Ahh...Fall in France. Could there be a more lovely time of year to visit my favorite country? As many of you know, I've spent a large portion of the past two months visiting Lyon and Paris, doing research for my next novel, and eating chocolate croissants. If you follow me on Twitter, you will be surprised to learn that I have not actually morphed into a giant pain au chocolat.
I know, I'm surprised too.
Contrary to what you might think, life in France is not all roses (or chocolat and baguettes). Every place has its imperfections, its silly moments, and France is far from perfect. But, as my fellow blogger friend Finding Noon told me on my latest trip to Paris, she knows France has its problems, every country does. But she chooses her problems . . . and she chooses France.
It is exactly because of all of the silly things that happen each time I come to France, because of its imperfections, because of the cultural differences, that I love it here so much.
And so, here are a few random details & histoires to give you a picture of la vie in France . . . according to little old moi.
While most of the time I eat a meal in France and think immediately afterward, "Okay, I can die now and have no regrets" there are definitely some interesting things to report on food and eating out in France. I know it's going to come as a shock to most of you who read my incessant Tweets, Facebook and blog posts about my love of pastries, chocolate, and wine, but at home in California, I am actually somewhat of a health nut. I make Kale smoothies for breakfast, munch on veggies and salads throughout the day, drink loads of green tea, can only drink about a glass of wine in one sitting, and I rarely stop at a bakery. (Gasp! I know!). I was even vegetarian for five years . . . and only recently did I begin eating meat again.
Luckily, my foray back into the world of eating meat came just in time for these trips to France. It is very difficile, and in my opinion, not so advisable to be a vegetarian in France. I'm generally not adventurous in my choice of meat and fish, but I am proud to say that I have tried all sorts of things these past two months that I never thought I would eat. And while I can list a few of them (saumon tartare, le canard, le pâté de campagne), there were a few instances where I had no clue what I was eating. But in my new spirit of living a more authentic French experience, I just smiled and dug in! (And only once did I regret this decision later!).
My French friends (almost) always finish their entire meal when they eat out. They begin with une entrée (appetizer), followed by un plat principal (main dish - usually involving meat), and finally un dessert. Often, they drink wine during the meal, and they take a coffee or tea afterward. Eating truly is an experience to be savored, not rushed, and the French are experts at making it enjoyable and delicious! But, eating meals of this size while loading up on drinks and desserts, and cleaning my entire plate, is an art I have not yet mastered. I'm more of a snack throughout the day kind of gal, so it's hard for me to eat an entire meal in one sitting, especially one of this size. To illustrate how culturally inept my eating habits are in France, a quick story:
One of the coolest things I've been invited to do this trip is have lunch with the romance editors at Bragelonne/Milady, a wonderful French publishing house based in Paris. So when the waiter took everyone's orders, some of the editors ordered an entrée, and they all ordered a plat principal. Then it was my turn. All eyes were on me, the américaine. I was a bit nervous, being the author in the hot seat, and I knew I would be talking a lot during this lunch and concentrating on my French. I didn't think I could handle simultaneously eating a huge plate of meat (still have a bit of vegetarian in me after all!). So, I ordered the only thing on the menu that did not contain meat - a green bean and mushroom salad. After I ordered, the waiter shot me a confused glance, then asked what I would like for my main dish. I told him I'm only having the salad. More confused glances (and some giggles) circled the table. (This happens every time I only order only a salad in France. But what about the meat?? The main dish?? They must be thinking, oh those silly américains!).
The lunch went extremely well, and the editors were all charming, interesting, and lovely! They ate their delicious meat dishes while I fielded questions on self-publishing, e-books, Amazon, publishing in France vs. the US, (all in French mind you...making me very happy I'd had a few weeks to brush up on my language skills!). And because of all of this fun chit chat, I barely had time to put a green bean in my mouth.
Soon after, everyone had cleaned their plates, but I still had my stack of green beans. The waiter came around and cleared the table. He glanced at my beans and asked me: "Vous avez terminé, Madame?" (Are you finished?). Embarrassed (and quite hungry), I replied, "Pas encore." (Not yet).
I tried to squeeze in a few more green beans, but I was answering so many questions (and having a lot of fun in the process), so finally I gave up. The waiter cleared my plate, green beans and all, and I hoped the sweet French editors who'd taken their time to lunch with me wouldn't think all Americans are such ridiculous eaters. I did make up for it come dessert time though - I ordered a fantastic apple tart . . . and somehow had no problem finishing that!
Every time I come back to France, for approximately the first day or two, I speak French with an atrocious accent. This is usually followed by moments of extreme panic and terror. I used to live in France, I have a Master's in French, and I was a French teacher for God's sake! Where did my accent go?? Then, thank God, by the end of the 2nd day, something magical happens, and I can speak again! The French people stop answering me in English and realize that I can hold my own, and even compliment me on how well I speak.
Whew. I don't know what it is, but the first day back in France always makes me a little nervous. I am very aware of the fact that I am not French, that I'm a foreigner, and no matter how many times I visit, never mind the fact that I've lived in France before, this scary, what-am-I-doing-here, they're-all-going-to-know-I'm-an-imposter feeling takes over. But after a few days of practice and getting warmed up again, I remember. I'm in France. I love it here. Yes, I have a petit accent, but there's no need to get all worked up about it (or to allow it to be so atrocious the first day! Get it together woman!).
France vs. the US - On living in two different worlds:
I often feel like I'm two different people, living out two opposite lives in completely different worlds. On one hand, I love my life in San Diego - the gorgeous beaches, the sun, the healthy lifestyle (yoga and organic produce everywhere!), and of course wonderful friends & family nearby or a phone call away. But then I come to France, drink a cup of vin chaud while strolling down a cobblestone street in Vieux Lyon, and I am in heaven. I write all day long while listening to the "Amélie" soundtrack, I dream about doing ballet again . . . I am inspired here. Add to that the pain au chocolat & fraises I ate yesterday, and I can hardly contain myself. I am in love with life here. I always have been, and I always will be.
And my love of France isn't only about the lifestyle and the pastries, it's also about the people. I have made amazing friends here - writers, artists, actresses, singers, designers, bloggers . . . all artistic, like-minded people who I connect so well with, and who I will be so sad to leave when I return to the States next week.
And still, I miss home. I miss my family and my friends, and I know that France will always be here. I'll never stop writing about France . . . and for all its imperfections , I'll never stop loving the life I have when I'm here.
And finally, a few photos of my Paris trip...
|Lovely American bloggers in France! Flowers for identity protection of course!|
|The Opera - my favorite place in Paris.|
|First day back in Lyon - clearly this is a parking spot.|
|My favorite fountain in Lyon, where a lot of brainstorming takes place:)|
|Research at the Paris Opera for a scene in "Dancing with Paris"|