Living Abroad in France
© Terry Link, from Living Abroad in France. 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.
"At the local market, you can buy cheese from the person who made it, and fruit and vegetables from the farmer who grew them. The charcutier (butcher) can tell you where his meat comes from. You can sit along the quai in Honfleur and savor a bowl of moules (mussels) while gazing at the boats in the harbor."
After World War I a popular song asked “How are you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paris?” Numerous Americans, from Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein, answered: “You can't.”
France is still a magnet for Americans today. The world's number one travel destination draws hundreds of thousands of American tourists each year, some of whom fall so deeply in love with the country they return to stay. Why?
The attraction, just as it has been for generations, is the extraordinary quality of life the ordinary person can enjoy. France is both modern and old-fashioned. French science and technology rival those of any nation, yet the country appreciates fine food, a slow pace, and the good things in life. Indeed, a French phrase describes it best: joie de vivre (joy of living).
That joy of living can be experienced throughout the entire country. In Paris, you can sit in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral and watch pigeons bob along, as they have for the past 700 years, while talking on your cell phone. Then you can catch a high-speed train to charming Beaune, where farmhands snip clusters of grapes from the vines the way they did in Roman times.
At the local market, you can buy cheese from the person who made it, and fruit and vegetables from the farmer who grew them. The charcutier (butcher) can tell you where his meat comes from. You can sit along the quai in Honfleur and savor a bowl of moules (mussels) while gazing at the boats in the harbor. Here, though boats may be powered by diesel motors, little else has changed since Samuel Champlain sailed off to the New World. And while the barges that ply the Canal du Midi between Bordeaux and the Mediterranean transport passengers today, rather than haul freight, their captains still banter with the lockkeepers, just like in the old days.
You can drive through the south of France on two-lane roads edged with wildflowers and shaded by sycamore trees generations old. In olive groves and orchards, wild thyme, lavender, and rosemary grow in rocky patches of soil. The scent of pine and heather perfumes the air. You can linger over dinner, just like the French do. When you reserve a table at a restaurant in France, it's yours for the night—the waiter won't ask you to wait in the bar for 30 minutes before seating you, or hustle you along so he can seat another party before the night is over.
This is contemporary France, a land that has preserved what is good and beautiful and true from its past and made it work in the present. Other nations have also preserved their historical charm, and other industrialized nations also boast ultra-modern amenities, but no country combines these two so successfully as France. This is true not only in Paris, but also, remarkably, in the smaller towns and villages. The successful blending of past and present permeates the entire society and every region.
One of the secrets of this successful blending lies in the fact that the French have managed to combine an agricultural base within a modern industrial economy. High-tech agricultural methods mingle with the rural charm of hand-hewn stone walls and tile roofs. Farmers—individual, small producers—are still important to the French economy. When French farmers take their complaints to the streets, the government pays attention to them. After all, France is the food basket of Europe thanks not to corporate agribusiness, but to the family farm.
At the same time, France prizes its modernity. The country boasts a surplus of electric power from nuclear plants and builds rockets to launch its own satellites into orbit. It is Europe's largest producer of automobiles and host to its commercial aircraft industry. In most years, exports surpass imports; when they do not, as in 2004, it becomes a national issue. French medical researchers rival their peers anywhere in the world, and the health of French citizens is taken seriously. Employers provide mandatory health care, and the government offers extensive benefits for the needy and unemployed.
France also educates its people, providing a university education at nominal cost for anyone who graduates from high school and wants to continue in school. Even in present times, an extremely popular annual event is the televised dictée (dictation), in which millions of French people sit in front of their televisions and try to write a paragraph of dictation correctly, just as they did in school. The correct version is later published, along with the results.
France is a well-educated, well-run nation, internationally famous for its culture, art, and cuisine; Americans living in France enjoy the benefits of all this as much as French citizens do. And the weather's nice, too. The country enjoys a temperate climate, an added boon to Americans from harsher climes. The southern Atlantic and the Mediterranean coasts rarely dip below freezing and enjoy pleasant daytime temperatures of 50°F nine months out of the year, from February through November. The country's coldest region, north above the Loire River, does not rest long under a blanket of snow. July and August are the only months with stretches of 95-degree highs.
With such a nice climate, it's no surprise France offers abundant recreational opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts. Two massive mountain ranges, the Pyrénées and the Alps, border the country on the south and the east, respectively, providing Olympic-caliber skiing on nearly 80,000 miles of runs, plus hiking, biking, and other activities, all within a few hours from any location in the country. On the two coasts, extensive beaches offer chances to laze away the day, comb for seashells, or go boating—not to mention eat abundant fresh fish and seafood.
From the rolling plains of Champagne to the forests of the Massif Central, France boasts a tremendously varied geography paralleled only by its cultural variety. A distance of 10 miles can bring noticeable changes in the language, in the crops, in the architecture, and certainly in how the local population defines itself.