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.
Who would think of parking on a roundabout? However, many French roundabouts have shaded areas where you can park! They are the favourite places for police cars to wait while checking that every vehicle that passes has a valid insurance sticker on display. If not, you get pulled over and get to park on the roundabout as well! There is one roundabout in our city where traffic already on it, has to stop to let cars enter from the feeder roads, the same as happens at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Now there are traffic lights to confirm who has priority. The first time we drove on this anomaly, we nearly had an accident, and a heart attack, when a lady driver shot out in front of us from the road on the right! That is why there are signs at the majority of roundabouts to warn you that you do not have priority. Be careful of those that do not say this! Did you know France has more roundabouts than any other country?
ROTE LEARNING. In the UK rote learning has gone out of fashion, but French children are expected to commit many lessons to heart. I must say that I was impressed that one student had had to learn the names of British Prime Ministers and their chancellors. However, the downside is that things are learnt by heart with no understanding. Our friend’s young daughter was doing her homework which consisted of learning the definitions of geographical features. ‘A plateau is a hill with sloping sides and a flat top’. I asked her if she could draw one. ‘I don’t need to do that; I just have to learn the definition’. I was not convinced that she would recognise a plateau if she saw one.
When did you last have your roof cleaned? The idea of needing to clean one’s roof had never even entered our heads before living in France. At least two of our neighbours have had their rooves cleaned. There was no moss or any particular problem, but the job required a young man to climb 10 meters from the ground, spray on a product to loosen the dirt, clean that off and then coat the roof with something that would protect it. When I asked why they needed it done, it was an ‘Il faut le faire’, moment. It must be done! (See MUST)
In the UK we name our roads after trees, flowers, birds, etc. Occasionally we commemorate Prime Ministers, battle heroes or members of the royal family. In France many roads have the names of famous people, often with their dates of birth and a few lines about their lives. Every town has the obligatory rue Victor Hugo (novelist), boulevard Jean Jaurés (Minister of Education who established free primary schools) and place General De Gaulle (war time leader and President). It is possible to trace the progress of the allies in the second world war, especially in Normandy, by the roads containing dates starting from D-day through to August 25, 1944, when Paris was liberated. Fighting was still taking place after that so, rue 30 Août can be found in a town south of Paris. Writing a few lines about celebrities on lamp posts, seems to me, to be an excellent way for children to learn a bit of history.
RIVERS. When I was writing my guide to the A26 I told my husband that the Marne was the longest river in France. He replied, ‘ No it isn’t.’ I replied, ‘ Yes it is, I have just read it on a French website.’ Thus began the debate. We found out that the French have two words for rivers, ‘rivières’ and ‘fleuves’. Rivers are the tributaries that flow into ‘fleuves’, which flow into the sea. The Marne is the ‘riviere’ that flows into the Seine which is a ‘fleuve’.
When the streets are narrow and congested, restaurants have terraces that take up significant parts of the roadway. You don’t get that in the UK. Food is not more important than traffic flow. And you pay more for a coffee if you sit amongst the French traffic fumes and noise. Look at diner’s plates. If you see tinned green beans, the rest of the food is likely to be from a frozen food supplier. If there are hundreds of things on the menu, there is no chef preparing it to order. Look for the label ‘fait maison’ if you want home-made food.