proved that the jaywalker wanted to commit suicide! If there is a crossing within 50 meters these rules do not apply, and walkers ought to use the zebra crossing. Not stopping for a pedestrian could lose you 4 points off your licence or a fine of 135€.
French people suffer from strange illnesses that don’t exist in other countries! Visitors chuckled over posters in the Pharmacy window that advertised a cure for ‘heavy legs’. Even though the liver never gives pain, people can suffer from ‘tired livers’. I blame a daily T.V. programme that is on every afternoon – in fact two that are back to back and last for 1½ hours. Doctors must know the contents of the broadcast when patients arrive thinking that they are suffering from the illness of the day. An early evening comedy programme, pokes fun at the pensioners who know the complicated names of tablets off by heart, and in one scene the couple were impressed when their friend got prescribed a pill with a 13-letter-long name!
I wanted to write something on this subject because there are big differences between British law and French law. However, the subject is so complex that I am out of my depth and still wanting answers for our own situation. However, I found this interesting letter in the Telegraph written by Nicholas Wightwick. “In the UK, large estates are left to the eldest child. The Napoleonic Code has destroyed large estates to no one’s benefit. It decrees that estates, property and money must be divided equally between all direct claimants. Furniture, pictures and other valuables are quickly distributed and probably sold, while the house – now belonging to several people – becomes no one’s responsibility. Moreover, there is no organisation like the National Trust in France, which means that large, unwanted houses are often left to rot.”
The division of property into smaller and smaller pieces can be seen in the vineyards. An owner might have many small fields all over the village. As a result organic production is often laughed at as an impossibility because the plots are small and surrounded by owners who use pesticides. However, the organic samples I have tasted speak for themselves.
Travellers to the UK are very surprised to find that British people do not need an identity card. French people must carry their card at all times. They can travel abroad with it to certain countries, so do not necessarily need a passport. By contrast when part of our family wanted to visit us with their three children, they needed to spend over £500 on passports before they even stepped out of the door.
Can you guess which product is being talked about here? ‘For more than 50 years our company has put all of its enthusiasm into making for you XXXs with inimitable, unique flavours. With this brand of XXXs, made in the traditional way you will be taken back to the original pleasurable taste which brings together the crispiness, the finesse and the good taste of the vegetable from which it is made. We select the best ingredients for our recipes, made with sunflower oil and with varieties of vegetables chosen with great attention that are exclusively grown in France. To be able to always satisfy you and to limit your consumption of unhealthy oils we only use sunflower oil with a high level of omega-9. It is at the foot of the Garlaban hills, amongst the thyme, rosemary and the summer savory that we thought up this recipe. This is why our XXX’s with sea salt have the delightful flavour of Provence.’ Did you guess the product that is being described with such expansive writing? The correct answer is – salted crisps! On one hand, I am amused and astonished that someone can be so creative on the subject of the humble crisp, but on the other hand, I wish that self-effacing, modest Brits would blow their own trumpets in the same way about our quality products. Perhaps things are improving because I found this on a packet of Piper’s crisps. ‘Made by farmers. At Piper’s we endeavour to make Britain’s tastiest crisps. We hand select the best locally grown potatoes, remove just enough skin, slice them to the right thickness and then batch cook them in pure sunflower oil. Still warm, we then season them with ingredients carefully selected from producers who care as passionately about the quality of their products as we do about ours. Our cheddar cheese is supplied by Lye Cross Farm situated at the foot of the Mendip Hills near the village of Cheddar. Here traditional methods and skills are employed such as ‘cheddaring’ – the practice of turning and stacking the curds until mature and full of flavour. Pipers…crisps as they should taste.’ I think Piper’s win on factual content as ‘finesse’, ‘great attention’ and ‘delightful’ are subjective rather than objective.
Hunting on foot is very popular. It is often the way to progress in your job. It is like joining the outdoor activity branch of a Masonic lodge. Wild boars are a nuisance and can destroy a lot of crops in a short time. Farmers can claim money from local hunts if deer and wild boar are not kept under control. However, I didn’t expect to see posters advertising a Hunting Exhibition to feature two small boys in their waxed jackets – an image that would cause an uproar in the UK. I can remember the fuss that was made when Prince Charles took William and Harry out just to watch hunting. Hunting toys are on sale like ‘Tir au Pigeon’ = ‘Shoot a pigeon’ or its variant ‘Tir aux canards’ = ‘Shoot at ducks’. On the other hand, I would like to visit the ‘Musée de la Chasse et la Nature’ -The Museum of Hunting and Nature, in Paris, which is housed in two old residential houses, it has over 9,000 works of art to look at.