For years, Joy and I have wanted to live in a European city, imagining short daily walks to our local baker, butcher, and grocer for that day’s supplies. We also imagined peppering our days with short morning walks to a cafe for an espresso, and afternoons walks to another cafe for a glass of wine.
2020 is our chance to do that, and we’ve been taking full advantage. We are spending the year traveling around Europe, with France as our home base.
We’re finding that living in Europe gives us more insight (or, at least, observational opportunities) since we’re not busy trying to cram each day with visits to museums, cathedrals, castles, and archaeological sites. What follows is kind of brain dump of some of the things we’ve noticed so far.
My French is definitely improving, though that’s no great shakes as it was technically impossible for it to get worse. Not surprisingly, some phrases have gotten much better than others. Asking for two croissants, for example, may be my second best phrase. Repetition is everything.
- We’ve seen much less vaping than in the US — at least, less than in Ashland and the Bay Area. It may be because so many young people smoke actual cigarettes, particularly young women.
- In Monaco we saw several older women wearing fur coats. They looked real (the furs, not the older women), and several of the furs looked like they were from big cats. I decided to call these women “cougars in leopard clothing.”
- Monaco itself was elegant but I did have an allergic reaction to all that conspicuous consumption.
- Between Monaco, Nice, Cannes, and Antibes, I’ve never seen so many honkin’ huge yachts. I mean, massive. Joy refers these as “Big Dick displays” (as in, “Mine is bigger than yours”). They’re nice to look at, but even if I had a ton of money, I wouldn’t want one.
- Every time we come to France, I look forward to the bread, cheese and wine. France always exceeds my expectations. I may gain weight this year.
- It is impossible to walk 10 minutes in any random direction without passing a boulangerie or patisserie.
- I’ve decided to try eating the European way – keeping the fork in my left hand when eating with knife and fork. I’m mostly doing pretty well.
- I love duck and almost always order it if it’s on the menu. The French serve duck a lot of different ways. After our first two weeks in France, I took a break from canard in any of its forms. I’m also taking a break from mussel soup.
- There is a lot of foie gras on the menu. I think it’s the French equivalent to Americans and bacon. It shows up everywhere, sometimes, unexpectedly.
- Blue cheese ice cream? It was an amuse bouche dessert. A delightful surprise, indeed.
- Every farmer’s market we’ve visited has several cheese mongers.
- I wish my Nike exercise app had a ring dedicated to eating a charcuterie or mixed cheese plate. I’d always close that ring!
- Tacos are a thing. “French tacos” (aka “Lyon Tacos”) are a recent invention that consists of a flour tortilla wrapped around French fries, cheese, meat, other stuff like tomatoes, slathered in a sauce, and then grilled on a panini grill. We accidentally ordered these (we stopped at a kabob place and we were ordering gyros). I’m embarrassed to say that it was wonderful. And a gut buster
- If you Google what makes a restaurant a brasserie vs a bistro, and you get the spelling slightly wrong, you get a whole screenful of photos of women in their underwear — embarrassing when sitting in a cafe as the tables are very close together. BTW, quoting Wikipedia: “A brasserie can be expected to have professional service, printed menus, and, traditionally, white linen—unlike a bistro which may have none of these” (i.e., tend to be mom & pop places with simple, hearty food).
French and their dogs
- The French view of dogs is more accommodating than in the US. We’ll write a future post about dealing with the dog in Europe. In the meantime: We are taking Brighton to tons of places – even to visit several Roman archaeological ruins. We regularly bring him into restaurants, where unless there is a specific sign forbidding dogs, they’re welcome and even encouraged.
- French love little dogs. So many people have small, chunky dogs that when I saw someone walk by with a cocker spaniel, I thought, “Wow, that’s a big dog!”
- I don’t know if there is more dog shit on French sidewalks than in the US cities, but it sure seems that way. We don’t spend much time in US cities, so it’s hard to compare. There are free poop bag dispensers around but I guess people don’t care to use them. This may explain why people don’t walk with their noses buried in their smartphones. You definitely need to watch where you step!
Driving and Cars
- France highways uses a lot of automated cameras to control speeding. It took us about a week to figure this out and now we’re good about staying close to the speed limits. Hoping we don’t get a fistful of tickets when we turn in our car.
- French drivers, as with most Europeans, are incredibly skilled at parking. They can (and have to) squeeze their cars into the tiniest parallel parking spaces along narrow streets.
- On highways, everyone sticks to the far right (slow) lane and uses the middle lane for passing. When there are three lanes, the left-most lane is for super-fast drivers . But even they cut over to the right lane as soon as they can. Sometimes, we’ve been on highways with 3 lanes in each direction, with the middle and left lanes almost completely empty. In my opinion everyone trying to drive in the right lane whenever possible means a ridiculous amount of unnecessary lane changing, particularly because you’re always jockeying around slow-moving trucks. A local Frenchman agreed with me about the unnecessary lane changing, but he said that’s how folks drive here.
- For safety reasons, trucks aren’t allowed on highways during the weekends, so it’s just cars. That’s cool!
- Condoms dispensers are available on street corners. I haven’t seen them in bathrooms.
- You still have to pay to use many public bathrooms. If you aren’t carrying any coins, that can be a real pisser.
Next Up: Italy
We’ve spent almost a month in France. Next week we head to Italy for several weeks, where the food, wine, and cheese will continue to be fabulous, and the driving so much more exciting.