France! What an amazing country. What makes you think about Paris? La Tour Eiffel? For me, when I think about France, it is not the ‘French kiss’ that first comes to mind. So what it is? It’s a very good question; you’re ‘gonna’ laugh. France makes me think about old men.
Yes, you heard! A spontaneous, impulsive thought? Interested in old men? A kind of father complex? I am 32 years old, and maybe it could be a bit of everything. I may have some kind of complex, but this isn’t why I have chosen to think about old men. So what ‘is’ it about? Well I’ll tell you my story.
When I think about my first moments in the South of France I see the old French men (and there are a lot of them) walking in the streets at around 7am, their beret on their head and a baguette under the arm. Bread and old men, this is what France evokes in me. Funny, isn’t it?
It is much more than bread to me. It is a very strong emotion, though nothing compared to my yoga lesson. These old men and bread make me feel so happy and remind me to take time to breathe, hold on to a moment and enjoy life – being conscious of everything you do. It is a moment without stress. It is early in the morning. I see the empty streets, fog in the air and the dawn is rising. I smell a mixture of pine, platanes and coffee; an odor of wet leaves. Most people have not yet left their homes.
While walking in the streets I perceive a few people sitting on the terraces of those small cafés with red overhanging awnings, enjoying their coffee and croissant with a newspaper; another ‘famous’ bread in France, and so delicious. Clocks seem to stand still – life is so calm in this country. This was the first impression I had about France (and well of course the farmer’s market on Sundays). It is ‘the’ event of my week.
I love going there. It became a kind of ritual and is part of my life now in France. The odors of fresh fruits and vegetables each time I pass; I am tempted to dunk my hands in the basket filled with apricots, cherries or whatever takes my fancy. The nice farmer always smiling. What a relaxed moment! It makes me forget everything.
It makes me think about my old neighbors in Germany. When I was a child I always saw them washing their car and cleaning the garage on Sunday mornings. It’s funny, isn’t it, how priorities in life can differ. So why the hell do the French consider themselves as raleurs, or always complaining? Complaining about their lives, about their jobs. From an external point of view, their lives seem so relaxed. What I realise is that ‘raleurisme’ (as I call it) applies especially to the weather. When it’s raining people always complain about the rain, and when it’s sunny it’s too hot. I noticed people are very receptive to the weather and their mood is dependent on it. I was wondering for a long time about this and could not understand why people were never satisfied, but finally I understood that it is not the content, but a need to talk. Weather is a very good subject if you don’t know what to say.
This is something important that I have learned in France; you have to talk a lot. The more you talk, the more competent you are (oui c’est vrai!); especially within administration. You hear “it is not possible” or a “no” – it is very important to continue speaking under theses circumstances! In Germany for instance, a ‘no’ in administrative jargon means ‘no’. In France it is the starting point for negotiation (I love it), but this is another story altogether.
© Julia Noyel 2011
Julia says…“I am founder of ZenExpat, a global mobility consulting firm.I am also writer of a blog about how to simplify expatriation and ensuring ‘Zen’ when starting abroad. I was born and raised in Germany, then I moved to Austria and then to France. I came to Lyon in 2006. I also love running, yoga, meeting my friends, meeting new people and enjoying the beauty of life.”
Julia is based in Lyon… If you would like to join our My French Life team of Contributing authors, photographers, interviewers and very talented people who live all around the world, then send me a message info@MyFrenchLife.org