Monthly Archives: September 2008

"Un Petit Peu" French Friday – Be Unreasonable

Thank God for unreasonable Frenchmen.

*”Un Petit Peu” French Lesson#2 : Be Unreasonable

The French put a lot less store in Reason than us Anglo-Saxons.

When the French announce – and they frequently do – that they have taken action or made a decision sur un coup de tête it is done with pride. This is because un coup de tête means by definition that the twin filters of logic and reason have been bypassed in their entirety.

Make no mistake about it, whereas North American society makes a passtime of elevating “reasonable behaviour” (eating low-fat, high fibre meals, picking a compatible life partner, taking control of your health, etc.) into a new-age religion, the French consider Reason rather tedious. Which, when you think about it, isn’t that far off the mark.

They view unreasonable behaviour on the other hand as a sign of creativity, la passion, and an unwillingness to conform to society’s rules. The French place a lot of value in such things and let’s face it, they sure sound like a hell of a lot more fun than diligently forking back a plateful of broccoli.

My French husband Franck and the tale of how he chose his major in university is a prime example of how the French have no problem being unreasonable.

I picked English / French Literature at McGill only after many hours spent pouring over course catalogues, conferring with advisors, and contemplating how I could spin my chosen major into a profitable and fulfilling career (just for the record, I’m still working on this head- scratcher).

Guess how Franck chose to major in Sociology?

The girl he had been admiring from afar happened to be just in front of him in the choosing majors sign-up line, and she signed up for Sociology. If he didn’t sign up for Sociology as well, how was he ever going to end up in the same classes as his unrequited love? Besides, if Sociology was good enough for that intriguing girl who bore a striking resemblance to Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics, it was good enough for him.

The irony of this story is that the Annie Lennox doppelganger dropped out after only two semesters, never to be seen again. By that time, however, Franck had started to find Sociology rather interesting.

And if Franck wasn’t the kind of person to do things on un coup de tête, I don’t think he would have openly declared his interest in being my boyfriend on the very first night we met, despite the fact that I had just informed him I was seeing someone else. I also don’t believe he would have packed his gunny sack full of his grandmother’s gateau de savoie and bottles of Burgundy crémant like he did and fly away on a one-week ticket to Montreal so that we could be together.

And when I think about it, many of the best decisions I ever made in my life were made counter to logic and reason; I am not French enough to quiet those little voices completely, but I can choose to ignore them.

Here are just a few examples – moving in with Franck when I was a mere 18 years old, taking a year off after university to travel to Nepal, moving to France with two young children and the crazy notion of renovating and equipping La Maison de la Vieille Vigne in a mere 6 months, deciding to have a third child…

So go ahead and be un petit peu French this week. Give yourself permission to be unreasonable, you may be glad you did.

*For the uninitiated, “Un Petit Peu French” Fridays give ideas for injecting a bit of “Frenchitude” (French + attitude – get it?) into your life, no matter where you live.

Another "mauvais caractère" in the family

“DONNE-MOI that glass!” she says. “ET TOUTE DE SUITE!”

I finally capitulated today and took Clem to see our family doctor. She has been whinging constantly over the past week. I kept chalking up the grumpiness to teething, but Franck began to ponder whether we were actually neglecting an ear infection or something – I think maybe he was also harbouring a secret hope that the unpleasantness could be cured by a round of antibiotics. Even I had to ask the question – how long can teething possibly drag on for?

Clem was proclaimed to be the picture of health, however, and the doctor didn’t even think the radical change in her disposition could be explained by teething. He felt that she was merely developing a temper.

Gee, I wonder who she could have inherited that from (*cough*)!?

Authentic France Travel Tip Tuesdays

You guessed it – these new weekly posts were also another brain storm upshot of my R&R time in Canada this summer.

Whereas Un Petit Peu French” Fridays give ideas for injecting what I have coined Frenchitude into your life, no matter whether you life in Paris or in Tuktoyaktuk, my “Authentic France Travel Tip Tuesdays” are travel tips for people who are traveling to France and want ideas on how to best experience the authentic (not touristy) side of this amazing country.

I’ll bet this proper french monsieur remembered his “bonjour“, knowing that otherwise he may get a cold shoulder with his slice of cheese.

Authentic France Travel Tip #1: Remember the Power of “Bonjour

It is true that in many ways French culture is more formal than its North American counterpart. One of the most concrete examples of this is the importance of greeting people with a polite “bonjour“.

Many visitors to France don’t realize it, but it is considered extremely rude here in France if you break into a conversation, or ask a question, or place your order at a restaurant, without first saying “bonjour“.

Remembering this little, magical word is sometimes more difficult than you would think for non-francophone travellers to France. It just so happens that I am sympathetic to this dilemma, because I have been there too.

Who hasn’t ever had doubts about their pronunciation – is it pronounced “bone-jur” or “bahnjur“? perhaps it’s just better for everyone if I dispense with the word altogether – or stood in line at the boulangerie desperately trying to remember the sentence we have just cobbled together out of our pocket French / English dictionary? Let’s face it, the older we get the less we like to feel like an ass. Therefore, these kind of situations, even though we’re on vacation, can prove stress-inducing. As a result, it is surprisingly easy to launch into what we’re asking and believe (wrongly, as it turns out) that it doesn’t matter if we dispense with niceties.

Over the years I have been chided by shop-keepers, friends, and family here in France because if I am stressed out or in a tizzy or simply off in dream land (which happens more often than you would think) I have been known to start mid-conversation without saying “bonjour” first.

However, do learn from my past mistakes if you can: launching into anything without first saying a polite”bonjour” is never a good idea, except maybe reporting that there has been a traffic accident, and even then…

So remember this rule of thumb – say “bonjour” first in any situation, then pause for a moment and smile. You will surprised how everything else follows so easily once this basic tenet of French manners is respected.

A Video of La Vieille Vigne

A recent guest this August, Steve Dunham sent me the URL of his blog which had this fabulous video he had taken while in Villers-la-Faye.

Click on the bold link to see Steve’s video of La Maison de la Vieille Vigne and his stroll around Villers-la-Faye.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did – I particularly loved his musical choice.

Also have a boo at Steve’s Slide show of Burgundy . I think I may have to steal a few of his awesome photos of the old houses in Dijon.

Merci Steve!

Un Petit Peu French Fridays

Quiz – what is missing in the above photo?

My down time in Canada allowed me to have many brain waves, and one of them was to introduce Un Petit Peu French Fridays on my blog.

I’ll be moving back to Canada in a year’s time (though will still be coming back to France on a regular basis – that was the whole point with the vacation rentals in the first place) and this summer I got to thinking about how I was going to go about injecting the aspects I love about life here in France into my North American existence.

And..ta da!…I had a flash of inspiration for Un Petit Peu French Fridays. These once a week posts will be full of ideas for injecting un petit peu of frenchness into your life, no matter where you live.

So, as the French would say it, allez y!

Un Petit Peu French Lesson #1 : Nothing goes with an espresso like a square of good, dark chocolate

In the best (read: my favorite) French cafés, espressos are served with a small square of high quality black chocolate, which is the way God and the French intended it to be.

Indeed, nothing brings out the flavours of good coffee like excellent chocolate, and nothing brings out the flavours of excellent chocolate like good coffee.

I have a ritual after lunch every day where I sit down in my favorite spot in the living room where I can see the vineyards through the window, and enjoy my little espresso cup full of coffee and a square (or two) of black chocolate – it must have at least 72% cocoa to qualify for this exalted role.

The result is ten minutes of pure, unadulterated pleasure. This brief window of time belongs just to me. I put on the imaginary cone of silence, and have trained my children and husband that I am not to be disturbed for anything short of blood or dismemberment.

Shortly after first meeting my friend Charlotte I went to her house after lunch to drop something off. Before I could knock on the door I spied her through the French doors collapsed on her couch with her feet propped up on the coffee table in front of her, drinking a cup of black coffee and enjoying a square of Côte D’Or black chocolate with noisettes.

I knew then I had found a kindred spirit.

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason #3

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason #3: Because lingering, leisurely, delicious Sunday lunches are practically and institution.

We were welcomed back to Burgundy in this delicious, unbelievably enjoyable, and oh-so-Burgundian-way by our friends Isabelle and Martial, and were also joined in the dappled sunlight of their garden by Charlotte, Marco, and their brood.

It was the perfect chance for the adults to catch up on their respective summer adventures, for the kids to play, and for the babies to look cute and take it all in.

This particular “lunch” went until about 6:00pm at which time Franck and I and our bevy had to leave to go to a family reunion (and another meal), but they usually never end until well into the evening. They are truly one of my favorite things about living here although they do come behind, of course, our Burgundian friends.