VIVE LA FRANCE
Having just returned from a year in Provence many people have asked me what do I miss about France now that I am back, and what did I miss about Ireland while I was away. So I decided to write down my reflections on my experience of living in both cultures.
The main thing I absolutely LOVED about France was the respect for women, and particularly older women. In Ireland older women are often invisible, to men and younger women. As an older women I have often had the experience of being ‘tolerated’ when talking to a male professional, tradesperson, shop assistant or just about anyone, rather than respected. This is particularly true when in the company of a man. This was demonstrated clearly to me last summer in Dublin when I went into my local wine shop to buy wine with my partner. He picked up a cigar while I looked at the wine. The proprietor came up and greeted him warmly, insisted on showing him some recommended wines whilst completely ignoring me. Needless to say I left the shop without purchasing anything.
In France when we met any man, whether a professional, garage mechanic, tradesperson, gardener in ANY situation, even when my partner was doing the talking and questioning, I was ALWAYS included and respected. Eye contact was maintained with both of us - in fact at times so much so that I felt my partner was being excluded! It was a a delicious feeling to be such an integral part of anyconversation and one I had not felt since I was young and attractive. The respect for women is innate in French culture, and now that Macron is in power with his beautiful wife, older women are more respected than ever!
By contrast I missed the easy chat in Ireland, you can talk to anyone whereas the French, like the English, need to be introduced. Once there is an introduction they are warm and friendly but there is nothing like being able to go up to a complete stranger and just chat! I was on the beach in Brittas Bay at the weekend (another plus, deserted beaches!) and started talking to a fellow swimmer. We talked about swimming, the weather and then went on personal experiences and it was wonderful to be able to get to know a total stranger in such an easy exchange. In the same way motorists in Ireland will often wave and smile at each other whereas this just does not happen in France. French drivers are reserved and aloof in their cars, perhaps it is because they need all their concentration to approach roundabouts at full tilt with horns blaring!
Dogs are welcomed everywhere in France, you will often see dogs under the tables in restaurants. They are well behaved and quiet, as are children accompanying their parents. This is in stark contrast to Ireland where dogs are strictly not allowed in restaurants butchildren are allowed to run riot!
My year in Provence was magical, I made many friends (though not many French ones), improved my French and enjoyed the glorious weather and long hikes up above Monaco. The vegetables and fruit were full of flavour – and decomposed the next day as they were meant to. Bread and cheese and excellent red wine all contributed to a wonderful gastronomic experience (and a few extra pounds). I love France, the French, the language, their way of life, their culture but, all in all, there is no place like home and, returning to this soggy little island I felt I BELONGED and it is this sense of belonging that defines home for me.