Top 10 French Things That Make You Go Huh?

(This list made when we first arrived in France.)

Just arriving 2 weeks ago to the land of Brie cheese, wine and baguettes, we note cultural differences. Some are similar to the rest of Europe and a few are just specific to France.

#1 Dog Pooh

Imagine a walk where you do not have to look down to see where you step, but up into the beautiful sites of the French scenery around you. What a dream!

Like many places in Europe, with no open fields for the pets to do their business, you will find animal feces on the road. Village living, I thought, would be exempt from this practice with loads of fields and marshes to take your dog. It is not, to our recent discover. Parks even provide doggie dodo bags, yet, watch your step in France.

Where we are from in Canada, it is up to a $2000 fine if caught leaving your bacteria full animal excrement on the street or even the park.

On a happy note: I did notice street cleaners each morning cleaning the streets of Capestang, and they get most of the crap off the road before we get there. Other lanes seem exempt from cleaning, so we stick to the main roads. We learned our lesson.

#2 Daily Bread

Give us this day our daily bread, especially when made fresh three times daily, soft and warm for our consumption. My pants are tight; therefore, I must be in France! Between Brie cheese, fresh bread, and cheap wine, I have not a chance. I plan to take Alfonz down the naughty road of gluttony with me. It is my favorite sin!

#3 Siesta

If happiness is rest, then the French must have mastered the art of happiness. Between 12:00 and 1:30, but sometimes-stretched way out until 4:00, is their traditional siesta time. The store signs turn over to ‘closed’, and do not bother slipping in just before thinking they will take you. They will not let you in.

The French value their time; as they work to live, not live to work. Brilliant! Canada should adopt this custom.

It might stem from the hot summers when a nap seems like the thing to do during the hottest part of the day. It just does not stop after the summer heat dissipates, but carries through the whole year.

One interesting off shoot of this, is trying to figure out when stores are closed or not. Sometimes they stay closed until late in the evening, and others stay open. Some take Sundays and Mondays off, where others open only during the Sunday markets. A man told us, once you think you have figured the store schedules out, you will realize you know nothing at all.

#4 Very Late Dinner

The French eat dinner in the late evening, after 7:30, some as late as 10:00pm. We are so hungry by the time 5:30 rolls around, we feast and still go out for a walk to burn it off, and have a little snack, maybe a yogurt and apples, before bed.

We slowly change towards the French custom, and try to eat later and later. It is so hot in the summer months that most people do not eat until after it cools down, and that is where the tradition came from.

#5 The Double Cheek Kiss

Not to be confused with the much more popular French kiss, for obvious reasons, the double-cheeked kiss done upon first and the last time you see someone during the day. You start on the right side, and then the left. Most do not actually kiss but make the sound- very cute, and very French.

#6 No Helmet Laws

Our family is used to the constrictive, yet useful laws around road safety. It is mandatory to wear protective gear while riding your bike, scooter or skateboard in Canada.

Here they ride without helmets. A fall from a pedal bike on one of these steep side streets could crack your child’s head open like an egg, yet most kids ride without any protection. Daniel and Angelina have used helmets while riding their whole lives. When we got here, the kids asked, ‘Why do the French not use helmets?’ We assured them that it will be an eventually law. I hope so for the safety of the French children riding the streets.

#7 Church Bells

I cannot sleep. The reason is simple. The bells are only a hundred yards from my head and will not registered as background noise. My brain will not think that 12 loud rings from a bell is a normal sound in the middle of the night. I wake up every hour on the hour. Last night I even woke up just before and thought where are the bells. Sure enough, it followed right along. Cross your fingers for me for a change on this front or I will go insane from lack of sleep. It is part of living in the heart of a village, maybe when we buy our home, we will live outside.

#8 Home for Lunch, School Kids

I love this! Alfonz and I are house hunting and not able to be home during the day, just like families that work. Most school kids go home for lunch, especially if they have a younger sibling home with mom and even dad will join them for the home cooked meal.

With no brown-bagged lunches aloud in school, there is no cause for allergy alarms. The school provides a basic nutritious hot lunch for a small fee, if you are unable to get your children home. If we had already bought a home, we would try picking the kids up to adopt this tradition like the majority of the French families. They say, “A family that eats together stays together.”

#9 Laundry

If it is not raining, our neighbours’ laundry is hanging out their window, drying. The lady next door must be the cleanest woman ever; hanging her clothes, sheets and comforters outside every chance she gets.

Sometimes I nudge Alfonz smiling when I see a back yard full of hanging clothes. I begged him in White Rock to let me have a line strung from one corner of our yard to the other. It was always no. However, here, if you do not have a line with dozens of clips holding up your clothes swaying in the breeze, you are not energy efficient or very French now are you?

#10 Bidet

I caught my kids washing their feet in it and Daniel slept walked during the night to relieve himself in it. It is the infamous bidet. On Oprah, I saw an extraordinary French woman claim that sex is free and should be enjoyed as often as possible, being good for your health, and may keep you young. She went on to say that this is a normal opinion in France.

Now I understand the necessity of the bidet. Water is very expensive in France and to take a North American version of a shower each and everyday is highly unlikely. The idea of a quick wash makes sense. The bidet was invented sometime before the 17th century, used in brothels and for some reason has caught on. Most residential bathrooms have one. If you come to France, do not be alarmed, now you know what it is for.

Vive la France!

That’s Hamori!











hmm...interesting phenomenon Eva...sadly isnt working for me....I came...I put on has remained attached!

When we first got here we gained weight from the bread, but now we are eating more food than ever and loosing weight. I feel it is a French dietary phenomenon, to eat cheese, bread, eat late, drink wine and 3 big meals and we are in the best shape ever!

I think the French are on to something. Could it be the quality of food we eat here as opposed to North America, the exercise in between, or the wine for digestion??

I don't really notice the bells as I live in a hamlet outside a village and i find that the French no longer install bidets, they are seen as really old-fashioned, before showers. They certainly can't have a meal without bread, my OH goes mad if I forget to buy bread. However, for me, 7.30pm has always been normal time for dinner (from UK) and restaurants certainly don't stay open late, you'd be lucky to get served after 9.30pm round here. Try Spain where you eat after 10pm.

Oh Andy I love your local little bell ringer... I wish we had one in Capestang, but truthfully she would not make it up the stairs. We hoofed up the church steeple to see the view, and it is a doozy.

Carol, In Hungary I have a friend and she claims to be a vegetarian, and also eats chicken, fish, just not pork and beef...A little bit of knowledge is a scary thing. At least they are cutting back.

Jane, Here the announcements start with "Allo, Allo" And everyone joins in with giggles, and after that, no idea. LOL I guess it is a prerequisite of each town to make these public announcements. Seems WWI related, in bunkers over loud speakers and the music they play just before, off an old record you can almost hear the needle... I still like it.

Sue, I am sure the list could be much longer.

Andy, love the concept of an automatic church. I had visions of the elderly woman pushing a button and the whole thing unfolds and appears before your eyes, having rung the bells, she pushes the button again and packs it away. ;-)

In our friends village the bells are rung by hand at 12 noon only by a elderly woman in her late eighties. They believe its the only non- automatic church in the Gers, and I have not heard of another one elsewhere. She rarely misses even when ill, she was once seen when she had hurt her shoulder ringing them by tying the rope around her waist, you can tell apparently what mood she is in by how they are rung.

The bells, the bells!

In my village, the bells are recorded and come from speakers atop the Mairie, about 40 metres from my house.

They ring (?) the number of the hour, just before and just after the hour, and then once on the half hour, just before and just after.

And twice a day during the week, sometimes 3 times, they play a bit of music and then make public announcements, completely indecipherable announcements. The village slopes down to the river and the Mairie is half way down, and it has repeater speakers throughout the medieval core of the village. So much echo, reverberation, much worse than speakers in an airport for clarity. In fact no clarity at all.

But I love it, and when its not working for some reason, I miss it.


It was more the significance of the 64 chimes I didn't understand, I understood when we first bought the house they had held a survey to see if they wanted to stop them ringing the extra chimes and they decided to keep it as it was. I guess other villages didn't.

Eva another lovely written piece...very much enjoyed and I pretty much agree with your comments. Dog poo where we have our holiday home in St Cyprien, Languedoc is everywhere...when we first moved over I would chase after people with dog poo bags if they didnt pick up. For my trouble received a lot of verbals, raised eyebrows and tuts....seems people dont think they should have to pick up their dogs poo...thats what street cleaners are for and thats what they pay their taxes for! there should be dog poo police...(you may have gathered...its something that annoys me about France!) As for the rest? the finish on many new properties; we bought a beautiful apartment from a well known and well respected building company...high end, lovely sites...but the finish? very second dont seem to think they need to finish off properly. We had bits of concrete stuck to floor tiles (5 years on and its still there...cant shift it!) the odd tile dropped off, poor finish on the join of ceiling and walls...bits of grouting left stuck on baths and hand basins, finish around the windows. Little things....not huge problems, but the kind of thing someone proud of their work would rectify before they left the site. Finally? I love veg with my meals...when we eat out we seem to get a very small amount of veg with our main course...salad or otherwise...strange as most French families will eat a very healthy amount of salads and veg...I would just like a better size portion....and also more vegetarian options in restaurants...we have a lot of friends who are vegetarians, plus a brother and sister in law. Over the course of a two week stay with us...the only options given were to knock them up an omelette...and the best offer....when we went to our village barbeque...they were offered Chicken...which was the vegetarian option!

Thanks - I always read the SFN postings but usually too busy to reply - but wanted to say thanks for making me smile - I hope you get used to the bells - I loved them - I miss them now we are in the middle of nowhere! and welcome to France

Eva say hello to Ann Whitehead for me please we will get over to her and Bernard soon as we can

I suppose some things that impress are derived from our own interests and points of view I suppose. It will be interesting to see what others come up with.

Share some Norman: 2, 3, 8, 1, 10 (why some locals accepted me so easily and were so sympathetic when I broke the shoulder), 4 and I guess 9 if I think about it.

I like lists of 10, and have suggested others, but here are the TEN things that I love about France - in no particular order;

1) The profiliferation of books and resoect for authors. I read French far better than I speak it.

2) Puces and Brocantes; Great ways to discover new places and see the French bargaining, something I am not very good at!

3) Outdoor cafés watching the world go by, a great lesson in relaxation - who needs Yoga?

4) Specialist regional food shops - cheese, wines and things I have never seen before.

5) The amazing TGV , which alas doesn't cover our new area.

6) War Graves in Northern France. Moving and amazing that they are so well respected and looked after by the French in spite of the often offensive comments made about them by some Americans, and others. ('cheese-eating surrender-monkeys' being one such example)

7) 2CV's and Citroen Traction automobiles. Still to be seen and still VERY, VERY French.

8) Vulgar and non PC place and food names. I had a friend who once made a meal and menu of such items - and delicious it was too (food and wine only of course). One of my favorite named villages is called 'Donkey's Fart' and I can imagine the hilarity of translating it to friends who get letters! Bit basic aren't I?

9) Ancient doors everywhere.

10) The ability of every Frenchman (seemingly) to do everything from building a house to running a farm even if his 'real' job is something like a Cost Accountant. As one of Nature's practical incompetents this always leaves me stunned.

John, The retired Brits still go to the bar on Sundays and after choir practice on Monday nights too. We have a fairly large and very friendly UK community, at around 10% of our population. They are a big help as we adjust to our new life.

Like the modern bell story.

You may or may not know of the Swiss architect Mario Botta. He designed some kind of 'temple to the wine' (museumy type thing really) in St Emilion. I knew nothing of him until a couple of weeks ago when my brother-in-law was coming to visit. Apparently, being some degree of cousins (Italians, including the Swiss ones, consider any degree up to about 48th cousin family I think) they shared car to Milano, flew to bordeaux together and Mario left the train at St Em. During his stay here, bro-in-law told me about Botta's work, so I went to do a web search and found lots of nuclear bunkers call the Church of X, Z Synagogue and so on. Icing on cake to complete your account of the 'modern' church. Some of the churches are now using electronically generated music because quality bell casting has gone downhill and very few are left who can produce high quality ones. Plus, in the modern nuclear bunker religious building era I suppose that washes well. Blaaah! I am not a man of belief at all but that seems heresy of some kind to me.

I always remember Brian, the old saw that seems to cross the Channel re 'Dirty French/English'

'The safest place to hide your money in France/England is under the soap!'

Re the bells. Two stories if I may. Here we have a 1,000 year old Church that always staggers me, and it rings but to me is melodic floating across the valleys here. I have no problem with it at all, and as I rarely wear a watch these days, it is a gentle reminder of the passing hours/days, and probably even years I suppose.

The other was of the much more recent church where we used to live. Probably 1930's at a guess. This one had the most asthmatic bells I have ever heard, but always amused me at midday. I used to exasperate Laure to come and listen in the garden as to me it was a constant delight. Why? Because it always sounded like an old man climbing a hill, and struggling to get to the top, and almost always failing. Almost never did it get to 12 strikes, but knackered seemingly it would battle to 11, collapse and then have another run at it. By the time it finally got there it was at least five minutes late. One of my few fond memories of the area.

Talking Bells and bell-towers, the most amazing of all is the one in Mons in Belgium (just across the border). On our first visit they were actually playing Jazz on them! Brilliant! Later visits had Classics, amazing. We never found anyone actually ringing them as the doors were closed, so assume it was some recording or other, but a great experience just the same.

I think it is a bit like Andy describes here, but hearing three parishes we hear different things staggered as I described. One church appears to have had some kind of venerable priest who was canonised and whilst I believe his tomb was smashed up during the Revolution, there is a cross. That bell rings 24 hours a day, fortunately it is the mutest being further awy than the others. I was told that where there is (specifically not 'was') a saint present then the bell will always be rung that way.

Andy, the bells are to tell the field workers to go to work, to stop for lunch and to go home in the evening. I'm quite surprised that yours start at seven though because in my experience in three different French Locations it has always been 8 am and 7pm