Recently, some posts from back home, particularly to do with Essa Academy, the school which the muggers attended, have been popping up on my ‘people found your blog who searched for…’ – and recently, Essa Academy Deputy Head, or She-who-is-too-busy-to-deal-with-violent-robbery. It makes me wonder what I’m going back to in November.
There are many ways rural life changes you, and many ways France changes you – here are some of the ways!
1. There isn’t the ever-present McDonald’s everywhere. In fact, one of the McDonald’s in Angouleme shut for lack of business. I don’t have to deal with Jake’s constant requests for a Chicken Select meal every time we drive down the dual carriageway. In fact, fast food is a no-go in general. Sure, I still stick a pizza in, but it’s always home-made. I’m sure Steve used to have takeaway pizza at least once a week. Jake saw a sign for a pizzeria yesterday – see, ‘see-it, want-it’ – it reminds me of that episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Dewey watches an advert with a blue cuddly toy on it which speaks to him personally and was a class satire about the power of advertising on children. He got giddy about pizza and then forgot about it by the time we got to the petrol station. Such is life in France. In England, there’s McDonald’s hovering on the periphery of every child’s consciousness all the time. Here, our nearest McDo is 20 minutes’ drive away, at the back of a car park, and the one time we went, it was so bad that we never bothered again. Now, I’ve got Jake eating some food that’s the same as ours – he’ll happily eat mash and jacket potatoes alongside chips, which he wouldn’t a year ago, unless it was pre-packaged. Bolagnaise, chicken in sweet and sour sauce, meat pie… the boy is a changed man. And no pining for McDo every time you drive past.
2. Pre-packaged stuff in the supermarket looks very plastic. It probably does in England, but here, it looks SOOO unappetising. Like it was deliberately designed to put you off. In the supermarket, we have 4 freezer rows. One has ice-creams and sweet stuff; the second has frozen veg and chips; the other has meat and fish. The final is mostly made up with pizza, a few frozen rice dishes and a few quiches. None of these endless rows of pre-pack, frozen chicken in batter, or fish in batter, or Aunt Bessie’s *though I confess I miss Aunt Bessie’s yorkshire puddings very much*. If you want it, cook it yourself.
3. Things that are oddly missing. Frozen or fresh sweetcorn. Weird. Canned, fine. Fresh, No. Chillis with more punch than an old women’s bitch fight = non-existent. Things that are weirdly expensive: raisins (in this land of grapes!) sultanas, oats. Clothes. You get used to planning to grow your own ‘weird’ veg that nobody wants, or making do without. No flapjacks for us.
4. The sad loss of English cheese. In England, cheese rules. Japanese people think British people smell like sour milk, and it’s probably all the cheese we eat. We have a range of fantastic hard cheeses, crumbly cheeses and soft cheeses – some of which are worth export, beyond cheddar, surely? Red Leicester, for one, perfect melted. Double Gloucester, your perfect cheese-and-tomato-sandwich cheese. Lancashire, acid and flaky. Caerphilly. Stilton. In a British supermarket, you can buy Italian cheese, French and Swiss cheese, Austrian cheese, Spanish cheese – and the full complement of British cheeses to boot. Yes, there’s a lot of Cheddar, but you can buy at least 5 Italian cheeses, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Gruyere, Emmenthal, Edam, Jarlsberg… it’s a smorgasbord of cheese. In France, you can buy rows of Camembert and Brie, goat’s cheese, a bit of Comte or Gruyere – and stuff you if you want to buy anything else! You can find a few packets of Italian cheese hidden away, but they just don’t do hard cheese like ours. English supermarkets are a whole lot more cosmopolitan, as are our eating tastes. You have to ‘go French’ if you move here. And mostly that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes, it’s imbecilic that they don’t import the best, most yummy stuff from other countries. National pride in your cuisine is one thing; failing to accept other countries have something to offer is another.
5. The TV is less pride of place than it was. We watch DVDs a lot (having worked our way through series 1-8 of 24) but it’s not constantly on. I don’t miss it. I want to watch French t.v. to learn the language, but other than that, I can’t see I’ll ever be connected.
6. Instant coffee is a big no-no. It’s on a shelf with chicory coffee. It’s almost like it’s not coffee at all. In fact, it makes me wonder, how the hell do they make it so it dissolves??! Weird! It frightens me a bit now I think about it. No Alta Rica to be found here.
7. All French houses have a coffee pot (that I’ve seen, anyway!) or a stove-pot. You have to have proper coffee, with coffee beans, or at least ground coffee. Not instant.
8. Your ‘vie quotidienne’ (daily life) is very different. School being only 4 days gives you a different rhythm to life. It’s like a mini-weekend. Jake is much less tired and seems to enjoy school more. Also, everything other than Leclerc shuts down at lunch. You can’t just nip to the bank or post office in your lunch time. If you aren’t ensconced in a café, you aren’t out. There’s no point. You have to plan ahead more, too, deciding on Friday what you’re eating on Sunday and Monday – since you won’t be getting to the supermarket. Even the giant Casino supermarket shuts on Sundays. And some places are shut on Mondays, too. In fact, plan on stuff being open for a couple of hours a week either side of lunch and you’re about right.
9. Plan to get your petrol or use a credit card (not at the moment, anyway!) since petrol stations shut too, apart from the 24/7 credit card pumps. And they shut for lunch. And a lunch time shut means up to three hours. Right when you might want to go somewhere. I’ve seen people pull in at 12:01 and still be sitting there at 2:59.
10. You have to get used to not only French numbers, which for me are a hundred times more difficult than actual words. I can learn words. I can remember fosse septique and plinthes and portail. I can say je voudrais deposer deux cheques, s’il vous plait, but it took me an awful long time to learn my postcode (seize cent dix) and I’m still a long way off with our phone number. I can do the zero-cinq quatre-cinq easily enough, but then I get mixed up. And why would 16110 be sixteen-a hundred and ten? Why is it four-five in my phone number, and then sixty-five? Why not forty-five, sixty-five, or four-five-six-five? What’s with mixing the tens with the units?! And how do you know until someone says?! I still can’t remember my birth date (quinze – always escapes me) and you don’t say ‘the fifteenth of December’ you say, ‘fifteen December’ literally speaking. What’s with that?! I’m yet to master my year of birth. We do nice ‘nineteen-sixty’ tens blocks. In France, it just as well might be one-nine hundred-and-sixty, or a-hundred-and-ninety-six-zero or something weird. 2010 is easy enough – deux mille dix, but numbers before the millennium scare me. As do times. The 24 hour clock is in full swing here, and it’s bad enough not being able to remember what falls between douze and dix-huit when pushed, but when you then have to deal with ‘is quatorze heures’ two o’clock? I instantly think 14 must be four o’clock. The man in the bank looked alarmed when he said three o’clock and I wrote down five o’clock. Bloody numbers!!!
It’s the little differences, as Vincent Vega would say.