Pining for Provence
We arrived back in Calgary on November 2, 2011 after thirteen months in Provence. One could question the logic behind returning to “the Great White North” just before the start of winter, but it is better not to go there.
The first few days back in Canada are certainly best described as culture shock. Our baptismal trip to the local grocery store was a clear indication that we were no longer in France.
Here, are a few of my observations. The parking spaces are enormous, to allow room for the large gas-guzzling vehicles that North Americans love to drive. The grocery store shopping carts actually run straight and true. In France, we never found one cart that did not involve some serious hip movement to “carve” a straight line. We used to call it “the shopping cart lottery”. Come to think of it, that is about as much success as we have with lottery tickets.
My next observation was around coffee culture. Thanks to some of the Seattle based coffee chains, the number of stores selling expensive caffeinated beverages have exploded in North America. Much like the large vehicles and parking spots, you can request a drink that is 16oz (475 ml) in size! These coffee shops practically encourage endless personal beverage variations; four-shot, no foam, extra hot, skim milk, vanilla flavoured etc… Just try that at a cafe in France.
Calgary is a city of slightly over one million people, in a province that is the same geographic area as France and only has a total population of only 3.7 million souls. The number of French speakers in the province is only 1.9% of the total inhabitants.
In other words, we moved from a life of virtual French immersion to one where you must listen to national French radio programming to hear any français. I did overhear a waiter talking to a colleague in a restaurant recently, and after five minutes of standing and staring, I had to move on, as I had begun to look like a stalker.
We acknowledge that we may be ruined for life after the abundance of markets, selling fresh local produce, seafood and cheese in Provence. The farmers’ markets in Calgary and surrounding area reach their prime in late July through early September. At that time, you can find excellent products from western Canada. In November, it is an entirely different story.
Aside from the fact that we are booked to return to France in 2012; there is some favourable news in this whole story. Calgary is a cosmopolitan centre. The city population has grown significantly in a 15-year period, and it continues to attract international businesses and tourists.
More sophisticated tastes and changing community demands have resulted in a variety of dining options including some excellent, authentic French restaurants and bistros. There are even a handful of decent bakeries, although the prices are staggering.
In conclusion, we are pleased to be back home visiting with friends and family. However, we are seeking ways to fill our longings for Provence by drinking French wine, dining in French influenced restaurants and listening to Radio Canada.
How did you cope going back home after being in France?All images © Carolyne Kauser-Abbott