Two years ago, I made another big decision in my life by accepting that position in my job and moving to an entirely different world, aka Europe. For those who may not know yet, Europe is VERY different from Asia, in many aspects. To be culturally shocked might have been an understatement, even from me who’s always been a lover of world history and a regular in libraries to read and study it.
I decided to list down the things I learned and observed, and please be reminded, that these are only based from my experiences and it could be different with others. 🙂
Greetings. In France, I noticed that it’s very important to say a proper greeting like Bonjour (or Bonsoir in the evening) before you start a conversation. There were a couple of times that I got schooled for insisting that I say bonjour first before I talk to them: the bus driver in Nice and my colleague at the office. I learned my lesson after that.
Language. While I am lucky to be living in a community who accommodates foreigners due to the yachting industry and the technological site (in Sophia Antipolis) that they have the proficiency to speak in English, I also encountered the struggle to talk to the locals in French. I learned that most of the French I met downplayed themselves to be bad at it (even when I know and heard them speak that they are good after all), and some do not speak English at all. I, personally, think that they can speak some good English but most are not just confident about it, in which I understand because I know what it felt like when I used to live in the Philippines. But in respect to the locals, I tried to learn the basic French as much as I could and one of my resolutions next year is to formally learn them with a good French teacher. I have few enough verbs to arm me in my next trip to Marche Provencal, but I need more confidence to speak it out loud, because most of the time, I am so bad at it, they would, in their amusing and congenial way, rather let me talk to them in English.
Relaxed. Perhaps it’s the normal vibe here in the south of France. There is art on how to live the southern French life in the most relaxing way. When you are soaked under the beautiful Mediterranean sun for more than 300 days a year (we got 365, but you know, we have the occasional/seasonal rains here), there is a perfectly good reason to be relaxed. Gosh, at summer, I even see the people in the office wear shorts and sandals as if they would be off to the beach as soon as someone realizes il est cinq heures de l’après-midi, and the next thing you know, the office desk beside you is already empty. 😛 I love going to the beach during summer, and in the summer of 2020, me and my friend found an exclusive spot away from people (thanks, Covid!) where we can go on a pique-nique, and take a dip afterwards!
Another one of the things I learned during the few months since I got here (it was summertime, y’all!) was how people can work hard in the office but can be really relaxed after office hours. There is a work-life balance here in France that I was able to adapt, and believe me, it’s one of the best things one should learn to live with. My colleague, who recently retired, once told me some good advices when I was stressing on a task. He said to breathe and relax, and showed me how he get things done easily with less stress – one of the best things I will remember fondly about him!
No phones on the dining table! In Asia, or probably somewhere else in the world too, some people takes about a few minutes of time to take photos of what is on the table as well as group photos of the people around the dining table. There, we seemed to be constantly in motion, having somewhere to go or do next afterwards. While it also happens here in my experience, it’s rare. And while I also don’t take a lot of photos of the food or myself when I’m dining out with others, I know that in Asia, we are different. I know, by experience, that we also look at our phones while eating. But here, I learned to keep the phone off the table. Here, I enjoyed conversations with fellow diners on the table. Here, I forget about the time and enjoyed the company of friends while having a delicious meal. And I learned to appreciate that kind of culture. It’s satisfying to be able to bond with others, because eating with friends is more than just a thing we all do during that time of the day. It’s also about being able to reconnect with them and learn and rediscover the different aspects of life through shared food and time.
Wine. Even before I moved to France, I’ve been a lover of wine. I don’t know how it started but I think it was destiny that I was relocated here in France. It’s like water when one would have it during office lunch hours, LOL! It amazes me that people spent a special amount of time in the wine section of the supermarket or at wine stores to carefully select the perfect wine to match with their dinner plans for the night. I learned a few more things from these people, too and like they say here, take it in moderation. Be a responsible drinker. But please, enjoy the wine, my friends. There are so many to choose from!!!
Cheese. I admit that there are some cheese that my nose could not really stomach, not matter how good they are, but nonetheless, the overall experience in the cheese section is exceptional. And when in France, one must enjoy and indulge with all the selections available, may it be at the restaurant or something that you can easily find at the supermarket. Just like wine, one of the busiest aisles in the supermarket is the cheese section. It causes human traffic on weekends, while some opted to take a queue number at the special cheese section of a big grocery to get a fresh portion of their favorite cheese. In weekend markets, there are also cheese sellers and the queue is always exceptionally busy, too. When you are in France, be open-minded and be adventurous especially when we are talking about cheese. It’s always a good decision to try it.
Bread. I won’t forget to put this in the list, especially that this is one of the best things the French has done the world a big favor, the culture and love for bread. Any kind of bread. There are lots of them! Croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, brioche, pain de campagne… But what I find amusingly adorable is seeing a French guy, walking down the street with a baguette in hand as if ready to strike anyone with it who would do him any harm. But wait for a few moments because you would witness how he would enjoy a good baguette by ripping its head off, and gosh, just writing this makes me want a good fresh baguette right now, but it’s early evening and the boulangerie is closed for tonight already! LOL! But one thing’s for sure: I can tell you that there’s nothing better than having the first crunchy bite of the fresh baguette once you buy one from the bakery. In Asia, I don’t like baguettes at all because it’s hard and you can even use it as a baseball bat (or probably I just tried the bad ones when I was there). But here, there would always be something good from the nearby boulangerie (bakery). The best times to go, I’ve only observed, would be in the morning, lunch time and at three in the afternoon. I always see the long queue during those hours. On weekends, one of the best boulangeries in town would have a long queue at ten am. I would pass by it as I go to Marche Provencal, going back about thirty minutes later and the queue is still long.
Discussions. The locals love to talk. They love to discuss and argue. During my first month, I would watch TV and there would be one TV program dedicated to a debate about any topics, but mostly about politics. In their news programs, they have certain portions where they would debate. In the office, there would also be debates. I had moments of awkwardness in some of the meetings I had just by listening to them arguing in French, hehehe. They like to speak what’s on their mind, and while sometimes it’s fascinating, I feel intimidated, too.
When I need to have a hearing exercise on understanding the French language, I would have to go to the market or grocery or at a nearby café just to listen to them talk. In public transportations, such as the buses, sometimes they would discuss with the driver before moving on deeper inside the bus, LOL. In the markets, they would sometimes discuss about the weather or explain about the goods they are selling to their patrons. In the café, they would discuss about weather (too), politics, books or movies they watched on Netflix, among others. In the office, you would see people discussing in the middle of the hallway or at the coffee room, or even after the meetings. And I find it very interesting because I, for one, love to get into interesting conversations about anything and everything, and most of the people I met are diverse and open to discuss about any topics.
The Roads in France. I was already scared at the drivers in the Philippines and Thailand. But one should be warned about the French drivers. While most of my acquaintances are responsible drivers, they also drove fast. Also, there are millions of roundabouts in France and I’m still trying to figure out the right of way since we never had this in Asia. The French way of driving is probably a talent, too, especially when there are different speed limits in the highway at a certain amount of distances, hahaha.
If you’re crossing the road, make sure to be careful and everything’s in the clear. The streets in smaller cities like the one I live in are narrow, so always be on the lookout for those drivers as if they were being chased by Jason Statham. For a couple of times, I got surprised by a fast driver suddenly turning around the corner of my apartment even when I’m on a pedestrian walk. Always be careful when crossing the street, even when the pedestrians have the right of way on the crossing lines.
Fitness. There is a great respect for people who exercise. This has been proven during the lockdown when a specific condition has to be checked in the Attestation de déplacement dérogatoire when going out during the lockdown and curfew hours. We were limited to 1 hour of exercise and within a distance of 1km. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be joggers during that period. During the normal days, there would be people jogging around, cycling or hiking in the mountains. Any forms of fitness are possible. In the office, we even have locker rooms to change and shower after doing some fitness regime. I, for one, liked to walk around. I’m not a jogger, but more of a hiker, and as one who lives in the south of France where I have the sea and the mountains all around me, it’s a beautiful advantage. 🙂
Dogs. There must be some sort of history on why most French have dogs as they walk around the streets, and I haven’t read anything about it yet. During the lockdown, there was an exceptional condition in the attestation that allows a person to go out with their dogs for 1hr and within 1km radius distance. I’m a dog-lover, and imagine my joy during the first time I walk around the streets of this town and meeting people with their dogs with them. While I find it mostly charming, there are some who were insensitive about their pets that they would drag their dogs when clearly the poor canine was too tired to even manage it. Also, the poops are everywhere. So better watch out for that pretty sidewalks, especially in Paris. You’ll never know when is the lucky day that you will step into one smelly jackpot. 😛
The Wheelie. While this is not exclusive here in France, I’ve seen more young people doing this here than anywhere else I’ve been to. Wheelie is what you called when driving with a front wheel raised off the ground. While they think it’s art and perhaps a talent, call me old-fashioned, but I still think it’s dangerous. I’ve seen a lot of young people doing that here with their noisy motorbikes, sometimes, down the slopes of Sophia Antipolis. Tsk.
Tiny elevators. In my apartment, it can only fit one to two persons. I even found it a miracle that the movers were able to fit those sixteen boxes I had from Thailand in the elevator. The biggest elevators I had so far were the ones in the Eiffel Tower lol 😀
No elevators. Just stairs in the apartment building. This is fairly common in Europe, I think, because I experienced this in other EU countries, too. I am lucky that my apartment has one. In Paris, I’ve experienced staying in an AirBnb apartment without the lift and I have to take six flights of stairs. If you’re traveling to Europe, make sure that you’re only bringing enough luggage. You will be surprised at the amount of energy you have to make just to reach to the room you booked. 😛
Early closing hours. I got used to the busy cities in Asia where I would be out in the streets, in the mall or restaurants until about midnight. The streets are busy and traffic could go on until well into past midnight. But here, the shops close as early as five in the afternoon, and eight or nine in the evening at some of the large supermarkets. The restaurants would close later, the bars are even much later. The store hours also vary depending on the seasons. The stores stay open at a later time, while during winter, they close early while others are closed exceptionally for the said season. It’s quiet in the evening and I remember the times I will walk home in a quiet, empty street after watching a movie at the cinema with friends or dinner with them at the restaurants in the old town. Perhaps because I live in a small city, it’s neither Paris or Nice, but nonetheless, it’s different for me. But you know what? I love the simplicity of this kind of life, where we retire early and spend the rest of the evening with our family and friends.
Church Bells Tolling. There is a church just near my apartment. It starts tolling at eight in the morning until eight-thirty in the evening. It will remind you to drink your vitamins at half-past eight 😛 and take the lunch break at noon. You. Will. Never. Miss. It. And the beauty of every towns in France is that there will be churches at the center of it, and from what I read, this has been situated strategically during the old times as a lookout (as it’s usually the highest point of the town) and gives out a warning for any enemies that might plan to lurk around and attack. It sends out messages to the community. For example, if somebody died, they church bells would toll differently. During the first lockdown in March 2020, it tolled significantly every eight in the evening and everyone would go out to applaud the health workers. Every 11th of November, Armistice Day, the commemoration of the end of World War I makes the church bells toll at 11 times during the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the day.
Hmmm… what else? I know I still have more. Only a few years in France and there were lots of things to discover that you cannot find in the books or on TV. I realized that I had good learning experiences for every time I encounter something unexpected while living a life here. I love it here. I’m lucky to have met some good people (and even have good neighbors, too). I’m going to list down next time what I need to add, and will have a second part of this blog and link it here. 😉