In honor of last week’s Bastille Day celebrations, I figured I’d take a moment to share with you a few of the cultural lessons I’ve learned thus far during my time in France. What better way to celebrate a country, than to celebrate its cultural nuances.
1. Give us this day, our daily bread
Ah, bread. The French love it. It’s everywhere, at every meal, in a million different forms. It’s as if the French took the teachings of Jesus Christ to heart adopting the “let us break bread” concept as their national pastime. The French motto should actually read…Liberté, égalité, fraternité et pain. What is really amusing to me is the treatment of bread at the dinner table. For as important as it is and for all the proper etiquette the French reserve for their dining experiences, the bread seems to get the shaft. There is no special bread plate onto which one can place the bread nor is it placed on the dinner plate next to the rest of the fare . It just gets plopped straight on the dinner table, crumbs and all. Apparently for the French, the prayer actually reads “give us this day, our daily bread …and plop it on the table next to your wine.”
2. Bros before hoes
The French love to take American words or sayings and integrate them into their daily language. Words like “cool, top and super” end up in all sorts of phrases normally used to describe things as being, well, cool, top, or super. I especially like it when they make a whole new word up with the borrowed word, like top. The movie poster for Kung Fu Panda 2 describes the movie as being “toppissime!” (Translation: Awesome!) However, it is even more interesting to me when they take true slag and make it their own. Something about it is just ever so slightly off. Like when I was on the metro last week, and I heard a young guy having a conversation on his cell phone, and he muttered the phrase “bros before hoes.” (Mind you, this was said with quite the thick, French accent so you can imagine that some of the hardcore-ness of the phrase was actually water-downed with the ever-romantic French diction.) Of all the things he could have appropriated from the American culture, this is what he chose to take. This is clearly the cultural exchange at its finest. Perhaps the next lesson could be on the intricacies of the bitch slap? PS…Snoop Dogg called. He wants his hoes back.
3. Going once, going twice, soldes!
Twice a year everything in France goes on sale…literally! Every January and every July, all the stores get rid of their passé inventory by putting it on sale for 6 full weeks. All items from clothing to home décor to building supplies are slashed down up to 80% off. Talk about the sales event of the year. Better yet, the two sales events of the year! It’s an absolute shopping frenzy. It’s also the secret behind the Parisian’s impeccable fashionable and style. (I’m on to you, Frenchies!) No need to spend a million euros to look like a million euros. This is quite the brilliant concept. Vive les soldes!
4. Cave envy
It is a unspoken rule that every self-respecting French man have an wine cave of which to be self-respecting. Regardless of where you live, what you do, or where you come from, if you are a French man, you must have a wine cave. They vary in size and style and in the contents they contain, but every man has one or a version of one. And they will proudly show it off and its contents whenever you visit their home. (I’m sure that if men could do this with their private parts, they totally would.) My favorite part of the cave show-and-tell is when we get to taste their goods because every cave tour ends with an open bottle of wine. Now, that’s my kind of show-and-tell. Go ahead boys, whip it out! My cup runeth empty, and it could use a good ’92 Chateau Margaux!
5. Sardines a la française
This is not a type of sardine. This is what I lovingly call the Parisian metro system. Why? Because that’s exactly what we are come rush hour time on the metro. Regardless of how packed the metro may be (and when I say packed, I mean “my face is squished up against the glass door as in a make-shift facelift kind of way” packed), there will always be someone…or some many…that will think that one more person can fit. It’s as if everyone loses their notion of humanity… and personal space… when it comes to trying to get home during peak hours. It never fails. Just as the door is about the close, someone will cram themselves into the slightest nook available in a desperate attempt at winning that final point of the human Tetris game we play during our daily commute. Yesterday, I actually saw a woman stage dive into the stuffed train just as the door was about to close. Seriously. Of course, my favorite moment of any train ride is when we pick up passengers at the train stations. No matter what the train situation may be (and most of the time, it’s packed), there will always be the courteous passenger that will be sure to squeeze themselves into the train carrying their fifteen pieces of luggage, their ten loud kids and their enormous, slobbering dog. Sit back and enjoy your ride.
More lessons to come…:)