Sunday, July 28, 2019

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...) and similar to Canada (driving on the right, and the metric system). Pretty much all of my time in France was spent in the region of Normandy and so most of what I learned might not apply to all regions of France. As ever a work in progress, here we go!

General Facts about Normandy:
The cliffs at Dieppe
  • Normandy is known for her cliffs and rocky beaches which are both stunning and dangerous. The highest cliffs in Normandy are by the city of F├ęcamp and reach a height of 110m.
  • The Calvados region of Normandy is famous for, uh, Calvados. This is a type of brandy/whisky made from apples (mostly) or pears. I did not try it.
  • Many places in Normandy experienced a lot of damage during the war from both sides of the fighting. This means that some towns, like Caen, look a lot more modern than others.
  • In Normandy, there are more cows than people. (Okay, this last one isn't a fact, but it sure seemed like it. There are more cows in all of France than in Normandy though).
Now, here's what I noticed about France:
1. Dinner Time
I’d heard that Italians eat dinner late, but I didn’t realize that it’s also a thing in France. Every day at Verbosc, Michel and I would have a breakfast of bread/croissants around 8, lunch around 12-14:00 and then the hours would drag by. He wouldn’t even think of making dinner until 19:30/20:00. In Korea, city night life is also huge! But where I live on Jeju island, many restaurants close around 20:00 with last orders sometimes as early as 19:00. I’ve become accustomed to eating earlier. I also found that when I ate later and then still woke around 6/7am, I felt nauseous.
2. Yield to the Right
Random road near le Verbosc.
When driving in France (and apparently other European countries), if there is no signage indicating otherwise, you need to yield to the right. This system definitely has merits which help to ensure that other vehicles are able to emerge and get into traffic, but there were a couple very busy roads where cars were zipping along at 70km/h and a smaller road intersected, and not always easily spotted. If you are foreign to an area, it could be very dangerous; if cars were waiting at the intersection, those clicking along need to stop and yield. 

As a side note to driving, I have become accustomed to the use of mirrors everywhere on Korean roads and I don't think I realized how much I appreciated the extra vision they afforded until we're weaving through these French streets where everyone has really high hedges and harsh corners to the edge of properties. I was at times really concerned about easing around a corner because you really couldn't see very much. Long live the mirrors!

3. Recycling at the Grocery Stores
If you have lightbulbs or batteries or other odd recyclables, you can bring them down to your grocery store and deposit them in a bin. Very convenient.

4. Everything is better with Goat Cheese.

5. But seriously: Cheese and Bread?
Rack of baguettes at Duclos' Boulangerie.
People joke about the bread and cheese in France, but now I get it. Seriously. The bakery is the heart and soul of a town and people go every single day. 

Every morning, Michel drove to a bakery in Yvetot to pick up fresh bred for the day. What if we didn't eat all of the bread one day and had leftovers? Old bread isn’t for ordinary meals, peasant. Old bread is for toasting. (Although I secretly wished I could have toasted the fresh stuff, too!). 

There was also always some type of cheese on the go in the fridge, sometimes two. When guests stayed at the castle, we would serve cheese with breakfast, but at most, I think a hunk of cheese lasted 3 days before being fully consumed. I like cheese well enough, but on things. I don’t much like the feel of chewing into cheese. While I might like the taste, I usually need to pair it with another texture as a distraction. These people? I saw people cutting off pieces thicker than my wrist and biting it like an apple. Crazy!

6. Transportation: BlaBlaCar
BlaBlaCar is my new favourite car service, although I only successfully used it once. Really, it’s not much different from Uber or Lyft. The main difference being that commuters have posted their regular commute or planned routes. You can then find a car going where you’re going and jump in. BlaBlaCar has recently partnered with Ouibus, a cheaper bus service in France. You do need a phone number to set it up, which did cause me a couple of initial problems. With both my Korean and Canadian sim cards, I had trouble receiving the texts while in France. I ended up inserting one of my parental phone numbers, calling them over wifi, and getting the access code that way. Without it, I couldn't arrange any rides or send anyone any messages. (I also found some really cheap train tickets here, for when BlaBlaCar couldn’t solve my problems. This website and the accompanying app, saved me at least twice).
7. PDA
Maybe it's because I've been living in Korea for so long now and the most touchy-feely you tend to see is handholding or a side hug. France was not like that. On more than a couple of occasions, I saw couples full out making out. The worst (or best depending on how you look at it) was when this couple was on the subway platform across from me in Paris. The woman was holding a purse in her hand and the guy was holding an empty coffee cup and some trash. It started out simple enough with a gentle kiss, and then they both decided they'd rather eat each others face. So they did that for a minute or so (while a mom and three kids comes out of the entrance beside them and sits along the chairs at the back) and then they decide that the items in their hands are too much of an obstacle. So they quickly put them down near the wall and proceed to hold each other in a rapt embrace, bodies flushed together. 

Why did I watch this? I was mildly curious as to how far they would go. Luckily, my train arrived (causing no ripple in their tongue-locking action), and I left.

Love and Bisous (the cheek ones, not the crazy PDA ones)
The city of Rouen from the top of le Gros Horloge (the Giant Clock).

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Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...