Okay, I have written about this before here. And yet, here I am again?! Just when I thought I was rocking this whole living in France thang, recently I came across situations that made me realise that I am still an amateur in France. What do you think? Recognise any? Feel free to add your own in the comments section. In no particular order of amateurishness…
1. Food Shopping On New Year’s Eve
What was I even thinking? I was lulled into a false sense of security as really the build up to Christmas here is non-existent compared to the UK. Or maybe it’s because I live in Normandy and not a major city with thousands of inhabitants. I was able to shop in the supermarkets with ease the week leading up to Xmas. So, given that everyone had eaten the scraps, I decided to pop down to my local (never that busy) super market to get some nibbles, drinks etc for a New Year’s Eve party we were attending. Whilst I was at it I figured I’d do the weekly shop. WRONG.
I got there to find, not only that the car park was full, but I had to park out on the road beyond the car park. Once in there, I immediately realised the error of my ways. I mean this is so French – leaving it to the last knockings – New Year’s Eve to buy your New Year’s Eve food and drink. Yarp they were seriously doing this. They weren’t getting the goods in the day before or the day before that. Nope. They were freestyling like crazy peeps – they probably just worked out what they were eating that morning. They were everywhere. At the Deli, perusing the cava, the nibbles – this was their version of a manic few days in Tesco’s. Still lame by busy standards but busy by Normandy standards. Avoid.
2. Galete De Rois – Boulangerie
I actually thought I bought this the week too early – but turns out I didn’t. It was on the Sunday 6th January this year. It’s to mark the end of the festive period. You buy a rather bland (sorry but it is even with the apple) pastry with a crown that sits on top. They also do a brioche version another unexciting cake. You slice the pastry into as many people you are sharing it with, plus an extra one for Mary or Jesus – not sure. The person that finds the bone china choking hazard figurine, is King or Queen for the day and can wear the paper crown. Now I cut this thing at tea time, so Miss Normandy had only a few hours to be top dog. Plus just like last year, when I cut the pastry, I always land on the figurine (féve) so everyone knows what slice it’s in. Next year I shall do it in secret.
Anyhow, the following week I trotted up to our local boulangerie to get my bread. They all make them with variations on what you’ll get inside – one boulangerie was churning out Johnny Hallyday figurines. This was an old crooner that died last year. The French love him. Think Tom Jones who’s gone all Elvis on you or of that ilk. Granted, I did get there at 11.50 am (another amateur mistake) and all the bread was practically gone. I saw that many people had pre-ordered their bread and their galete des rois. They were going in for second Sunday helpings. Mental note to self get there early around the galete period. More info on this tradition is in the link below.
3. When The French Are Driving Slowly
If the French are driving incredibly slowly, I’m talking like 10mph maybe 15mph, this is a huge apocalyptic sign for any other world citizen that you should not be on the road. Start panicking and questioning what an earth you are even doing driving your car in these conditions. No self-respecting person that wishes to remain walking, have their vehicle in tact will venture out on roads where the French are driving slowly. This is the biggest alarm bell that all is not well. Those alarm bells were ringing loud and clear in December. My youngest son had a parent’s evening on a Saturday morning (yes you did read that correctly) and we were going.
What an earth was I thinking driving the white knuckle ride that morning I don’t know. The rain had turned to ice so the roads were like ice rinks. I should have come to that conclusion when I skated to my car and saw the frozen rain all over the windows. Or when I got in and was able to put the window down and fist pump the frozen ice to the ground in one massive sheet. Did I say, do you know what, let’s not drive in this? No. I said “wow little man did you see that!” and off I went with my precious cargo in my heeled boots and other inappropriate outer ware.
When I saw the first car drive by, or should I say crawling, I realised straight away that no one should be out in these conditions. When I passed the car that was in the ditch already and when my son said “mum have you run out of petrol?” as my heart was in my mouth touching the brakes that weren’t registering on a hair pin bend with a nice giant drop into the countryside below. Moral of the story – if the locals are out driving and at speeds you never ordinarily see them drive at i.e pedal to the metal, in your back seat and taking off into fields then you need to stay home.
4. The January Sales
Yes these are still a thing. Sales happening in January and not everyday of the week. An official day – the start of the sales – is announced for a limited period (this is real too – about two weeks). So, if there is a sale go to it, as it will not be on all year and there will be stuff properly reduced. Again, I’ve never seen so many French people buying suff and this was on a Wednesday where Master Normandy bought 3 pairs of trainers for his impending birthday. I narrowly avoided an amateur moment as I was going to go on a Saturday when a friend said “oh no don’t go then as all the French will be off you need to go on Wednesday”.
5. Are you all ready for Xmas?
Don’t ask a French person this. This is standard ice-breaker, small talk conversation for any Brit. It’s the norm. This allows the person to off load the mounting pressure of their to do list and get a bit of sympathy for a few minutes before they kamikaze their way into Tesco’s. The French have no idea what an earth you are talking about. The blank looks I got were priceless – even better than when I try to say something remotely resembling a sentence. What’s there to be ready for? To them Christmas day is one day off, Christmas Eve is more important as is New Year’s Eve. What is there to do? What is there to be ready for? You buy a gift. Job done. So yes this does not translate well nor does it make any sense as they are not running around like headless chickens buying a whole heap of stuff. Avoid the tumbleweed of this one at all costs.
6. Big Turkey
You can easily get turkey’s in France for Xmas. They are, like the UK, cheaper in the supermarket approx 30 euros for a 3kg turkey. Or you can buy one from your local butcher for about 50 euros for the same bird – more or less. Naturally I chose to spend more! Shhh don’t tell Mr Normandy. My logic is that we have lived here for over a year and I have only been in once. You miss these local businesses when they leave. I’m well aware it costs more but the butcher is lovely and I love the fact he thinks I am clueless at cooking. Or he’s just being helpful. He always writes down how to cook it and the temperature of my oven. He also gave us all free pens and looks delighted to see us.
When I asked for a 6kg turkey he looked a bit “say what?” They don’t do this size turkey. I once went into a butchers in South London as I’d inadvertently ordered a small one (I like the theatre of it- I want it to be all Bob Cratchet like) from other butchers. When I told him the size he replied “blimely luv I’ve got bigger chickens than that!”. My French butcher told me once it was stuffed it’ll be bigger!
7. Laugh At The Doctor
I’ve had a few comical moments here. I could write a whole post on it but will park it for another day. So, as normal I am a frequent visitor here (by the way I now have my Carte Vitale like the proper card #innit) I took my daughter over Xmas to see if she had asthma. Turns out she does – mildly. That’s a full set now. Move to Normandy away from the polluted streets of London and all your children can have asthma. I think the clean air is just wrecking our lungs what can I say. The doctor asked “do you smoke?” to my 12-year-old daughter. Naturally we thought he was having a game and both laughed. He looked very serious and said “why are you laughing there are children that smoke at this age”. To which I thought “well there’s something very wrong in that” but refrained from replying and quickly reverted to serious face.
Okay so this is the ‘plat du jour’ with + entrée + désert also known as the ‘formule du jour’. The prices will vary accordingly and more accordingly if you are chatting!
8. Getting Ripped Off
Now this one I’m really annoyed about as I’ve done lunch a few times. We were had. You see they don’t know if you’re just visiting or a local. In fairness it wouldn’t really matter as this is unusual. But I lunched with a friend and instead of charging us for the plat du jour (where you can choose starter, main or starter main desert etc) for a fixed price – he charged it up as individual items. It was about 4 euros each more – so not a huge amount but we were mugged off. We were too busy chatting. You go up to the bar to get your bill here so ask for the receipt so you can check. Or don’t talk and know what it should be.
9. Carafe Of Water
Keeping on the restaurant theme, we noticed all the French were given their carafe of water but we had to ask. This has happened a few times now. Make sure you ask for things that you should get. This is standard and you should always have this – this and bread. Don’t get mugged off!
10. Saying “OK”
We Brits say this a lot. Ok then, Ok got that – it proceeds a lot of words and comes up heavily. It’s a hard habit to break and I had no idea that it is considered to be a bit rude. Some say it’s just considered slang and is fine but others say its rude.
This is somewhat cringeworthy as I had got bored of saying “‘d’accord'” I was mixing it up a bit with “ok” at the doctors and the school etc. Turns out it’s not that ok to say ok! I was at a parents evening for Master Normandy and the maths teacher made a point of saying “do students really say ok to teachers in the UK?”. We said yes and he said oh no it’s not polite to do that. I now have to break this habit and have reverted back to saying “‘d’accord” which is possibly my least favourite word in the French language.
So there you have it. My 10 recent amateur faux pas’s in Normandy, France. Have you got any to add? I’d love to hear them especially if they are more cringeworthy than mine!
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