Now, you’re all thinking I’m going to complain about everything I’ve encountered in France since moving here 17 years ago. Not so. What follows in this post is complimentary; Part 2 (to be posted later) is less so. I’ve restricted myself to five positives and five negatives in the two posts and tried to be even handed. So read on, and see if you agree.
Pluses first. Minuses to follow in a later post:
#1: That you can greet complete strangers in the street/shops/restaurants and not be carted off to the local mental hospital
I really like the French habit of saying hello to everyone in a shop or restaurant. I suspect this doesn’t happen in Paris, judging by things I have read recently, but provincial France is different. You can always tell the Brits when they enter a French restaurant, since they act as if no one else were there.
#2: That the health system is so effective
At least down here. How long this can be sustained is another matter, as funds are squeezed. And there are some perverse incentives built in to the system that mean you could spend all your time visiting the doctor if you didn’t stand firm. However, when we have needed to see specialists urgently, this has been no problem. The preventive tests are well organised. French doctors still prescribe too many antibiotics and palliatives, but they have improved.
#3: That every event from a committee meeting to a randonnée is topped off with at least an aperitif, if not a five-course meal
The French are good at celebrating events, however minor. Every association or sporting club I belong to has its end-of-year meal and quite often spontaneous get-togethers in between. We have been to so many convivial meals followed by a sing-song or a good knees-up. And the French don’t need to get pissed to enjoy it. Usually, there is wine left on the table.
Beware, though: nothing ever starts on time.
#4: That local government is so accessible to local people
France has more than 36,000 communes, the lowest tier of local government, each headed by a maire. Local councils have a surprisingly wide range of functions and are usually the first port of call for official matters.
We have been surprised at how accessible local maires are, having previously thought they were exalted personages at several removes from the local population. We have been to see our maire several times about local issues (notably, the state of our electricity supply, which has now been improved) and he has invariably been welcoming and helpful.
I recognise they might not all be like that, but there is a lot to be said for having units of local government so close at hand. However, it has to be said that some communes are so tiny that they are becoming financially unviable. And, as the recent local elections have shown, it can be difficult to make up the requisite number of conseillers municipaux (local councillors).
In the UK, I neither knew, nor cared, who my local councillor was.
#5: That there is a wonderful variety of petit patrimoine
There are so many examples of cultural heritage in France. I had absolutely no idea when we moved here how rich this is. Some of them are almost beyond repair while others have been beautifully restored.
They don’t have to be châteaux or cathedrals. Quite often, they are simply wayside crosses, tiny chapels, bread ovens or barns. They are testaments to a way of life that is now gone, although a few people remain as witnesses.
What pleasant surprises have you had in France?
You might also like:
Copyright © 2014 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved