Friday, April 1, 2011

What you should know about France

First of all, thanks to my readers for your advice and sympathy about my last post. I knew I could count on you guys to help me out. Still nothing resolved on the living front, but we're still talking.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a leaf from Oneika's blog. Here's what the guidebooks don't always tell you about one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.

1. Some of those stereotypes are true. I have seen folks carrying baguettes as they bike back home. I have seen old guys wearing berets. The French are obsessed with food. They do dress pretty well (sweatpants in the grocery store are rare). Some (not all) think deoderant is optional. Note to you guys: rethink that one.

2. Saying goodbye can take forever. There are so many polite expressions that sometimes I think it will never end as I try to leave the babysitter's or even just the baker's. There's au revoir, of course, which is basically goodbye. But then they'll add bonne journée (have a good day). And I say merci (thanks). And then they say à demain (see you tomorrow) or à bientôt (see you soon). And sometimes I get lost and start saying au revoir again.

3. They do the "bises". These are the famous cheek kisses. They can be in the morning to say hello to colleagues (girls and girls kiss or girls and guys kiss; guys shake hands- see #5). Or to say goodbye at the end of a visit with relatives or a party. Another reason saying goodbye can be long. Imagine a party of 15. At the end you need to start kissing five minutes before you really want to leave. I prefer waving myself and sometimes I do that. The number of kisses depends on the region you live in and your familiarity with the person. In my region it's four. But sometimes we just do two. You're left in mid-air if you're expecting more and the other person stops. In Belgium I hear it's three. French companies thought of suspending the "bises" ritual during the H1N1 flu scare. Mine said, no, we won't let some potentially deadly flu virus stop us from kissing cheeks!

4. Bonjour (hello) is just about as laborious as goodbye. Don't forget to say it, of course. Many a time I've gone up to a salesperson and said, "Excusez-moi" and I start explaining my problem. They then say bonjour (hello). I don't know if they're chastizing me for not starting my sentence with hello or just making sure they get it in there. My mom was indeed chastized in the Charles de Gaulle airport because in her pride and haste to get out her French question she forgot bonjour. The baker got onto a young boy for forgetting to say it and just directly asking for his baguette. On dit bonjour d'abord, she said to him. We say bonjour first. By the way, salut (hi but it can also be bye) is very informal and generally not used the first time in a business situation.

5. If you're at work or school don't forget to shake hands after you've said bonjour (or kiss, see #3). I generally shake hands with all my students at the beginning and sometimes the end of a lesson. Not so good for disease transmission either. I even shake hands with my doctor. I hope he's washing between patients...

6. Dodge that poop. Amber hit the nail on the head or the poop on the... (no, I won't try to make a pun here). There is way too much dog poop on the sidewalk. For a country that prides itself on its beautiful cobbled streets and picturesque lanes, there are a whole bunch of people who really don't give a sh** where their dogs poop and don't bother to clean it up. My town has distributors with sacks and special areas in parks for pooping pups. There are even fines of 35 euros if you're caught not scooping. But I've gotten used to dodging, just like Amber, because most people have not gotten the message. Oh, and watch out for the dog urine puddles, too.

7. Men pee anywhere. While we're on the subject of bodily fluids, it seems that men here are totally uninhibited when nature calls. This is perhaps not just limited to French men. Remi will do it in an alley or on a brick wall. The gas stations don't always have restrooms here so men (and sometimes women) will just go where they can. I'm gonna start a campaign for more public restrooms, especially since my little one will hopefully soon be potty-trained. Frankly there are not lots of restroom and kid-friendly places in my town.

8. "No thank you" is confusing here. I remember one of my first awkward meals at Remi's parents' place when my French was still limited to about ten words. His mom offered me more of something and I said, non, merci. The equivalent of "no thanks" in English, I thought. She hesitated a bit and looked to Remi for confirmation. Here they often just say merci with a little hand movement to say "no thanks, I don't want anymore". So if you say "thanks", merci, and you do want more, they might think you don't! I'm still not sure I've got it right, come to think of it. Please correct me if I'm wrong!

9. If you want free water, ask for une carafe d'eau. This will save you in those pricey restaurants. If you just ask for water : de l'eau, you'll probably get a bottle of Evian and the bill to go with it. Une carafe d'eau is just a bottle of tap water and free.

10. If you go shopping here, don't forget a coin and your own sacks. To get a cart, you must insert a one-euro coin or a token that is the very same shape in the cart to free it from the rack. Some supermarkets don't give you plastic bags but they do sell them. It's always a good idea to have your own bags. I just put all my stuff in a rolling suitcase once I get to the car.

And that, my friends, should get you by for a while. If some of you are more versed in French than me and disagree with my translations, I'm happy to hear what you think.


Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of point 9. and i'm still wondering if 'sack' is written correctly. It looks funny.

point 11: Living in france screws with your English. ha

Lindle said...

I learned my lesson for sure. I will say "Bonjour" before everything now! Still remember the sting I felt when the train information person "corrected" me. Crazy French customs!

The Many Colours of Happiness said...

These are great! I got stuck last time with the whole water thing, it was so frustrating! I'm glad you have posted what we should say on here :)

Deidre said...

I love number 10! I think it's great that they don't have plastic bags. Australia is very slow on this one, but is starting to be better about it.

I do not like the nonpoop scoopers! That is awful!

Crystal said...

interesting post and of course I know all about each point! For the record, I always pick up after my dog but Max won't if "no one is around to see".

I don't shake hands with my students anymore because I don't always have time to wash my hands between lessons and I think Max's hypochondria has rubbed off on me. Funny enough, since I stopped taking public transportation and shaking hands, I've been sick a lot less!

I could write a similar post about life in Paris, more specifically. But then I'll have to think about the life here in detail and I don't want to do that! I prefer to just look at the fuzzy edges and focus more on my new life in the mountains :)

Miss you girl!!