I am writing this article as part of the linky for bloggers organised by the blog Expat in France. Feel free to check it out, you will find lots of useful advice about living in France, navigating the French red tape and understanding better French culture.
When you move abroad, there are many similarities and differences which you notice between your home and expat country. At first, you tend to seek out everything which is familiar, everything which is like home. Yet, after a while, the joy of seeking out the similarities becomes replaced with the differences which become more and more apparent.
Finding the little similarities between France and England still bring me so much joy, even after three and a half years living here. However, things which seemed so different and made me feel miles away from home have swiftly become my familiar. Whilst there are still some differences I dislike and make me pine for English comforts, there are French cultures and traditions which have become so engrained in my expat lifestyle that I cannot imagine life without them.
Below, I am going to share with you five top things which France does better than England. Now, it wouldn’t be France if we didn’t talk about the food culture, would it? And it’s quite hard not to think of food comparisons when it comes to France so my list is centred around everything food related!
France and Cheese. Six letters each and the perfect pair. We would all be lying if we did not immediately think of cheese when we thought about this country. Sure, cheddar is great and always my top choice, but the sheer amount of cheese choices which unfold before your eyes in the supermarchés aisles is something unseen in England. Sometimes, a whole aisle is dedicated to just cheese. Whether you like blue cheese, hard cheese or spreadable cheese, French supermarkets have got you covered. Supermarkets besides, Cheese has its own shops dedicated solely to cheese: les fromageries. Cheese is such a part of French culture that most regions in the country produce their own cheese and France is even the world’s biggest producer of goat’s cheese (chèvre).
Here are just a few examples of cheese produced in France:
- Cantal from Auvergne
- Comté from Franche-Comté
- Camembert from Normandie
- La tome de Savoie from the Savoie region
- Raclette de Savoie and Raclette de Franche-Comté
Surely, you cannot mention cheese without mentioning the wine. One of the first differences that I noticed when I lived in France for a year whilst I was at university was the difference in the price of wine. France certainly wins here. Not only is there an amazing choice of wine in the supermarkets and wine produced in France, but it is also incredibly cheap. However, for good quality wine, there are shops specifically dedicated to wine in France: les cavistes. Like cheese, many regions in France produce their own wine and I cannot write about wine without mentioning the city of Bordeaux and, of course, the region of Champagne.
The classic French stereotype of someone carrying a baguette exists for a reason. Baguettes are tantamount to French culture and I never realised just how much until I moved here. Forget a visit to Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s or Asda, a visit to the boulangerie in the morning, at lunchtime or afterwork is where you go to get your fresh bread in France. Not only is there a never-ending list of different breads to choose from, but many boulangeries also sell the gift which France keeps on giving: pâtisseries. Move over, Willy Wonka, boulangeries greet you with fruit tarts, meringues and all kinds of chocolatey goodness. One of the best things about France and its tradition of boulangeries is that there is more often than not one on every street corner.
What happens when you put wine, cheese and baguettes together? You get my favourite French tradition of apéro. Apéro is short for apéritif which is the moment you have before your dinner where you have a drink and share salty snacks. The combination of crisps, humus, carrot sticks, a glass of wine, saucisson, slice of baguette and cheese could be forgiven for sounding much like an English drink party, except the concept of apéro can be a daily occurrence. Sharing apéro with friends is one of my favourite things to do and is one of the first things I inflict on visiting English friends when they come and stay with me. This tradition is so engrained in French culture that there is a reason why the curfew was brought forward to 18h in order to stop the apéro effect.
Galette des rois
The final thing which France does better than my home country is a tradition which only occurs once a year. I have already mentioned the importance of boulangeries in French culture, but in January, another pastry is added to the shelves and this is the famous galette des rois – The King Cake. Traditionally a pastry filled with frangipane around Epiphany on the 6th January, it has been part of French culture since the 14th century but nowadays, it can be bought in a boulangerie throughout the whole of January. Normally, tradition dictates that the first slice is served to the youngest guest and the idea of the galette des rois is to find the fève which is a small object hidden within the pastry. If you are lucky to find the fève, or unlucky if you happen to find it mid-bite, then you get to wear the crown and are therefore crowned king or queen. Another added bonus is that most boulangeries sell these cakes with the paper crown. What a fantastic way to start a new year!
So there you have my list of five things which France does better than England. I hope this article has you reaching for your own apéro this evening, wherever you are in the world.