Sunday 26 August 2007

Priceless French experiences

Or things the French do so much better than anyone else.

Having been tagged by Zhu who's in Canada, I have been busy thinking of ten things you can experience/see/do/eat in France that you really shouldn't miss out on. Purely from my point of view. I think there might be lots of food in this list.

1: A long French lunch. Everyone knows the French are serious about food. There must, of course, be some French people who don't care about good food and enjoying it (plenty of McDonald's here), but it's so much more fun to enjoy meals and take plenty of time over the whole eating business. The 2-hour lunch break on weekdays may be a myth, but on a Sunday the French are experts at making having lunch into an afternoon-long activity. The best occasions are family meals for birthdays, anniversaries or just for the fun of having a big family meal. It all begins with the apéro and some little nibbles for a mise en apétit. This can take half an hour easily. Then the meal itself which can take three hours at least. You have time to enjoy your food, to chat with your companions, and decent pauses between courses. You need this time to digest a bit before more food comes your way. Sometimes, it takes so long to have lunch, it's nearly dinner time before you get up from the table. Except you're too full for more food.
You don't want to have these sorts of lunches every week, of course. You'd become an enormous blob if you did and would never get anything done on a weekend ;)

2: Conduite sans frontières. This one isn't exclusively French, but it is one of the appreciable aspects of living in France, which is a signatory of the Schengen Agreement. This means you can climb in the car and drive and drive, to Denmark via Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. And maybe even carry on to Sweden. Or to Portugal via Spain. And all this without ever having to stop at a border control and present your passport. I love Europe.

3: The choice of cheese. Everyone knows about the French love of cheese, the vast choice and variety of cheeses produced and enjoyed by the French. And there is a cheese out there for all tastes. If you like nutty and fruity, try some Comté, cow's milk cheese from the Jura mountains in the east. I like the 18-month aged one. Or maybe you prefer creamy and mild? How about some ultra-fresh Selles-sur-Cher, made using goat's milk in a handful of départements around 150 miles south of Paris, just south of the Loire river. When it's very young it's creamy and fresh, and as it ages it dries and takes on a saltier flavour with a strong aftertaste. Or how about brie? Two cheeses in one: when it's young it is quite firm and mild, but you can also buy it "runny", with the creamy pâte literally seeping out from under the rind. I cut the rind off because I don't like the flavour. French people roll their eyes at this. And my favourite, Picodon (pic). A small, round goat's cheese from the Ardèche and Drôme, in the Rhône Alpes region. It is quite delicious.

4: Buying wine directly from the vigneron. Like cheese, wine is very much associated with France, especially in the "old world". The French are rightly proud of their wine. Some of it is indeed very nice. The most fun way of buying wine is to be able to go to a wine-producing region, pick out a producer, and go directly to the exploitation where the vigneron will tell you about his wine, he might show you the vats where it's fermenting, or the oak casks where it ages. You might get to visit his cave and see dozens and dozens and dozens of bottles in gravity-defying stacking arrangements. And then the wine-grower will offer you a taste of his wine. He'll explain how you should serve it (chilled, room temperature) and suggest which foods go best with it. This is the most fun way of buying wine. And guess what, the closest wine-producing region to our house is Champagne. Oh what a shame.

5: la Tour Eiffel. It may well be a tourist cliché but no visit to France, and certainly no visit to Paris can be complete without the famous iron tower. What more can I say? Take the stairs!

6: The braderie de Lille. The braderie is like an enormous yard sale/car boot sale/garage sale, and it happens in the centre of Lille on the first weekend of September. There are braderies all over the north of France, there's even one in our "village". You pay a few euros for a space and sell all your junk. Great fun. The Lille event is now quite removed from the amateur feel of most braderies. There are still some sections of the 200km of streets and pavements where you can find stalls selling collector's items and old furniture, but it is also quite commercial, with all city centre stores joining in, with special braderie bargains. And of course, moules-frites. Mussels steamed in white wine and served with French fries. I have no idea how many kilos of mussels are consumed, but restaurants compete with each other to have the biggest pile of shells outside. Can get a bit whiffy when it's warm...!

Now I'm going to enjoy a glass of champ' (bought from the producer!) cos it's our 1st wedding anniversary. Might finish this off tomorrow...


Anonymous said...

Great list! Happy Anniversary!

Anonymous said...

Aww, sweetie, Congratulations!!

Hope you are having a lovely relaxing time, and that the last year has lived up to all your hopes (and dreams). Here's to many more.
Love, jane x x x

Anonymous said...

Great answers !

Miam ! I love Comté... it's probably the cheese I miss the most here, cause I managed to find my other favorite (blue cheese) in Lebanese shops.

Long lunches... Yeah, I see what you mean, it can drags for hours !

Good job with the meme !

Ghosty said...

Just stopped by and ... Well, happy anniversary there!

Anonymous said...

Happy anniversary! Awwww that's so lovely! I hope he spoils you rotten!
Aww the Jezmister showed me a photo of all the cheese he's eating in France and I got really jealous!

Anonymous said...

Ah, happy anniversary. I was at a wedding on Saturday and I saw the date and I twigged.
I should probably email Craig and Jacqui as well!

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary!!!! One fab reason to pop open the Champagne....

Anonymous said...

Mrs Lis, you have blog bling over at mine, put on your best frock and come and get an award.

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Happy anniversary pet lamb! And heres to many,many more in the future!

Lis of the North said...

Thanks everyone :) We had a lovely anniversary, we went for a nice lunch in town but not posh because you have to behave in posh restaurants ;)