Thursday, May 31, 2012

10 Things I'll Miss While in France

I found my beloved yellow mustard at a pseudo-American diner in Dijon

Soon it will be time to zip that suitcase closed, stuff it in an overhead bin, and take off for five weeks in France.  The trip means a summer of adjusting to all the differences between home and another country.  If I didn’t enjoy that change in my daily life I wouldn’t be crossing the ocean every summer.  As much as I embrace this opportunity to try on another culture, each summer there are some things from home that I pine away for without end.

Amerique, tu me manques* 

10) Yellow mustard 
We’re always based in Dijon, so you can guess what comes on sandwiches.  The problem is, I don’t like it.  I’ll cook with it, but I don’t want it on my turkey or ham sandwich at lunch.  The new Subway restaurant, nor the local McDonald’s serve it.  So I alternate salads and kebabs for lunch (and delicious packaged soup if it’s cold).

9) Doggy bags
The restaurant portions aren’t huge (usually), but by about the fourth course you’re getting full.  I would love to take home that last bit of duck or the delicious pizza or the regional casserole I couldn’t finish.  Someone suggested I always carry some Tupperware with me.  Yeah, right.  I admit it.  Probably the reason I can’t finish these fabulous meals all the time is because I regularly commit one of the French cardinal sins – I snack during the day.  If you only eat at meal time, of course you’re not too full for dinner.  So shoot me.  I’m an American, therefore I snack.

8) American music
It’s played surprisingly often over there, but not often enough.  I’ve tried to find something I like, but the videos are cheap and cheesy looking and the musical style sounds like it hasn’t advanced much more since Charles Aznavour was causing all the French chickies to swoon.  Last year Lady Antebellum music was really big on the French Muzak stations.  Thank heaven for small favors.

An American funk band played on one of our visits 

7) An IHOP breakfast
The French don’t do breakfast, unless you consider a piece of brioche and some yogurt breakfast.  Last summer I noticed some cafés opening early (before 8 a.m.) for the first time.  They served a light breakfast of croissant, juice, and yogurt.  Some even offered things like oatmeal or a bowl of mixed fruit.  But some mornings I want pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon (none of that Canadian kind), lots of syrup, etc.  It’s not like I do it all the time at home, but at least once or twice a month I indulge.

6) Extended shopping hours
France is good at leisure and family time.  I don’t need everything to be going on a 24-hour cycle.  But couldn’t something besides restaurants stay open until 10 or 11 p.m.?  Couldn’t the Petite Casino market stay open for more than three hours on Sunday in case you were out of town, arrived home in the late afternoon, and realized you had nothing for dinner.  What if you ran out of batteries at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night?  On Friday night stores stay open until 8 p.m.  Most close by 6 or 7 o’clock.  Can’t we find some kind of compromise here?

5) American television
I’m not a huge series TV watcher.  I can get my Daily Show and Rachel Maddow online.  However, I’ve found very little French television that grabs my attention.  Even the late night sex TV can be pretty boring.  When they do show BBC programs or old Law and Order episodes, they always dub the dialogue.  It’s just not the same without the New York cop accents.  Unfortunately, I can’t access Hulu TV in France.  So I’m stuck in a continuous loop of BBC News and CNN International.  Sometimes you just want to watch a little television while eating your lunch, you know.

4) Over-the-counter medicine
If I have hemorrhoids or a discreet vaginal itch, the only option in France is to explain your malady to someone in a white coat behind a tall counter.  That person will decide your best line of attack and retrieve it for you from a wall of remedies behind him or her.  The French pharmacie is not like ours.  They take all medicines very seriously, and even ibuprofen (although it doesn’t require a prescription) requires this consultation.  I just wish once I could walk in, grab a tube of Neosporin for a blister on my foot, pay, and leave.

3) Toilets
The French adore modern design.  They fill their 16th century buildings with 21st century furniture, but so often it seems like they didn’t bother to update the plumbing as well.  I just do not understand why a modern country still uses holes in the ground for many public toilets.  Others may bear a passing resemblance to modern toilets, but don’t be fooled.  If I have to pay to use it (which is the norm for most public toilets), I have high expectations.  On random street corners, though, they have completely automatic toilets that sanitize themselves after every use.  But just don’t take too long on the pot because automatic means it also automatically opens after a predetermined amount of time, possibly leaving you exposed to all passers-by.  And forget popping into a local café or even McDonald’s to use the facility.  They’re on to you and don’t offer that unique American service.

Be quick about it if you don't want your secrets exposed
2) Impromptu friendships
Let’s face it.  The French are more reserved than Americans.  They can be warm and helpful and funny.  However, don’t expect to start chatting up the couple sitting at the café table a mere 12 inches from you.  The French don’t do idle chit-chat.  Two Americans standing in line at a Starbucks can practically become best friends while waiting for their non-fat lattes.  The French, maybe after 10 or 15 years.  That whole vous-tu division in their language tells it all.  Everyone in your family is tu; everyone outside it gets the more distant and formal vous.  It is what it is, but good ol’ American “hail fellow, well met” neighborliness would make it a whole lot easier to make a new friend in that country.

1) Mexican food
The food in France is delicious.  Yet after a few weeks there I just crave queso cheese, cumin, and hot sauce – and lots of warm, crispy chips in a basket.  Some days I imagine if I knew how to cook the dishes from my favorite Mexican restaurants at home and opened a restaurant there I could make a fortune.  Heck, some days I’d even be ecstatic over a little Taco Bell.  The best I can do is some Old El Paso seasoning and taco sauce in the grocery store.  That’s about the extent of “ethnic food” at the market.  Maybe if I traveled to Marseille, which has an extremely diverse population, I could find a little spicy something from Spain.  The first place I go when I get home is the closest Mexican restaurant.

These are bits of America that I’ll miss.  But that time hasn’t come yet.  If you want to know what the French miss when they’re away from France, check out this list.  If you keep an eye on my blog, you’ll soon start seeing all the things I love about that country.

On the other hand, in America I don't get an impromptu circus while eating dinner
When you leave home, whether traveling near or far, what are the things that you miss the most?  Share your favorite things in the comments box.
*America, I miss you


Annette Gendler said...

Congrats, Julie, for making it to the Blogathon finish line! And yes, whoever lives in or maybe between two countries will appreciate your list. When you're in one country, you miss some stuff from the other, and vice versa.

Unknown said...

Oh my, I'm getting homesick already and I don't leave to France until the end of August, for a month.
I think I'm going to pack corn tortillas and chipotle. So glad I read your list so I'm a little more prepared. Bon Voyage.

Deborah said...

Have a great trip, Julie - and watch out for those "a la turque" WCs too. for me the least lovely of France's enduring traditions!

Haven on Hanover said...

Is it too risky to put a small bottle of French's yellow in your suitcase? I'm very excited about my trip to Semur en Auxois this summer but it is only for a week so I won't have time to crave bagels and cream cheese while I'm eating one chocolate croissant after another.

Muriel said...

Julie, you are so American! I totally understand where you are coming from, but I could write 10 things that I miss about France when I travel. OK, here we go:
1. The freshness of food
2. The long lunch break
3. Well-behaved children
4. A certain French sense of fashion (I tend to buy my clothes in france. yes, still now)
5. Bouillabaisse
6. Bread. Yes, real bread.
7. French portion size (I always end up putting on weight when I travel)
8. Long conversations with my friends
9. Free healthcare
10. (virtually) Free childcare
Enjoy France!

Julie Farrar said...

Muriel, I miss all of those things when at home, too, except the boull-- can't even spell it, let alone eat it.

Andrea said...

Followed you from She Writes. Enjoyed this post. No mexican food would be very tough to go without! And those toilets are timed to open? Wow! That would surely cause me to be so nervous I'd end up taking longer! @MuMuGB's comment was interesting. Long lunch breaks and delicious bread sound great, but well-behaved children...Hmm, maybe I should get a French nanny for the summer to whip my littles in shape! :)

Julie Farrar said...

I can confirm that the French children seem better behaved -- at least in public. If I hear some kid whining or acting up, if I listen long enough I found out he or she is not French.

Liv Rancourt said...

I'm not much for traveling, but my sister lives in Australia, and whenever any of the family visits her, we bring Captain Crunch cereal, Ranch dressing mix, and ketchup. I think she can get all those things there (now, which is a relatively new thing) but they're VERY expensive.

Julie Farrar said...

There are one or two shops in Paris that sell American food (chocolate chips, Kraft mac 'n' cheese, etc.) but of course it's expensive because of import fees. Thank heavens I can get Pringles at any grocery to eat with my lunches.

Rossandra said...

I have found your blog to be enjoyable, illuminating and informative so I nominated you for the Illuminating Blogger Award. You can check out the details here:

Bella said...

Julie, another winning post! How I loved reading the things you'll miss because I miss so many! I miss maple syrup, Hershey's Kisses, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Pop Tarts, Lord, how I miss Pop Tarts! I miss Wendy's chili, Mello Yello, Breyer's ice cream, and Secret Platinum deodorant!! On the upside, you will be enjoying some heavenly croissants and delicious coffee! :)

Julie Farrar said...

Thanks, Bella. Croissants, yes. Coffee, no, but tea with ginger biscuits, yes. I know the list would be interminably long if I lived there full time.

Astra said...

Lovely post!
Ah, the bread. I miss the bread in France.
When I travel, I miss the accessibility to clean drinking water.

Julie Farrar said...

Ah, yes. The drinking water. So few drinking fountains and the stuff coming out of the public faucets (even in France) is labeled "non-potable." Why?

Scoop (Leslie Scoopmire) said...

We will be in Paris the last week in July (by we, I mean eldest daughter, moi, and godparents from Tulsa who are gifting Lauren with this trip), and your list gave me a nice heads' up. So, the night before we leave, I need to go to Milagro in Webster Groves, and I need to bring my OWN tylenol and bandaids. Check! Thanks!

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