Category Archives: Survival of the fittest

Eating like a Frenchie

Himself brought home figs from the market yesterday and declared “they’re bloody in season so I says bloody heck I’m gonna buy some”.

The French have this thing they call “manger de saison“.  It means only eating fruit and veg that is in season.  It’s not very revolutionary and up until globalisation everybody had to do it.  But what is interesting is that the French, stubborn and headstrong as they are the wee devils, insist on continuing the tradition.  And it’s not even a hipster thing.

So why the culinary grit?  Apart from their adorable stubborn streak they reckon it tastes better, is more aligned with your nutritional needs, is less processed, costs less, has less carbon footprint and so on.  And after much navel gazing and not much scientific proof I reckon they’re right.

Having said that I can’t keep track of it because there are so many fruit and vegetables and I am admittedly a bit monomaniac when it comes to spuds.  But French kids learn it as they grow up and it becomes a part of their DNA.  Pardon the pun.

As an Irish girlie growing up in the eighties my main memory of figs growing up were fig rolls.  I used to love discovering them in my lunchbox at school.  Imagine my surprise when I saw what a real fig looks like.  Sorry Mum maybe you gave me real figs and I don’t remember.  Although I suspect you don’t give a fig.  Giggle.

dsc05588

So here’s the deal if you want to eat fruit like a Frenchie!

un-calendrier-pour-manger-local-en-respectant-les-saisons
I think I am going to print this in an effort to learn it

 

 

 

Crossing Pedestrians…

As part of my « survival in France » series

Crossing the road, so simple yet not.

This is a minor quibble, but seriously it would be a shame to come all the way to france only to squished on a pedestrian crossing…

First rule:

  • always use a pedestrian crossing
    • even if you see other people hurtling across the road, throwing themselves willy nilly in front of moving vehicules
    • this means nothing – NOTHING
  • one of those situations where one should not “do as the romans do”

first principle:

  • do not walk out onto the pedestrian crossing immediately
  • generally speaking cars in france do not automatically slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing
  • if you are lucky, drivers will see you and look at you in order to assess your level of engagement (while probably speeding up in order to get there before you do)

engagement

  • this word is used in the french text below
    • manifesting your intention to cross the road

Personally, I am up for a debate on what that means. Should I carry a “crossing-the-road-now-people” sign with me? Is there a secret hand wiggle that every French person learns in a dedicated ceremony in their fourteenth year on a full moon waning?

whatever, here is my guide to self-manifestation

  • plant one foot on the big white lines
  • fix the windshield of oncoming cars with a winning smile and an I-mean-business expression on your face (which while stern suggests you are not anal)
  • as the cars pass by in front of you, continue to parlay gently onto the crossing
  • after about three cars go by one will probably stop, hopefully before it squishes your toesies

second principle

  • don’t be surprised if cars then continue to pass behind you once you have crossed one side of the road
  • try to enjoy the slightly disconcerting wind as the car skims your sweet buttcheeks
  • chin down and keep going

follow through

  • once you are engaged, i.e. in the middle of the road – cars will stop for you
  • whatever you do, keep going
  • Otherwise you will get stuck in the middle of the road as drivers will be impatient with your dithering

Personal experience moment

Good experience

While crossing the road, the driver waved me across vigorously and gave me a huge smile – then I realized it was a colleague from work and literally skipped across torn between the pure bonhomie and the satisfaction of a happy coincidence

Bad experience

Nearly stepped out after engaging, realized the car wasn’t stopping, stepped back just in time, looked in the window and saw the driver studiously texting on their phone

  • They hadn’t even seen me

Felt like jumping on the car van damme style and hanging onto the roof by my fingernails to somehow prove the point that drivers should watch where they are going.

Some backup info: https://survivalskills.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/heading-to-france-pedestrian-priority-laws-have-changed/

From an Irish Road Safety Website (god bless the innocence of that nation)

You must approach the crossing ready, willing and able to stop if a pedestrian steps onto it, so your speed must be reduced to enable you to do this. You must not approach the crossing so fast that you are not able to stop safely if you have to but on the other hand you must not drive needlessly slowly up to it. Sometimes simply easing off the gas pedal will be sufficient to allow a pedestrian more time to cross before you reach the crossing. If you have stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross and they appear hesitant and undecided give them time to make up their mind. Do not beckon to them to try or to make up their minds for them, also when you enter the zig-zag area you must not overtake the leading moving motor vehicle on the approach to the crossing or the leading vehicle that has stopped at the crossing to allow pedestrians to cross.

And from http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passage_pour_pi%C3%A9tons_en_France

Le Décret no 2010-1390 du 12 novembre 2010 (JO du 16 novembre 2010) introduit dans le code de la route de nouvelles dispositions relatives à la traversée des chaussées par les piétons :

Art. 12. − L’article R. 412-37 est complété par l’alinéa suivant : « Les dispositions du présent article ne s’appliquent pas aux aires piétonnes et aux zones de rencontre. »

Art. 17. − Le premier alinéa de l’article R. 415-11 est remplacé par les dispositions suivantes : « Tout conducteur est tenu de céder le passage, au besoin en s’arrêtant, au piéton s’engageant régulièrement dans la traversée d’une chaussée ou manifestant clairement l’intention de le faire ou circulant dans une aire piétonne ou une zone de rencontre. »

L’article 17 était auparavant rédigé de la manière suivante : « tout conducteur est tenu de céder le passage au piéton engagé […] » ; le conducteur est désormais tenu de céder le passage au piéton s’engageant, c’est-à-dire « en mouvement entre le trottoir et la chaussée, en faisant un ou deux pas sur le bord du trottoir ou sur le bord de la chaussée ». D’autre part, le décret introduit la notion de « manifestation de l’intention de traverser » : « ou manifestant clairement l’intention de le faire ». Ce peut être en faisant un pas soit sur le bord du trottoir, près du caniveau, soit sur la chaussée au bord des voitures en stationnement et en regardant le conducteur, et dans ce cas, le piéton s’engagera ensuite si la voiture s’arrête : c’est la consigne qui est donnée dans quelques pays étrangers[réf. nécessaire] et c’est ce qu’on enseigne couramment aux enfants en France[réf. nécessaire].

Un piéton « régulièrement engagé » doit cependant avoir évalué la visibilité ainsi que la distance et la vitesse des véhicules (article R. 412-37)[1]. Il ne dispose pas d’une priorité absolue comme dans une aire piétonne ou une zone de rencontre.

Ah G’wan!!!

Ah g’wan!

 

Everybody in Ireland knows what I am talking about.

 

Ah ye will!

> No I’m grand thanks.

Are ye sure?

> Well….I wouldn’t want to put ye to any bother now…

Ach sure I’m making one for myself now

> Ah well in that case g’wan then.

 

What am I yapping about? Tea, and the drinking of.

Where? In Ireland.

 

Irish people love drinking tea. Once upon a time there was always a pot of tea going on the hob. Teapots were large affairs with a lot of encrusted tea on the inside. That adds taste by the way. Tea would start it’s day as a fresh youngster and consist of boiling water and 2-3 teabags. Then as the day wore on it would mature nicely until in the evening it would become “a bit strong”. As it got drunk, extra teabags would be added of course. Irish mammies know just how many teabags go in and when. Irish people as they grow up refer always to the Irish mammy to see if it’s the right time to add a teabag.

 

When you “call over” to someone or if you are doing a bit of “ceili-ing” you always get asked if you want some tea. And it is perfectly normal to say no the first time. This gives the person you have called over the opportunity to not give you the tea and that indicates how long you should stay. If the discussion goes as above you are good for an hour or two of chat, craic and who knows what all else.

 

When you move to a different country it all changes. In most cases, if you say no, then you don’t get. This is something I and most Irish people realize fairly quickly, but it is really difficult to get the hang of saying “yes please!” immediately. When you have grown up with the initial 5 minutes of discussion to decide how much you really want something it is a real culture shock to decide within 5 seconds if you want or don’t want something.

 

Take France for example, everything related to food is mostly very well organized. Food is at certain times and there is no snacking so either you have missed a meal and are hungry or you haven’t. So when someone offers you something to eat/drink it is quite simple to decide whether you want something or you don’t. Because if you have missed a meal, that means you haven’t eaten in eight hours. The only time when there might be a bit of hesitation is in the late morning (a wee coffee perhaps?) or in the evening around aperitif time.

 

If you combine this beautifully synchronized nutritional organization with the irish tendancy to say ah no sure you’re alright, it can lead to some very hungry newcomers in the first twenty-four hours in France. Survival instinct is a great thing though so most people do ask for some bread (and tea) before going to bed. And then feel incredibly awkward for the whole night and wake up very tired the next morning, and quite resolved to say yes please the next time.

 

Some people have a theory that this high-discipline-no-snacking mentality is part of the reason why a lot of French people are very slim. I don’t know myself and I would not purport to be a dietician. What I have noticed is that mealtimes are rigidly adhered to and generally one eats small amounts of a lot of different things. And that French people talk a lot about how nice everything tastes.

 

Breakfast

you are allowed to eat whatever you want. Mostly people have yoghurt and fruit, or bread and fruit and a hot drink. Hot drink can be tea, coffee or even hot chocolate. When French people are feeling very “gourmand” i.e. greedy, they might plunk for a bit of ham and cheese.

 

Lunch

is a grand affair. One always eats a full lunch and for newcomers it can be a bit intimidating. Especially if you are at a large canteen and you have to pick things out to eat. What I have seen as a general trend: there always seems to be a bit of salad at the beginning. In the middle there is meat and a bit of veg (not necessarily a potato) and for dessert there will be fruit/yoghurt or a bit of cake.

 

Dinner

tends to be late in the evening and as it often follows an aperitif may tend to be quite a light collation. If you invited to a meal at a friend’s house, don’t hesitate to tuck into the aperitif fare as the meal might be quite late. One time I landed over to a mate’s house for a meal, and at 9 o’clock they started cooking. I nearly died that night as I had been thinking since 7 o’clock “well now I won’t fill myself up with those tasty looking carrots and tomatoes, and sure they will be giving us dinner soon”. So, having lived to tell the tale I can say that if one has a small tummy/large appetite and hasn’t eaten since lunchtime, a wee snack does not go amiss before a dinner “entre amis”. At least at the beginning of your stay in France. Then as you get used to the vagaries of French living and things like “being polite while being hungry” it all becomes much easier.

 

Having said that, dinner chez one’s French friends is a fabulous occasion. Between the adventurous cooking and the hours of convivial chat (frequently about said adventurous cooking) it is a moment of pure pleasure.   It lasts forever – you could be sitting at the table for hours, and most of the people I know have an innate sense of timing. I always seem to be swirling the right red wine which somehow goes perfectly with the new and exciting mouldy cheese that is begging to be tried. So it goes very quickly and because one doesn’t eat huge amounts in general, when one leaves one doesn’t feel like one should be rolled home. Of course, as an occasionally tired and grumpy individual there are times when I am fit to be tied and am so tired I just want to crawl into my leaba. But I have to admit those are rare occasions.

 

In any case, making up the whole 5-ugly-fruit-and-vegtables a day has been easy here over the past few years since I started getting into the general flow and mealtime brainwashing. Needless to say I miss Irish fries terribly and I still don’t understand why people don’t eat more potatoes. But perhaps that wisdom is yet to come.

To Bise or not to Bise

Definition: La bise – To kiss somebody on the cheek

Ever wondered why people are always kissing in France?

Well, this something I have wondered about (and occasionally panicked over) since I arrived here.

What to do? How to do it?  Here follows a few of my half-baked theories based on trial and error.

disclaimer: I am no expert and consider this a live and learn exercise with alot of learning left to do – as I suspect most French people do….

When does it happen?

French people bise each other all the time. When you arrive somewhere it is pretty much mandatory to bise the people you meet.

This can be when you arrive in the office in the morning or at a social gathering. Never mind that you are half awake or that you are feeling a bit smelly, you shall kiss people.

However, know that there is etiquette associated with the kissing..

Ze Rules

Of course, as with many things in life the rules are different for women and for men. Having said that there are no set rules.

As with many aspects of life in France it is more a set of exceptions. (ever done french? think passe compose with the verb etre)

So women are more likely to exchange la bise with their colleagues. Men are more likely to shake hands. Men may exchange la bise with other men, but in general this is due to a previous well established common historical bond, for example we grew up together, we worked together for 10 years in a different county, you saved my cat from a mudslide, you saved my sock from my cat etc. etc.

When?

How to know when to bise and when not to bise, and how does one bise others? Well I asked this question after a couple of years of utter confusion. Answer was, well you just have to kind of go with the flow. So if someone looks like they are willing to exchange bises, go for it. This can be indicated by a tilting of the head, big smile and incoming approach to your personal space.

However, if the person you are greeting holds out their hand, this is an indication of non-willingness. They may do this because they suspect you don’t want to bise, so don’t take it badly.

What not do do

Warning: sometimes you may end up in the strange situation where you start to shake hands and midway both people realize they want to exchange bises and then you end up doing both. Which is in fact is quite an intimate embrace. Lock and hold kind of situation. Here the best thing to do is to disengage as gently as possible and so far as I can make out, eyes down, sidle to the left and continue to converse as if lock and hold neeever happened. (suggestions welcome here)

How does one do it?

To bise someone, you tilt your head to the right (very important to avoid headbutts), move your face forward, place your cheek on the other persons cheek and do a quiet kiss sound. Loud mwah mwah darling is not really the done thing here. It seems that actually kissing someone on the cheek i.e. planting your lips on their cheek is bit of a no-no too. Having experienced this a few times I can confirm that it is mildly unpleasant (kind of sticky), whereas the quiet mwah mwah version is quite pleasant – peoples cheeks are so soft, women’s especially (sorry but its true).

Advantages/disadvantages

Associated with all this, there are of course pros and cons.

Advantages are that you really you get a good sense of how people are doing when you meet them. The human contact is very grounding, and in some circumstances can help dissipate tensions whether it be a family or work context. It is also quite simply a lovely way to make human contact.

Disadvantages are that in some situations you may encounter some sleezes who make it their business to bise you as much as possible. This of course applies to both sexes and in all directions. Also you may find yourself in front of someone who obviously hasn’t had a shower in three days and you are confronted with possible diplomatic incident. Also three day shadow is prickly!!! And there is the bise-rate (we missed!), where you headbutt someone or end up in a lock and hold situation with your boss and other similarly cringeworthy situations.

A few technical points to note:

    • Depending on where you live in France, the number of bises are different, varies from 1 -4, although don’t worry there are maps which indicate how many per region (like this one!)
bise-map
No. of kisses per region in France

 

  • French people think that Irish/English/German/Swedish/Finnish/American etc. do bises
  • When you think about it, we do – but mostly with family and maybe some (close) friends
  • When foreigners arrive in the office or the family they will be the happy recipient of many bises
    • this may cause neck spasm or crick in the neck to the unprepared

Overall, I must say I recommend whole-heartedly as it is a very positive aspect of French living. So if you are hesitating or a little bit ill at ease, my recommendation would be – go for it! After a few weeks you will be totally at ease.

However, if you really don’t want to – then that’s fine too. Shaking hands and big smiles are grand. Whatever keeps you relaxed and happy….