Greetings dear readers and friends. Well, if there was any time of year to be grateful for living in south of France, it would have to be right about now. For most of the year, life proceeds in its normal routine: work / school, making dinner, cleaning house, grocery shopping, etc etc…. But in the summer months, even if you are working, you feel like you’re constantly on vacation. There are so many events – festivals, music concerts, wine-tastings, apéros – that it’s hard to fit it all in (which is a pretty nice problem to have). Not to mention picnics at the sea, dinner and lunches with friends, and weekend barbeques. And then there is the actual vacation time: escaping to the mountains, hitting the wine trail, or just staying local and enjoying the beach.
Granted, from about mid-November to early spring, we are literally hibernating at home and keeping a nightly fire going in the chimney, so summer really is quite an exceptional time for our family. In my daily life in Provence, there are many small things that make me smile throughout the year and I thought it would be fun to share a few with you. Some are quite obvious (a glass of rosé anyone?) and others have become quirky additions to my expat life, like an “only in France” type of moment.
Here are a few of my favorites:
-Visiting a pastry shop.
For me, this never gets old and never fails to boost my day. I don’t usually buy a ton of pastries, but I still marvel over how beautiful and tempting the pastry case is at our local pâtisserie / bakery. It’s truly a work of art and at around €3.50 – €4.00 a pastry, you can afford to indulge a little.
-Paying with a large bill and getting back a ton of change.
I’ve written a little about it before, but coins are a hot commodity in France. Imagine the chagrin when I forget to buy a baguette and end up at the bakery with only a €10 bill. No one is happy about that! This isn’t a major faux pas, but certainly a minor one and either I skip buying the baguette or ask if it’s okay to pay with my €10 – apologizing profusely as I do it. It could go either way… So on the rare occasion when you are able to pay for a small item with a large bill, you are overjoyed about the windfall of coins that come back your way, thus avoiding a future baguette-faux pas-situation.
-An impromptu food or wine-tasting.
Ho-hum, you’re walking down the street, middle of town, on your lunch break or perhaps after work and you discover that a local boutique has set-up a sidewalk wine and cheese tasting. This usually happens around Beaujolais Nouveau time (the introduction of that year’s wine) or in supermarkets offering a promotion. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it certainly makes my day.
-A passerby wishes me “Bon appétit”.
This is one of my favorites. I often have my lunch in a local square and just as often, someone, a stranger, will pass by and wish me, “Bon appétit” – sometimes more than one person. I find it so charming, thoughtful, and so French.
-Getting anything free at Monoprix.
Monoprix is as close to a Target store as we get in France (for my American compadres) so I find myself spending many lunch breaks there. Plus, they have very friendly service (sacrebleu!) and good deals. And, every once in a while, they give you free stuff. I bought some make-up and the cashier whips out a cloth bag – you know the ones with the graphics of a bulldog with a béret or something similar (unmistakably French!) – which she says is free with my purchase. Now an added favorite for market trips & grocery stops.
-Someone gives / finds me a parking space.
Now, the French are nice, mind you, but the French are not exactly Americans – in good & less good ways. As in, most Americans would fall all over themselves if you needed help on the street. The French are a quieter bunch and are just going about their days, doing no harm and not getting in anyone’s way. You just get used to it and kind of live the same way. Until one day, you’re trying to park in a way too small parking space and a French lady comes from around the corner hands flailing in all directions. Ahhh, I must have hit something! Or there’s a truck coming that’s just about to hit me (totally could happen)! Time to panic! But instead, this nice lady is attracting my attention toward an empty, larger parking space down the street. Wow. This is a big event in my expat life, I’m over the moon. The following week, I’m parking my car again and someone drives up next to me and rolls down the window. Ahhh, does she want money? Is there a protest happening down the street? No, she gives me her parking voucher that still has 2 hours paid-parking on it. I think it could be the same lady, and how thrilled I am about these two events probably says a lot about my life in the south of France… and a lot about how kindness really does exist here.
-The cheese aisle at the supermarket.
Another one that never gets old. Sometimes you can just stand in front of the cheese aisles, plural, and get lost in the possibilities. I find myself asking, “Are there really that many types of cheese”? Yes, there are and they most happily live in the Carrefour supermarket 5 minutes from our house. And that’s not even counting the deli counter where they display even more “specialty” cheeses from around France.
-A friend brings me something in a fancy bag.
Fancy bags! Gift bags mainly, are another hot commodity in France. Any gift bags worth their salt cost a fortune, and I’ve only been able to find cheap, decent gift bags in the north of France (go figure?). So when I bring a gift in one of my prized bags, people are literally like “ooh and ahhh… where did you get that bag”? And then you will find said bag passed around from one birthday party to the next. Entrepreneurs, please bring your fancy bags to France, plus some nice gift tags while you’re at it!
-Anyone saying, “I like your accent”.
When I take the time to listen to myself, really listen to myself, speaking French, I’d like to cringe. I’ll never lose my American accent and some words are just impossible to pronounce. Impossible. And forget about producing that “R” sound in the throat that the French are famous for…. So when someone says, “I like your accent” to me, it’s like Christmas in July. I’m not only surprised, but very thankful for the extra boost to my day… and the much-needed boost to my language hurdles.
This one should go right to the top of the list.
Well, certainly there are many more things to be happy about when living in the south of France, but these are a few that brighten my day and give me a chuckle every now and again.
Please feel free to share the things that make you smile in France in the comments below.