I’m currently enjoying my first visit back to the US since I moved to France in October 2016. While I am having a great time, there are a few things that I really miss about France!
Here’s the list:
- I miss the easy access to fresh, healthy, seasonal foods
- While you can find plenty of farmer’s markets and natural food stores in hipster Portland, there just isn’t the same access as in France. The tiny town of ~3,500 people that I live in has a market twice a week, which is the norm in France. And that market has virtually every food product that you can imagine – 100 types of cheese, honey that varies in color and consistency due to the pollen the bees were exposed to (which is indicated on the jar), fresh meats and seafood, a rainbow of produce . . .
- More importantly, you don’t need to be a master chef (or hire one) to eat gourmet food with loads of veggies, fruit and an array of different meats and grains. Many restaurants have a menu that is very limited (often just two appetizers, two main dishes and two desserts to choose from), but it comes from the recent market. This means you are eating differently throughout the year based on what is in season. Lots of soups and squash are around in the fall, a variety of salads and plenty of berries in the spring. You can eat out every day for lunch and still be eating healthy with very little effort.
- I miss the strong cultural focus on “doing sport”
- Exercise is a legitimate plan and counts as a reason that you cannot make other plans. “Sorry, Tuesday is the night that I swim” is a perfectly valid reason to never make plans that night. Postponing dinner by 30 minutes for a little “sport” because you got off work late? Also perfectly valid. I find it very easy to fit exercise into my routine almost every day in France.
- Because exercise is viewed as so important to your physical and mental well-being, it is often incorporated into plans that your French friends will make with you. While it drove me crazy when I first arrived, I love it now. A nice bike ride after a tough day at work is really refreshing and preps you well for the late French dinner.
- I miss the wine culture
- Despite the French having a reputation in regards to drinking a lot of wine, in my experience, alcohol is rarely the “main event.” The French may grab a drink in the mid-afternoon (alcoholic or not), but the main activity is talking with friends and watching the city go by at an outdoor cafe. Or the French will pair wine (sparkling or not) with dinner, but the main event is again socializing, so you really take your time over the meal. The few times that I’ve been invited to go out for drinks in France, it either turned into having dinner or everyone nursed one (or two max) drinks over several hours. I’m not a heavy drinker, so drinking to get drunk isn’t a highlight for me. While I’ve seen a few French people who were a little drunk, it was the result of a very long dinner with many glasses of wine, they weren’t “drinking to get drunk” . . . and they were all still capable of carrying on a logical conversation and walking unaided, so not “black out drunk.”
- Having spent so much time in an area where good wine is readily available (and cheap), but hard liquor isn’t really popular, I’ve discovered that I don’t really care for hard liquor. Mixed drinks are much more popular in Portland, but it only took me a couple of nights out before I started opting for wine whenever a decent one was available. I simply don’t like the way that hard liquor makes me “feel,” even with only one or two drinks. I’ve had hard liquor so infrequently in France that the difference was really noticeable. The only problem is that finding a good wine at most Portland bars is difficult . . . and often expensive!
- I miss the ability to safely and easily walk (or bike) to town
- One thing that I have decided is that I don’t want to live in an area so rural that it isn’t near a town with a grocery store and good restaurant. Even in Genouillé, I could walk into the small town area. I’ve frequently walked my glass items over to the glass recycling bins or taken a short walk on the various paths near my home. While there may be sections on busy roads, most places that I lived in Portland required that you walk or bike on a major road, with a lot of vehicles, in order to reach any stores. I realize that this point is something that I miss specifically because I live in a rural area in France (albeit near several towns), but I’m from a suburb of a large city in the US. I’ve spent the past week in Sunriver, Oregon, where I’ve enjoyed a small resort community where you can park your car and bike or walk everywhere that you need to go on designated paths.
- Outside of special communities, American cities are designed around accessibility by car. French cities are not and often have large shopping roads that are largely closed to vehicular traffic. There are bike rental programs in virtually all of the large cities that I’ve been to. Most of the major cities also have well-developed and convenient metro systems, which are frequently faster than driving.
- I miss the driving rules in France
- While some of the rules fall apart a little in the major cities in France, the French go through extensive driving school to get a license. There are certain rules, like the speed limits, which are largely ignored in the rural areas (and often the highways as well); however, other rules are studiously followed. I have driven through many regions in France and you can largely depend on the fact that French drivers will stay in the right lane, except to pass or let an oncoming vehicle merge. This means that you can generally pick your speed, set cruise control and drive for hours without having another vehicle get in your way. Occasionally, a slower person will be in front of you while passing a truck (with lower speed limits), but they will promptly get out of your way after passing. The exception to this seems to be three-lane highways. People who are consistently passing those in the far right will often drive in the center lane for a considerable distance because there is still the far left lane to use for passing.
- There are roundabouts everywhere and they work rather well. Most people will signal while in the roundabout so that you know they are staying in or exiting. This makes it very easy to tell when you can safely enter. People also generally signal when switching lanes or turning. Compared to Portland (and several other states that I’ve driven in), driving in France feels very orderly. I strongly prefer driving in France to driving in Portland.
- While very specific to living in a rural area vs. a city, I also miss the general lack of traffic.
Of course, I also miss my friends and colleagues in France, plus I love the language (now that I’m learning it) and I could probably list 10 other little things . . . but the list above includes the things that have consistently come to mind since I’ve been in the US. This list is clearly about day-to-day life as well – if I made a list of reasons that I might never leave France, it would include bigger topics, such as “France has an incredible healthcare system and I’m not worried that getting ill will bankrupt me.”
That isn’t to say that everything is better in France though! Join me next week for the top 5 things that I will miss about the US when I return to France.