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Country Profile: France

When you think of France, what comes to mind? What do you visualize? Cheese and wine? Art? Stylish locals leisurely sipping coffee at cafes and eating croissant? Well, yes, all those things are very true. But it’s so much more! France is one of the most geographically diverse countries in Europe.

27 September 2016

Its cities contain some of the greatest treasures in Europe, its countryside is prosperous and boasts dozens of major tourist attractions, like Paris, the French Riviera, the French Alps, the castles if the Loire Valley, Brittany and Normandy and is renowned for its wines and cheeses, history, culture and fashion.

Exploring…..
It would be nearly impossible to ever give you a complete list of all the beautiful places to see in France. But there are some notable places one should see. As befits the most visited museum in the world, even the main entrance to the Louvre is a work of art. The Louvre Museum is among the world’s largest museums and is home to many priceless pieces. Here you can linger while marveling at the glassy pyramid while inside awaits the riches of world’s most exquisite artistic legacy, from Egyptian mummies and Code of Hammurabi to Venus de Milo and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. If the Louvre is the most splendid museum in France, then the Musee d’Orsay is right behind. On the banks of the Seine, it holds mainly paintings and sculptures by French artists. The museum is perhaps best known for its extensive assortment of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. Nowhere else in the world can you take in the genius of Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, and Monet displayed under one roof.

Art is everywhere in France, particularly in Paris. Gothic, Romanesque Rococo and Neoclassic influences can be seen in many churches and other architecture throughout the country. Many of history’s most renowned artists, including Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, sought inspiration in Paris, and they gave rise to the Impressionism movement.

We cannot mention Paris and not mention The Eiffel Tower. It’s known throughout the world. France is the Eiffel Tower. You can’t have one without the other. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 906 ft. above the ground, making it the highest observation deck accessible to the public in all of the European Union. And don’t forget the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world.

One of the more popular regions of France, is Provence. The classic view of postcard-purple lavender fields of Provence is a trip worth takin, if not for the smell alone. Also in Province, in Roussillon, you will be rewarded and dazzled with the sight of blazing orange and red rocks in the Martian like landscape along the Sentier des Ocres.

No matter how you explore Provence, you’ll encounter sleepy villages in stunning locations. Try L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse in western Provence or the coastal charmer Les Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer for it’s stunning beach views. And if it’s the mountains you seek, don’t miss Moustiers Ste-Marie. For history buffs, hit Arles and Orange. The Théâtre Antique in Orange is undoubtedly the more showstopping Roman arena between the two towns and it also boasts an intricate triumphal arch amongst Arles’s cluster of Roman sights.

Another stunner is Chamonix. A resort area near the junction of France, Switzerland and Italy, it’s renowned for its alpine skiing. It’s at the base of Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the Alps. Who wouldn’t want to sip a hot toddy at the lodge, après ski, after a day in the Alps.
There’s wine tasting in Bordeaux, the port and markets of Marseille, and the glamorous Cannes. Of course, these are just a few of the provinces. You will truly not be disappointed no matter where in France you may roam.

Understanding being French……
The French take immense great pride in their nation and government and are typically offended by any negative comments about their country. It’s no secret that the French have been accused by many for being, snobbish. But really, they’re just very proud to be French. Visitors, particularly Americans, often interpret their attitude toward foreigners and in general, as rude. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you are engaging in this refreshingly rich culture.

French people are relatively private and their culture is more about close knit groups. To a new resident, this may give the impression that the French are rude or just don’t like Americans. But understand that this is a different culture, with a different structure for developing friendships. You will also find that in France, the concept of customer service is much different than it is in the US which a newly relocated American may find frustrating. Etiquette is extremely important to French people and it’s not unusual to see people being subtly disregarded for not minding their manners. With this, you will find that contrary to the US, the customer is not always right. The attitude behind this is that most French have a much different relationship with their work than most Americans do. You could say that they work to live, whereas most Americans live to work.

You’ll also notice that the French dress well, better than most, most of the time. You’ll never see a French person wearing pajamas or sweatpants to the supermarket. Paris is the bi-annual host of the famous “Fashion Week” after all. If you wear chic, simple pieces, along with the utmost confidence, you should fit right it. Also, wearing a lot of black is a good thing!

There are some other culture differences you should be aware of that you might now be used to. Smoking is really common in France and it is common to find cigarette butts everywhere. Thankfully, smoking is banned in most public places, like the Metro or restaurants, but the terraces and patios are fair game so be prepared to smell smoke often.

Cars and roads are quite a bit smaller in France and most cars are standard transmission rather than automatic. If you don’t know how to drive a stick shift, it’s time to learn! Like a lot of Latin countries, road rules and signs are more of a suggestion than a law. French drivers in general can be a bit aggressive and carefree with their driving technique and they are not afraid to use their horns! Also, jaywalking is not really a big deal here and everyone does it so if you’re driving, keep a watchful eye.

You might need to find other alternatives if you find yourself to be a gym rat as there are far fewer gyms. The French prefer their exercise on the run…walking to work, cycling to school, or joint sports like tennis. Something that is taken seriously but yet you wouldn’t think so, is lunch time. It is somewhat sacred and a lot of businesses ceases operations during this time. Usually this happens between 12 and 2. If you have errands to attend to, it would be recommended to do it during any other time than this.

One more thing….the French love their dogs and take them everywhere. Cafes, markets, really everywhere. However, cleaning up after their furry friends is not high on the list of priorities so please, watch your step.

A refined palate….
Food and wine are central to life and much socializing is done around lengthy dinners. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of a modern French meal is that there are several courses, served slowly and in succession. Many associate French cooking with heavy sauces and complicated preparation. An accurate description as French cooks pay great attention to detail and use the fresh ingredients from the markets. However, French food is going lighter these days and heavy creams and sauces aren’t as prevalent as they once were. Though they are still around. The food varies by region and is heavily influenced by what is grown locally. French food is known as being decadent with intense flavors and some of their most popular dishes are exactly that. There’s the classic French dish Boeuf Bourguignon, a stew made of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, onions and mushrooms. Another traditional French dish, Coq au Vin, is made with chicken, Burgundy wine, lardons (small strips or cubes of pork fat), button mushrooms, onions and garlic. A few other traditional French dishes that you have to have in France for the best French food experience are Duck Confit, Cassoulet, and if you haven’t had the nerve yet, try some escargot.

We generally only think of baguettes as “French bread,” but if you walk into any boulangerie, a bakery, and you’ll see that there are so many more kinds than that. Bread is so much a part of a French meal that it’s viewed more as a tool than as a part of the meal. Rather than just eating a piece of bread by itself, you use a piece of bread to help push something onto your fork or to clean your plate in between meals. France is probably the only place in the world where you could get away with eating a baguette in the street without getting weird looks. Accompanied with cheese no less! Speaking of the cheese, cheese is such a staple in the cuisine that it is not uncommon to eat cheese every day, with every meal.

Also be prepared to eat a lot of crepes. Thought it would be difficult to get tired of eating crepes. Or wine for that matter. You will find no shortage of either here.

Parlez vous?…..
French is known as one of the romance languages. And if you’ve ever heard it spoken, it’s easy to understand why. It’s a bit melodic and smooth….it makes you feel sophisticated just hearing it. It seems to just roll of the tongue. Easy, right?

When in France it’s crucial to understand that the language of France is French, not English. Yet many expats in France seem to ignore this. Other foreign languages are not commonly spoken in France, and the French take pride in their language. Whereas people in other countries may make an effort to speak to you in your language, the opposite is the case in France. No matter how little French you speak, demonstrate the few skills you have and your willingness to try and learn. Also, make it a point to improve your skills over time. It matters and your efforts will go a long way.

Bonjour (bohn zhoor) — Hello
Je M’appelle (zhuh mah pehl) — My name is
Comment vous appelezvous? (kohn mahn vozah play voo) — What is your name?
Merci (mehr see) — Thank you
De rien (dah ree ehn) — You’re welcome
Excusez moi (ehk kew zah mwah) — Excuse me
Combien coute til? (bee en coo teel) — How much does it cost?
Ca va? (sah vah) — How are you?
S’il vous plait (see voo play) — Please
Parlez vous anglais (pahr lay voo ahn leh) — Do you speak English?
Qu sont les toilettes? (oo sahn lay twah leht) — Where are the bathrooms?
Au revoir (oh vwah) — Goodbye

Le rhythme de France…..
Living in France may not always be the proverbial walk in the park you might imagine, even if that park is the immaculately clipped gardens of Versailles. The country prides itself on its distinct culture and language, and many who relocate initially struggle to find their niche and adapt to everyday life. The language usually proves the most difficult barrier for most, especially as the French prefer engaging in their local language. That said, most locals have some degree of proficiency in English, and will reciprocate efforts if you make even the smallest attempt to speak French.

 
If you are contemplating a move to France, the trickiest thing might be deciding which region of France has the qualities you’re looking for. For some, it’s the wild, rocky shores of Celtic Brittany, steeped in old customs and traditions. Others can’t resist the allure of sun-drenched Provence, a beautiful region of hill towns and lavender fields, fringed by a turquoise sea and the shady palm trees of the Côte d’Azur. Then there’s the Dordogne region in Aquitaine, a lush land of castles and quaint little villages that still seem to be sleeping their way through the Middle Ages. If you’re into markets, you’ll be in paradise here. Or the very stereotypical ways of life along the streets lined with shops and cafes in Paris. Wherever you end up, it will undoubtedly be beautiful. You’ll be living in a scene from a postcard.

Get ready, because once you’re there, you can count on a slower, more enjoyable pace of living, surrounded by people who have an infectious love and deep passion for everything, while enjoying your time marked by innumerable little joys that lead to a greater quality of life overall. Don’t expect everything to be the same as it is back home. So try new things, go out and explore! The world is your oyster….and if you’re in France, that oyster will be served with nice French Mignonette sauce. 

Vive la France!

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