Why I love France so much…

It won’t come as a shock to those who know me, or regular readers, that I love France.

I don’t love the kitsch French decor items – the Eiffel towers (she says, with two photographs of them displayed in her home) the shabby chic, the ‘sayings’ in French on stretched canvases.  But I do love the French language, way of thinking, lifestyle, and just generally being IN France.

2008 visit... I HATE getting my photo taken, but someone twisted my arm!
2008 visit… I HATE getting my photo taken, but someone twisted my arm!

To be poetic, I feel my soul is refilled in France.  Much the way a hug can restore your heart after a tough and emotional time.  I feel I absorb so much from BEING in France.  Not from seeing anything in particular, or traipsing through museums or art galleries.  Just from being. Walking the streets.  Speaking the language.  Embracing the food (and my curves :o)

The happy family in my school ground in 1993! Sorry for the flash - it's hard to photograph a photograph at night!
The happy family in my school ground in 1993! Sorry for the flash – it’s hard to photograph a photograph at night!

But why?  Firstly, my parents have always been enchanted with France.  When I was 9, my parents both cashed in their long service leave, and we moved to the South of France for 15 weeks.  Yep, three children (one just shy of two years of age) packed up their 4 bedroom Queenslander for rent, and moved to a tiny stone place in tiny village in the south of France (Treilles).  Did I love it then?  Nope! The first night – a long jetlagged sleepless night with Fete de la Musique blarring in the windows of our one star hotel in Paris was not the start of a dream, but a nightmare!!  And my parents insisted on sending me and my brother to school every day whilst they went to the beach with the youngest.  The indignity!  I didn’t even use the bathroom at school (and I’ve since found out my brother also held out all day), they were that gross!

So, if not for the love of French salle de bains et toliettes, then what was it that captured me? I didn’t even love French classes at school in Australia (and much less the strict French teacher).  I didn’t study it in the serious senior years of high school. Though I always kept the thought of French as part of my university studies.  In actual fact, both my parents learnt French in the years of free tertiary education when I was a baby. Still, it’s not clear why I would hate my French classes at school and still aim to study it at university, right?

Renault and Orlean. I think this was 1997... I do recall this home had hot water that didnt work!
Renault and Orlean. I think this was 1997… I do recall this home had hot water that didnt work!

Perhaps it was (at least) the 3 visits prior to my adolescence. (In actual fact, I’ve lost track of my ‘visits’ to France, I must dredge up my childhood passports to check!).  My parents, bless their hearts, forfeited other luxuries for the eye opening joys of travel.  And there’s no going back from what the wunderlust it’s struck in their three children.

I think at the heart of it, I wanted to be part of a secret club.  That club is those that are bilingual.  In Brisbane, where I grew up, that’s not particularly common.  In Sydney, it’s laughably common!  But in my childhood and adolescence, I dreamt of the ability to speak another language. To learn a ‘code’ that others didn’t know.  To infiltrate another culture and not be known as a foreigner.

And that might be why I love France.  I finally have got the stage where I feel like I’m a foreigner who’s in on the private joke. I (mostly) understand what’s going on, what’s being said.  Having spent a year studying in France, I feel I understand the French psyche.  I feel I empathise with their desire for a short working week, good food and a socialist health and education system.  The biggest marker of my fluency was when I could bicker or ‘fight’ with public servants! There’s nothing more French (imo!)

My real family, and my French family. This family came from no where and to this day are dear to my heart.
My real family, and my French family. This family came from no where and to this day are dear to my heart.

Aside from the language comprehension, I do love all the cliches.  I like the ‘proper’ winter that we don’t have in Australia – the need for woolen coats, scarves and gloves. I love the chic style that is so effortless (and I like to believe I’ve got it too ;)). I love the perfection in pasteries – the glossy mirror finish, the delectable flavours.  There’s not just ‘it looks nice’ – it’ll taste nice too, certainly better than some things I ‘enjoy; in Australia! I love the intensity of flavour – of coffees, hot chocolates, everything really!  I love the history, the huge windows, the ornate stone work.  I love that they scrapped a stack of streets to create orderly boulevards.  I love that they have a public transport system that started as Australia got a constitution (1901).  I love the rigours of their education system, that’s tentacles reach as far as former colonies as unique as Vanuatu! At the heart of it, I could say I love the unequivocal confidence of the French.

The doors to the kingdom - Versailles
The doors to the kingdom – Versailles

I’ve never thought to hate France.  I have struggled with the language, certainly as an eight year old in a foreign schooling system.  We were actually ‘asked to leave’ the village school as teaching us was too hard in the mixed age group class.  Thankfully the neighbouring village teacher was far warmer to us, and to this day, she’s a friend of the family’s.

I’m not sure if I’ve adequately even began to describe the pull that France has on me.  It is somewhere that has me entirely in love, and at ease.  Even a week doing nothing in France is still better than most things I can think of! One day, I dream of living there.  When, I’m not entirely sure, but my life is long.

Does one destination or location enchant you entirely?

7 Replies to “Why I love France so much…”

  1. Oh – I loved reading this, Sarah!! Only a month now till we go on our first trip to France. I am so much hoping it will live up to the lifetime of expectations I have of it. I love how you seem so incredibly at ease and 'fluent' in the culture. I cannot wait to just walk the streets and soak it all up.

    That would have been unbelievably hard to be plunged into the French school system at 9! All the kids I know at my school who have been there have really disliked the strictness of the French culture at school. So it's not just the language barrier but the cultural difference.

    I got started studying French when I changed states / schools at 13 and was forced to enrol in French. I was years behind the other kids and that's where the fascination began. I just loved trawling the text-book at night, trying to figure it all out on my own. I think initially I fell in love with it because it was the only subject where I was allowed to work entirely at my own pace / designing my own work.

    Somewhere along the way I just fell in love with the sound of the language, the way it changes your personality to speak it, the literature, the history & the art. I remember starting to dream in French in Year 11. There was a transition point that happened in the space of a couple of weeks where I stopped having to translate in my head and could just 'hear' it like English.

    Like you, I didn't do it all the way to Year 12 either. A bunch of us did Year 12 French in Year 11, then enrolled in Italian (from scratch, but it was so similar to French.) I did it at Uni for 2 years (yes, back in the days of free university…long will we mourn them now, as the Budget changes things again.)

    We are going to Versailles as well 🙂

    1. I loved learning your story of French! You are just ingeniously smart aren't you – teaching yourself, I just can't imagine! That being said, I know I was helped a lot by some level of French immersion living in Vanuatu where things are at times in French. So vocab was almost osmosis, whereas grammar – my my my!

      I totally agree that my personality (to some extent) changes to speak French, and then watching my (true) personality come through as I got better at the language living there in 2006. I didn't get to dreaming in French either til I moved there, so again, kudos you sister! but it is great when you think in the language, not think as a translator.

  2. Love the push-me/pull-me emotions. Loved being in France – only one for many weeks on my grand tour (backpacking trip).

    Bugger the end of tertiary education. Surely, the first degree should be interest free!

    1. I agree there should be some level of free study – even if only for 'target' industries where we're not getting enough grads, perhaps? Who knows, but it seems rank that unis can more or less charge what they want (according to planned changed in legislation), so people will study at uni cause they can pay – no merit there!

  3. I haven't really travelled enough to feel a tug to a special place – except London, which I've visited about 6 times now? and never get tired of it.

    My experience of French culture is from living in Montreal for 6 months. To generalize greatly – the locals want you to attempt speaking French, but as soon as they hear your non-native accent, they immediately switch to English, so it is extremely difficult to get any practice speaking French!

    1. 6 times is a fair few! I think that would be more than enough, so London can (for now) be your place, and perhaps more will come?

      Oh yes I was SO puzzled in Montreal, as I too was bilingual, so I asked my friend who lived there 'what do I speak?' she said, whatever, they are obliged to reply in the language you use, supposedly. But like you, they often reverted to English (happens a bit in Paris too – so I'm glad I moved 'out' and experienced more provincial life where I had to struggle with the language and no English back up)

  4. If I’m being honest, two destinations enchant me. Like you, one of them is France. I’ve been there a couple times now, and I would have to agree with you that the country is enchanting. I can’t speak the language anymore beyond a couple words, so I find the reception I receive to be stereotypically snobbish and arrogant, but I’m just as much to blame for that reception as they are. I do wish my French speaking abilities were better, and I hope to relearn some of my French before my next trip over there. The other destination that enchants me is Denmark. Sure, the weather is really only something to be desired during the summer, but after living there for a year the country has taken a hold of parts of my psyche and won’t let go. The style, the food, the relaxed pace of life, the ingrained modes of transportation, the language, you name it. I can’t wait to go back again.

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