Growing Up in France by Chloé Barberet
As promised, I am back with more stories on my « French way of life ». As there are so many clichés about France such as romanticism, art and French people enjoying parties and living very liberally, I had to ask myself which clichés are actually true. I got help from some people who have visited France and from a young Irish girl who asked a very interesting question : « France has so many clichés, most of them related to a certain period of time, maybe 1920s, 1930s, is it still true today ? » That is this question I am going to answer through this blog post. As I grew up in France, living like most French people do, I can actually relate most of these clichés to my own life. Let’s have a look and go back in years !
France has the image of being a very romantic and liberal country. Its people enjoy life, food and family. France is seen as a country of culture and art. If I think about it and I picture everything that foreigners say about France, I immediately see these little cobble streets in Paris, hear traditional music played by accordionists in the streets. I immediately picture the women dressed in 1920’s and 1930’s style. And I know why. It is actually because this is mostly how France is depicted in movies and cartoons, especially foreign ones. I think about the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris. I think about a recent Pixar cartoon, Ratatouille, and about Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp sharing their famous spaghetti in a small street in Paris. And I could go on and on with the list. I also think of a picnic with a red and white checked blanket, a wooden basket, a bottle of wine, a baguette and cheese.
To me, France still embodies beauty, freedom, open mindedness, romanticism, love of food and family, art and culture. Most foreign people would immediately think of Paris and I have to admit this is quite true, you could travel anywhere in France and discover some of these clichés but if you go to Paris, you will find them all! However, all of France is worth discovering.
Thanks to my parents who loved France, we travelled around quite a lot. That might sound odd to you because I know you try to escape your Irish weather as soon as you can and tend to travel to southern countries ! But in France, you find this mild weather as soon as you go south. And everywhere you go, you find different landscapes, different specialties, food and activities. We used to go to Provence, which is undoubtedly my favourite place in France. We slept in a bed & breakfast, in a woman’s house which was surrounded by stunning landscapes. You woke up in her gorgeous garden, by the pool, eating croissants and butter and jam tartines, facing le Mont Ventoux, a famous summit. At its feet lay vineyards. We also traveled to Brittany, one of the most beautiful places in France. The landscapes there are very similar to Ireland, though smaller. The West Coast of France is also very beautiful.
The Côte d’Azur is also worth a visit for its weather, stunning landscapes, beaches and coves. Then, if you travel back North and through the centre of France, you will find regions which have their own particular landscapes and food. You can go skiing in the Alps, eat a lot of dishes with melted cheese on them (Fondue Savoyarde, Raclette, Tartiflette.) You can also eat meat, cheese and saucisson in Auvergne. Going North of Burgundy, you find mountains, forests, lakes and a lot more regional foods ! Finally, at the North of France, the architecture becomes more English and different. And every time you travel somewhere in France, you will find local people who are proud of their regions, their history and their food. You can’t go anywhere without finding a cultural and gorgeous place to visit (castles, fortifications, museums, sightseeing, churches, abbeys, art exhibitions from schools or local artists in small cellars, castles or galleries…)
At school, we study literature, history and art with Molière plays, Baudelaire poems, and famous French painters : Delacroix, Matisse, Cézanne and Monet. We read cartoons such as Asterix & Obelix and Tintin. The first one is about two Gallic men, one is small and thin, the other one tall and very chubby who thinks about eating all the time! It is set in the Antiquity period. They are always traveling and taking a special potion to make them strong. The second cartoon is a very famous Belgian reporter, Tintin investigating murders and mysteries with his faithful dog, Milou.
Love is at the centre of everything – if I compare men elsewhere and in France, French men who are in love are very romantic. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that foreign men are not romantic (and women as well), and it always depends on how lucky you are I guess ! But it is quite common in France, from a very young age (teenagers at high school) to buy roses for your love, to bring her to a beautiful place, to a restaurant, to see a sunset or even have a picnic. I had experienced everything by the time I was 16 ! And I don’t think I have been particularly lucky compared to others since most of my friends had the same experience.
All of this takes us to the next topic, which is French people being liberal. I can’t tell how it was in the 1920s or 1930s. I have been told it was very liberal in the 1960s when our parents rebelled and asked for more freedom and rights. But we obviously still have this open mindedness that allows us to be very liberal. It’s not everywhere in France, in every family and region. Rural communities would always be a bit more conservative. But in general the French are more liberal about certain topics such as sex, gay marriage and abortion. However contrary to that, there are different reserved behaviours for example it is not uncommon for girls to ignore men in bars and nightclubs unlike the sociable atmosphere in Irish pubs. Despite being liberal, French people are quite judgemental of each other.
Finally, if I think of what it means to be French, I have to talk about food and family. Christmas is on its way and it is a very important time of the year for people all around the world. We, in France, are basically, all going to celebrate it in someone’s house. We will arrive around midday, carrying all our presents and probably some food too. We will have a chat while drinking wine and eating petits fours. We will open the presents, laugh and hug. Around 1 :30pm, we will start eating. We will have foie gras with confiture d’oignons and a bit of lettuce. Then, we’ll have seafood or snails or mushrooms in a creamy sauce or both of these dishes. Because we have eaten quite a lot already and it is « only » 3pm, we take a little break and those who want have a « Trou Normand » to help digest (remember, it’s only the beginning !) Trou Normand is normally a glass of straight Calvados but we do it with Vodka and lemon ice cream at home. Then we have the main course which can be different depending on your family. We usually have turkey, cockeral or other types of poultry. We can eat it with vegetables and pommes dauphine or gratin dauphinois. Then, everybody stops, we play games, sing songs and have fun. We have cheese and red wine at around 4 :30 and finish eating dessert (yule log) between 5pm and 6pm. It can vary according to families of course but this is quite similar in my friends families. Of course, this is Christmas and we don’t have lunches like that every Sunday but when we have family gatherings, it can be quite similar ! French people love their food, wine, cheese and families ! And it is quite likely that most people will have had the exact same Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve too… !!
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about France and its clichés which are not clichés after all ! And hopefully you are now in the mood for Christmas !