Monthly Archives: January 2009

Frenchitude Lesson #20: Accept and Perform Random Acts of Gallantry

There is one particular incident which occurred when Franck and I were living in Canada that struck him as so absurd, so bizarre, so wrong that he still mentions it on a regular basis.

That morning he had gone down to our local bagel shop to pick up a mixed dozen and a pot of cream cheese.

On the way out he spied a woman on her way in and, without even thinking about it, he held the door open so that she could walk through. She shot him a filthy look, and before he could close the door behind her she looked back over her shoulder.

“I’m perfectly capable of opening doors for myself you know!” she huffed.

Franck came home so stunned from this encounter that I was amazed he hadn’t forgotten the bagels on the car seat.

He was brought up, like the huge majority of French men, to treat women with a little bit of extra attention and gallantry. It is simply understood over here – I’m still mulling over the thesis that maybe it has something to do with the Catholic veneration of Virgin Mary – that women; old or young, ugly or beautiful, deserve special treatment.

I have tried on many occasions to point out to my husband that the bagel-shop woman was probably just a paranoid cow, and that God knows such people exist the world over. To this day, however, Franck is still reeling in shock from that woman’s reaction.

Last year I had a lovely guest in her early 60’s staying at Le Relais du Vieux Beaune. One morning she sat herself down at one of the local cafés to enjoy a morning beverage and people watch (which endures as one of my favorite activities here in France).

The café was busy, and she installed herself at one of the only remaining tables on the terrace, one that hadn’t been cleared off yet. The waiter, who was run off his feet, must have thought she had already ordered, or that she had already drunk her coffee, because she waited for a long time and no-one came to ask what she wanted.

She finally leaned over to the handsome French gentleman sitting beside her and in her basic French asked if the waiter had been by to take his order yet.

When her neighbour realized what had happened he summoned the waiter and immediately resolved the misunderstanding. After the waiter had apologized profusely, the neighbour asked my guest what she would like to drink. She ordered a café au lait, and the two of them chit-chatted in his awkward English and her awkward French about Beaune and wine and her impressions of France thusfar.

The man eventually went inside to pay his bill. When he reemerged, he said that he unfortunately had to get to work, but that he had very much enjoyed their conversation. My guest glanced at her watch and realized that she had to be off too, and opened her wallet to pay her bill.

Non, non,” the man said. “I have paid for your café already. Je vous invite.”

When my guest began to politely protest he waved his hand and said, “It is my pleasure. You are a visitor to my ville and I am sorry that you had such a problème being served. I desire that you enjoy your time in Beaune.” And then with a charming smile, off he went on his elegant way.

My guest was pleasantly surprised, yet a little concerned about the propriety of it all. I assured her that such random acts of gallantry were simply a wonderful part of life here for women, and were meant to be savoured.

For example, when I was starting to get hugely pregnant with Clémentine, I complained to one of our close friends that I was having an impossible time bending down to put on my shoes. The next weekend he showed up with a gift – the longest shoe-horn I have ever seen, so long that I could use it to slip on my shoes without bending down at all. It was an adorable gesture, and one that still warms my heart when I think about it.

I believe that random acts of gallantry can, and should, be liberally performed and appreciated no matter where one lives.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Besancon or Bangalore.

Jeudi Noir? That all depends on your point of view…

If you were to believe the media, today is going to be another jeudi noir in France due to nationwide strikes against Sarkozy’s government.

Just read this for example. Trains, planes, and metros will not be working, all the teachers (even the one’s from our girls’ Catholic private school) are striking “in sympathy” and forget about trying to mail a letter. I phoned all of our guests currently in our vacation rentals and told them if they were planning on any day trips up to Paris, today wouldn’t exactly be ideal.

It’s a catastrophe! The news says. It’s a nation-wide chaos! It’s terrible!

Just tell that to two girls who, instead of revising verb conjugations in their school desks, get to play Playmobile in their pyjamas all day long.

Authentic France Travel Tip #18: Support Your Local Pizzaiolo

One of the great things about living in France is actually not a French thing at all; if you want to get technical, it is actually an Italian thing.

I’m talking about, of course, the local pizzaiolo (pizza maker) who in his pizza van stops in most of the bigger local villages once a week and churns out wonderful thin crust, wood fired pizzas for the hungry villagers.

I have always considered the French pizzaiolos to be the true International Men of Mystery, not only because of their astonishing pizzas, but because their movements seem to be dictated by no earthly laws.

However, at the moment you can find our local (and very, very good) pizzaiolo parked in his pizza van on Villers-la-Faye’s Salle des Fêtes pretty much every Thursday evening. This is right beside Jacky’s store / bistro, which is currently being renovated by its new owners.

He generally arrives in a cloud of pizza fumes at sometime between 6:30 and 7:00pm and he is there, taking orders and making pizzas, until at least 10:00pm.

The routine goes like this; you trot down the road (if you are staying at La Maison des Chaumes) or up the road (if you are staying La Maison de la Vieille Vigne) or through the vineyards (if you are staying in La Maison des Deux Clochers) and order your pizza, or pizzas – they’re very good, and make yummy leftovers. Monsieur Pizzaiolo will always tell you when you can come back to pick them up – usually anywhere from between 20 to 45 minutes depending on how busy things are.

When you come to pick up your piping hot pizza, you pay him by either cash or cheque. International Men of Mystery don’t take credit cards; that gets the government involved…. By the way, the choice of toppings is truly dizzying, and if you are feeling adventurous you should really consider trying the escargot one for a true ItalianBurgundian experience.

Here is “Le Napolitain” (our local pizzaiolo)’s schedule at the moment;

Monday – He’s in the nearby village of PernandVergelesses

Tuesday – He is in the village of FlageyEchezeaux, a bit farther afield

Wednesday – Corcellesles-Arts, again far afield


Friday – BlignylesBeaune (bit far afield)

Saturday – LadoixSerrigny (just down the hill from La Maison des Deux Clochers)

Sunday – A well-earned day of rest for pizzaiolos.

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Frenchitude Lesson #19: Buy the Seven Year Old in Your Life A Watch

One thing that I personally feel is often missing from our lives are rites of passage. Nice rites of passage (as oppossed to fraternity hazing or anything that involves cutting flesh) make us feel like we belong to a group and allow us to pause a moment and savour the headway we have made in this life of ours.

For my bevy I try to build rites of passage into their lives wherever I can. As a result, I am constantly on the lookout for traditions to include in our family repertoire.

In my friend Charlotte Buffet’s extended family, it is traditonal for every child to receive a watch on their 7th Birthday.

There is a reason behind this tradition, and one that is well-ensconsed in french culture. In France it is always said that when a child reaches the age of seven, they enter into l’age de raison or the “age of reason”. “Sept ans, age de raison” goes the rhyme. The French see seven as the magic age when children definitively leave babyhood behind them; the seventh Birthday is seen as an important first step on the road to adulthood.

At seven, a child is therefore viewed as capable of learning “reasonable” things such as telling the time, hence the meaning of a watch.

Here is Camille at her seventh Birthday party on Wednesday just after opening her watch. She knew she was going to get a watch from Charlotte B. for her Birthday, and she has been looking forward to it ever since Charlotte G. got her watch on her 7th Birthday…

As you can tell by her expression, to Camille the gift is far more than a watch; it is recognition that she has earned the right to be treated with a certain gravitas by the world around her. Anyone who knows Camille can tell you that Camille deeply values being taken seriously.

I have no vested interest at all in Swatch, but I have to day I LOVE the “Flik-Flak” brand of watches (that are a sub-brand of Swatch watches) for the traditional 7th Birthday watch.

They are sturdy and water-proof, but have gorgeous colourful designs for both girls and boys. They also come out with a cardboard clock and are designed to teach all those reasonable seven year olds how to tell the time.

As for the purple ribbon tied around Camille’s head, I’m frankly not sure quite what that is all about. Anyway, it would be pretty boring if she was reasonable all the time.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Macon or Maine.

Nous Aimons Obama

Everyone here in France , including little old moi, has seriously fallen for President Obama (mon dieu, how long have we been waiting to say that? Feels like forever).

All we hear about on the French news is a minute by minute replay of every paper Obama signs, every inspiring word that leaves his lips, and every seductive move he makes.

The French are just as interested in Obama’s sex appeal (more actually) than in his policy-making. Here are just a random sample of reasons why Obama is so very, very seduisant;

– Take a gander at that gorgeous, brilliant woman who shares his bed.

– Take a look at those two lovely, natural, yet poised little girls he has fathered.

– Check out the way that as soon as he opens his mouth to say something, everyone is riveted.

-Check out the way that intelligent words actually come out of his mouth. We had forgotten that a President could do that.

– Check out the fact that he is so very human – trying to kick his smoking habit and stumbling over his Presidential pledge. The French, and moi, aren’t big fans of perfection.

The French feel that Obama, even dubbed into awkward French, is downright sexy. As a result, the French now feel that America has become pretty darn sexy again too.

Sound Economic Advice From The Grape Journal

This was sent to me by my friend, the wonderful writer KC Dyer.

Retirement Planning

If you had purchased $1000.00 of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00.

With Enron, you would have had $16.50 left of the original $1000.00.

With WorldCom, you would have had less than $5.00 left.

If you had purchased $1000 of Delta Air Lines stock you would have $49.00 left.

But, if you had purchased $1,000.00 worth of wine one year ago, drank all the wine, then turned in the bottles for the recycling REFUND, you would have had $214.00.

Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.

Authentic France Travel Tip #17: Come in the Winter

These times of economic uncertainty can be a good thing, I figure, if it teaches people to think outside the box. This definitely goes for travel planning. One thing that I am always amazed at is that more people don’t think to come to France during the winter.

Of course France is lovely in the Spring, Summer, and Fall; I certainly don’t deny that. However, it is also gorgeous on a day like today – a 20th of January. The sun is shining and it is about 10 degrees outside – perfect for walking, biking, our touring.

Here are the reasons why I think it is high time winter travel should be discovered by the masses;

1. Both your airline tickets and vacation rental or hotel rents will be less expensive, sometimes up to as much as a 50% discount off high season.

2. There are few tourists here during the winter, so it is that much easier to integrate into the local population and meet the natives.

3. Many activities, especially in a wine region such as Burgundy, are not weather dependent; wine tasting, eating wonderful meals, going to the market, visiting chateaux and museums…Franck and I and the girls bike and walk throughout the whole year, so as long as you dress appropriately there is really very little you cannot do.

4. The winter period is the ideal time of year for the wine enthusiast to visit. For all of our winemaker friends here winter is their only downtime during the year. As a consequence, the winter months are far and away the best time for long, relaxed wine tastings with local vinters. It is no coincidence that the biggest annual wine festivals – the Trois Glorieuses and the Saint Vincent also happen during the winter when the winemakers have the time to party.

5. There is nothing like relaxing in front of a crackling fire with a glass of local red wine. This is less satisfying, however, in August.

6. If you come in January, you can eat many galettes.

La Maison des Chaumes – LIVE!

In preparation for our move across the pond this July, I am now starting to take bookings for rentals in our house here in Burgundy – La Maison des Chaumes – where much of the fun and frolic recounted on this blog takes place.

The house will be available for rent as of August 1st and I have to say it is a pretty ideal place to stay if you are coming to Burgundy. Hey, it is the place we created for ourselves to stay in when we come to Burgundy; that says it all.

To check out our new La Maison des Chaumes page on our lovely new website, just click on the link below;

The photos are a bit of a motley assortment at the moment as it is very hard to take photos without our personal flotsam and jetsam in the frame. As a consequence there are a lot of family and candid shots, but I figured these gave a pretty accurate idea of what the house is like to live in.

You can always email me any questions you may have, and you can find my email on our website .

Frenchitude Lesson #18: When Someone Asks How You Are Doing, Consider Telling The Truth

One of the biggest differences I have found between French people and North Americans is their response to the ubiquitous question, “how are you doing?”

In North America, the huge majority of people answer with a cheery “great!”. It is just understood in our society that even if your husband just left you and your house was burgled and your dog has taken to eating the wallpaper, it really isn’t polite to burden other people with your misery.

In France, when you ask the equivalent question, “ca va?” my advice is to brace yourself.

In France, the standard answer is not “great” or even anything remotely like that. In France, people answer with the truth. This can be shocking, to say the least.

Once I absent-mindedly asked a friend of mine ca va? after arriving at her apartment. She informed me that non, actually ca n’allait pas du tout. Her husband was an egotistical macho and she was thinking of demanding a divorce. On the off chance that I had missed the subtext of her answer, she tore off her wedding ring and hurled it across the parquet floor. I hadn’t been living in France long at that point, and it took me several minutes to recover from such a raw dose of the truth.

More recently, we were at a village event in Villers-la-Faye and I asked a fellow villager how he and his wife were doing. I had learned by then to brace myself.

“We’re trying to have a baby but we’re not having any luck,” the villager answered in a booming voice. “Apparently _______’s womb is so acidic that all my sperm get killed off before they can swim to her egg. It’s like she’s got Round-Up in there or something.”

See what I mean?

Once I got used to the vitriol and angst that comes pouring out when I ask French people how things are going, I began to find the honest answers rather refreshing.

Because frankly, although there are times in life when things truly are “great”, there are also many times when they are not.

Take this week, for example; the weather is cold and grey and winter seems to stretch endlessly in front of me, after buying Christmas and Birthday presents and paying pony club dues we have about 50 euros to live on for the next two weeks, I am submerged in work and still feel like I can’t catch up after the holidays, and to top it all off, in a fit of possessiveness Clémentine has hidden the TV clicker in some secret spot, and she has also decided to give up afternoon naps.

I know I have many things to be grateful for, and I am (albeit in an abstract way at the moment), but this week these petty annoyances mean that I am in the depths of a January mental funk.

When I am feeling as I do at the moment – not even in the vicinity of “great” – and everyone around me attests to feeling “great”, I frankly start to feel like a freak.

Whereas in France, I just feel like everybody else.

The Abominable…

This is what the weather has been like here lately. No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you due to Holiday excesses. Those vines are indeed sheathed in ice.

Very beautiful, but rather on the chilly side.

And this frigid weather brings out a very scary beast.

The abominable snow Clem-ster!!!