Even though I have been living with my Frenchie for a while now, I haven’t really experienced French culture. Not that she isn’t much French… But more than she has adapted to the local or the expat way of life. So, it was time for me to visit the place where she grew up – Brittany. On top of that, I was invited to stay at Héloïse parents’ house. As you can imagine, I was basically getting on a cultural roller coaster. Since my ride has now ended, I would like to share with you the things that have surprised me the most while in Brittany.
DISCLAIMER: I do understand that I cannot generalize the culture based on one experience. Or one stay in a single region. And I do know that France is very diverse. However, in this blog, I intend to share my personal experience from a Northerner’s point of view.
Having said that, let’s dive in!
The first thing that surprised me in Brittany, was how close everyone in a family is. Obviously, we all love our families, but what I mean is something different. It’s all the kisses, hugs, and cute words that surprised me. For instance, you kiss your mum when you get up. Then, you kiss her before lunch. Then, before you go out for the day and after you have come back. And before going to bed, of course. Well, you get the point. I think, in the North people kiss their parents only when it’s their birthday or if you haven’t seen each other for a while.
In addition, in France, they always ask how each other is feeling that day. Actually, a few times a day even. I believe it’s impossible to hide your emotions or true feelings there. If you try, you would be revealed within minutes. Up North, people don’t open up to their parents as much. Nor they check with them daily or even weekly about one’s well-being. I’m not saying that among Northerners family relationships don’t exist, but they are definitely much colder.
Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised by the politeness of family members towards each other. There is always ‘a cute word’ followed by a ‘please’ and then a ‘thank you’ together with another cute word. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m used to much more straightforward communication with the loved ones.
In my opinion, food is the core basis of French culture. While that is nothing new, there are still a few surprising things about it. The daily activities are planned around mealtimes. Grocery shopping is never done just at the supermarket. The wine is rarely enjoyed without some snacks. Oh, and the importance of bread perhaps requires a separate blog post.
To start with, there is a specialized store for almost every ingredient. I am not talking just about a butcher shop or a bakery. People go to a designated spices store. Then they pop into a tea store. Some even make an effort to get out of town and visit a cookie factory store. It’s really impressive. I think, people really enjoy quality products – be it fair trade, organic or simply fresh produce. For French, food is not just fuel to keep them going, but rather a treat or a prize for which they work.
It has also surprised me, that in Brittany not only they respect food in itself, but they also appreciate the tradition of sharing a meal. From what I’ve seen, people rarely eat by themselves. They do enjoy a good company as much as good food. I believe you’ll rarely see a family watching TV while eating, instead of sitting at a set table. And that’s something that I like! While many of us are in a constant rush, the French do find the time to take a moment and enjoy their meal.
Finally, it may be just a thing of the specific family, but there is a lot of thought given for food preparation and planning. What I mean is, the moment the breakfast is finished, they are already planning what they are going to have for lunch or dinner. They discuss which ingredients have to be bought or, perhaps, what has to be pre-cooked in advance. The talk about food never stops. Never…
The sea is life. Literally, the citizens of Brittany start loving and respecting the sea from the early days. We are talking about primary school… And there is a very good reason for that. You see, in this part of the world, the phenomenon of low and high tides is happening. And it highly influences your daily life. For instance, you need to think whether this path will be underwater or not at this hour. Can you park your car here? From which quay should you take a ferry? All of this depends on the sea level at a time. Thus, kids are learning how to read tide schedules, how to swim, or sail from the early days.
I guess I should not be surprised, that while most of us had to go to an indoor gym and play some ball games during physical education classes, in Brittany they went sailing… Yes, in most of the cases sea is just meters away from the school. Thus, you swim, sail a boat, and go kayaking instead of running laps or playing dodge ball. I’ve even seen little kids training to surf… What a life!
I guess the love for the sea is inevitable in Brittany and it really lasts. Everyone from families with young kids to teenagers or retired couples appreciate the sea. They actually spend the majority of their leisure time on the beach. Some enjoy walking, some play boule, while others just come to read their newspaper there. One day you find yourself learning to cycle on the beach and just moments later your watch your grandchildren do that…
⇒ We hope you have enjoyed this article! Have you been to France? What did you find the most surprising?
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