Six things I’ve learned about France

1. France has perhaps the best bread and pastry products in the world. I especially love how fresh it all is. Yes, they sell a little bit of prepackaged bread at the grocery stores, but there are boulangeries every two or three blocks. I get a lot of croissants and baguettes since it’s only a ten minute walk to the closest boulangerie, but people who live more out in the country will buy thicker loaves because they only get to town once or twice per week.

2. The French are not afraid of traffic circles; I think they’re probably more common here than regular old intersections—at least in the area I’m in. However, the rules for the traffic circles make no sense to me. First, you are supposed to use your blinker—right for the first exit, none for the second exit, and left for the third exit. Then, right before you exit the circle, you turn on your right blinker no matter where you started out. Also, most traffic circles are wide enough for two or more lanes of traffic, yet there aren’t guidelines on which lane you should be in based on where you’re exiting. I’ve heard that, for all accidents at the circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, insurance companies split the liability 50/50 because there’s really no way to figure out who is at fault. That traffic circle has about six lanes of traffic. I’m convinced that the people in the inner-most lane have been driving in circles for years and years, unable to exit.

3. Contrary to the stereotype, the French are kind—to each other and to Americans. I rode the bus the other day, and every person who got off, even when they exited through the back door, took the time to say goodbye and thank you to the driver. And except for one girl at Carcassonne, everyone I’ve spoken to has been wonderfully nice, even when I’ve made a fool of myself with various language errors.

4. My Michigan drivers license works in France, but so far I’ve been too afraid to drive. There are too many differences (not to mention the too-narrow roads common in Europe): it is illegal to pass on the right, yet you are expected to pull off to the right side of your lane if there is a motorcycle behind you. Every driver must carry an emergency vest in the car that must be worn if they break down. There will be random checkpoints set up (that not everyone has to stop at, though I’m still unclear on who does) at which they will check your papers and to make sure you have your emergency vest.

5. Fresh is the name of the game. The weekly town markets are always ten times busier than the grocery stores (so far as I’ve seen, anyway). I walk into the market in Tournefeuille, and it just smells different. The dozens of vendors sell everything from fresh produce to skinned and gutted rabbits, from flowers and plants to prepared vats of paella. So far I’ve stuck to buying vegetables, though. I made myself duck confit last night, but I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with a rabbit.

6. Strangely, the French also love their pizza. There are nearly as many pizza places as boulangeries, just don’t expect to find pepperoni. If you want eggs and fresh cream, though, you’re probably in luck. Delivery is free, which is nice, and most places also let you order carpaccio, too. Which is less nice, because, let’s be honest, if there’s one way I really won’t try raw meat, it’s after it’s been put in a box, strapped to the back of a motorcycle, and driven halfway across town.


  • Monet says:

    I laughed so hard at the people stuck in the traffic circle.

    • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

      My sister and I were much more intrigued by the traffic circle than we were by the historical monument in the middle. We call it the traffic circle of doom, and there may or may not be pictures of us making funny terrified faces as we stand in front of the traffic circle.

  • Amaris says:

    I remember having the best pizza in Nice, and I always assumed that was strange until I read #6. Baltimore also used to have really great pizza, which probably is still strange.

  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    I’ll take the carpaccio strapped to a motorcycle and driven across town….

  • Casey says:

    This is so great, and it’s making me really nostalgic for the summer I spent in Paris. Maybe I missed it in a previous post, but are you just traveling in France for fun? Teaching there? I’m looking for ways to get back there after I graduate from the MFA this spring.

    • Kathryn says:

      I’m here for a month-long vacation. My dad has a friend who lives out here and I was invited to come stay. It’s been absolutely wonderful, though, to save money, I haven’t been doing a lot of traveling. Instead, I’ve been getting really comfortable around the town I’m staying in.

      I’d say if you want to go, start asking around to see if you know someone who knows someone… There are so many Americans here!

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