Thursday, 5 September 2013

Vive la France!

It's back-to-school week in our house and with it, the inevitable damp, drizzly and depressing realisation that those magical weeks can't last forever. The holidays are over.

And having spent a rather wonderful fortnight across La Manche in la belle France this summer it's dawned on me for the first time (and this comes as something of a shock) that I think I actually prefer life across the channel. Quelle horreur!

To understand this volte face it's important that I first confess my former chauvinistic little Englander mentality. Mon Dieu! At school I positively hated French and thought le Professuer a frightful traitor for having posters of France all over his classroom walls and for seeming to be more in love with life across the channel than here. 'If France is so good and French so wonderful, why doesn't he go and live there' I'd murmur as I struggled to conjugate verbs with infuriating gender differences. (I still fail to see how 'things' - la brioche, le pain - can be either feminine or masculine, but never mind.)

Now - Sacre Bleu! - I find myself missing the place myself and wishing I were back. And it's more than the usual réentrée blues. Everywhere I look I see another reason to prefer being there to being here.

The roads, for a start. Despite driving up the Champs-Élysées and round and round the Arc de Triomphe (there ought to be a badge you can put in your windscreen or a medal or something!) I remain firmly convinced that driving in France is a far, far more pleasurable experience than driving over here. The roads are wider, the sweep of the curves is cleaner and the road markings - white lines especially - are brighter. Ok, you have to pay for the privilege of driving on the best of them but - by and large - they're a lot emptier than our roads and worth the money.

I shouldn't mention food because I'm not sure that's fair. When I first began to visit France I was impressed by the wide cross-section of society (from families to artisans in overalls) taking their customary two-hour lunch at the local Relais or Auberge. Now, McDonald's seems as popular in France as it it here, although you can order a beer with your Big Mac over there.

But perhaps the biggest thing of all, the greatest difference and the pièce de résistance of my emerging Francophilia is this...  the French attitude to, well, everything. To return to driving, before setting out this summer I had to purchase a pack of breathalysers because - if you're stopped in France - the Gendarmerie expects you - the driver - to breathalyse yourself. Brilliant! At first I thought it was yet another ruse to annoy the UK holiday drivers. (I know Francois, wee weeell get zem all to buy zeir own breathalysers... c'est magnifique!)

But on reflection it's just one symptom of a general attitude that seems to prevail throughout France which is that it's our responsibility to take precautions, get organised, keep our kids safe and get on with life - not the State's to nanny and nag or bully us into doing so. Just look at French traveuax. Their road works don't consist of miles and miles of shabby signs and a thousand traffic cones and (if you're lucky) a man picking litter on the grass verge or something. No, in France there's usually a single orange van, a couple of cones and a man or woman casually wandering about doing whatever needs doing and keeping disruption and fuss to a minimum.

I know they sign up with zeal to every new EU regulation going, but they don't seem that bothered about enforcing them all, do they? We, on the other hand, grumble about each one. sign up grudgingly and then spend a fortune appointing whole armies of jobsworths to make sure we're all doing what we're told.

And finally, what better welcome could there be when we stopped at our first French supermarché having arrived at our destination after two days of travelling?


Who says the French aren't welcoming? Who says they don't like the British?

Down ze 'atch, as they ought to say. Santé or cul sec as they do say. And Vive la France!

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