Continuing our series of “five very (nationality) things”, today I´m mentioning some French habits! France was the country where I felt most at home outside of my home country, Brazil. I´m still not sure why, since there aren´t many similarities between both of them. But there was something about the mixed cultures in Paris, the going-around doing your everyday stuff while being surrounded by all of those magnificent buildings, and the direct way of the French that enchanted me.
Additionally, it was the first time I was living by myself, so it was also imprinted on me as a self-discovery experience . I was under the impression that I could be whoever I wanted to be and I would still be accepted there. The city of lights definitely lent me some sparkle of its own, and I don´t think I ever shined as bright ever since.
Okaaaaay, enough sentimentality and on with the article! Today I´m sharing 5 habits that I used to see or experience in my daily life in Paris, and some I gladly adopted quite fast, like the first one.
QUEUING FOR BAGUETTE AFTER WORK
Before I moved to Paris I already knew that bakeries were a thing there. I´m not a sweets´ type of person, as I have stated here before, but French sweets are something else…They almost converted me into a sweets´ eater. I mean, who can resist those perfectly coated éclairs?
So, bakeries were never empty, as expected. But, on my first days there, something did call my attention. I noticed that around 6 pm there was a queue in almost every boulangerie I passed by on my way home. What´s happening? Is there some kind of discount at the end of the day? Are they handing out something for free?
One day my curiosity just couldn´t stop itching and I sat on a bench in front of Paul, a famous chain bakery. One by one, I watched all of the customers leaving not with sweets, but with a baguette. Hmmm, so that´s what it was all about…baguette!
After this anthropologic experience, I started to notice the sought-after bread everywhere: at the subway, people carrying them under their arm while riding a bike or walking home, old ladies leaving supermarkets with a baguette sticking out of their shopping bags…If you play a game with yourself like I used to and start counting them, you will most likely be counting baguettes in your sleep as well (not the worst dream to have, right?).
AND BAGUETTE GOES WELL WITH….
I never ate so much cheese and drank so much wine in my life as for the time I lived in France. As a matter of fact, I wasn´t a big drinker before I moved there – I was 21, and a big appreciator of soda drinks. Not the fanciest, I know. But after I made some friends and started sharing an apartment, wine became a routine. Friends would constantly ask if I wanted to go “boire un verre” (“drink a glass”), which basically meant to sit around at a café or restaurant and enjoy a glass or two of wine. You don´t actually need to drink wine, but, you know the saying, while in Rome….
My roommate was also a big fan of wine and introduced me to the art of drinking a glass while cooking. Even the cheap ones tasted so good! How was this possible?! I was used to Brazilian wine prices and, let me tell you, it wasn´t a cheap product there back then. To see good wines in France with 4 or 5 euro price tags was a surprise for me.
And with the wine came along the cheese. I actually blame France as the starting point for my cheese addiction. The selection is amazing. I used to naively think of blue cheese as….well, THE blue cheese. But France taught me that the use of the indefinite article instead would apply best when talking about any cheese. What I used to call “blue cheese”, could actually be Roquefort, Fourme d´Ambert, Bleu des Causses, Bleu de Basque or Bleu d´Auvergne. I gave up very soon trying to distinguish all types, but I never stopped being a fan.
I used to stand in front of those booths filled with smelly cheeses (my rule is: the smellier, the better) at the weekly street market near my house. My favorites were (and still are) the aged ones! It didn´t take long for me to start mingling and going back home with my caddie (shopping trolley) worthy of a French citizen – filled with some basic food items but, most importantly, always carrying wine, cheese and a baguette!
USING A “CADDIE”
Call me inexperienced, but the caddie was a novelty for me. A caddie is basically a supermarket trolley, which makes it easy for you to carry heavy groceries around. In Brazil, people mainly use the metal carts or plastic baskets provided by the supermarkets. To take the products home, they use their own sustainable bags or, unfortunately, plastic bags also provided in loco for free. So, yeah, the caddie struck me as some sort of very smart invention. I know, you can laugh!
Though you might think this is more of an old people´s habit, I can assure you I have seen younger people using it too, especially families and women that were shopping with kids. I was such a fan I actually bought a red caddie for myself: life became so much easier after it. I would go to the supermarket after class carrying my French books in my backpack and dragging my empty caddie, which even after filled up would make it so easy to walk around without a single drop of sweat.
I miss my caddie. I might be looking for a new one later on Amazon….
BEING STYLISH, NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO
You could be going to an opera, a café or the supermarket – it doesn´t matter, you have to do it in style! It was in France that I actually started taking a lot more care of myself: those girls in high boots, fancy hats and red lips in the subway forced me to.
Coming from Brazil and, especially from Rio, I was a lot more used to a laid-back style. Flip Flops and basic sneakers were my best friends. Make up? Only if I wanted it melting on my face an hour later. When I arrived in France, I quickly realized that my sense of style (actually, the lack of it) really made me stand out. I would walk around with a bare face and heavy coats to protect me from the cold, not bothering at all if I looked like a giant trash bag with hair on top.
It didn´t bother me until it did. French women and men taught me that, no matter the season, there are always ways to look good. I would sit at cafés to do some people watching while enjoying a good old croque-madame, and I would watch all of those people walking around looking effortlessly their best. When I say that they look their best all the time, I don´t mean only a fancy dress or a suit: it was actually all about the details and the sense of color the French have! A suit is only a suit, but when a man wears it with capri pants, white sneakers with no socks and a colorful scarf…this is another level. I felt that the French always knew how to make their style a statement, and I totally admire them for that.
I hope things stayed the same, since it´s been a few years I don´t live in France anymore. But one thing that struck me there was that everywhere I saw a women in distress, or I was in distress myself, a man would appear out of nowhere to help. Sometimes, I would even be helped before I realized I actually needed help, lol.
I give you an example. I changed apartments 3 times while living in Paris. The last time I had the great idea of moving my stuff myself, stuffing everything I had inside two huge suitcases and hopping in the subway. In theory, it worked great; in practice, it was a disaster. The luggage was obviously super heavy and, if you have been to Paris, you know that the subway stations are a maze and, most of the time, lack escalators. When I got to the first staircase, I took a deep breath and, before I could even consider taking a cab, two men appeared offering to help me. I´m normally too proud to accept help, but, in this case, it was clear I had bitten more than I could chew….
Needless to say, I didn´t carry those bags up or down not even for a second – and I had to change lines twice. At my final station, when I was about to start trying to drag those monsters up, two other men appeared and asked “un coup de main?” (a little help?). Before I could even answer they had already lifted my bags and were going up.
I could give you many other chivalry examples that I saw happening on a daily basis, like the day I got stuck in a subway station after hours and a stranger helped me, or the day clumsy Vivi was fighting a stubborn umbrella in pouring rain and a guy asked if I lived nearby so he could walk me home with his. To be fair, many women helped me too while I was there, but they were mainly my friends. What struck me in France was the kindness of strangers, that had absolutely nothing to do with flirting.