Call of France

A Trilogy by Barry A. Whittingham

Living with the French

IdiosyncrasyThe following are tips on how to deal with what I’ve personally found to be some of the more common things which may surprise or even shock the  Anglo-Saxon expat when he first starts living with the French. The list is by no means exhaustive.

1. Don’t be surprised at the number of strikes and/or street demonstrations going on every single day of the year. The latter are perceived by the French as being a legitimate manifestation of direct democracy. When it’s safe to do so they’ll even take the kids along. French Street Demonstration

2. Living with the French also involves being led to believe that they invented the game of tennis, rugby, golf (I once even read an article in my local newspaper claiming they’d invented cricket). Use all your inborn phlegm and reply something like: ‘This might possibly be the case but don’t you think …?’

3. Think twice before admitting you’ve made a mistake. I know that in Anglo-Saxon countries it’s usually considered to be a sign of honesty but in France it’s an admission of incompetence. You can blame anyone or anything.

4. Be patient at your local tennis club’s Annual General Meeting (or any other meeting for that matter). Expect them to waste a considerable amount of time chatting about what you consider to be irrelevancies. And don’t be surprised if the only result is that they agree to disagree. Oh yes, and you’re not expected to turn up dead on time.

5. If you see someone letting his dog do it on the road or pavement in front of you, turn a blind eye. After all, it’s none of your business. Aren’t people in uniforms paid to stop this sort of thing? Dog Pooping

6. Bear with them when they keep reminding you that France is the cradle of human rights. This is drilled into them at school. It all goes back to their main claim to glory (apart from Napoléon) – the Révolution and the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1789).

7. Don’t be too hard on them if they seem to spend most of their time moaning. They’re the first to admit they’re a nation of criticizers, complainers and protestors.

8. Don’t be surprised that in a country like France which has a plethora of rules, regulations and laws you find people doing their best to get round them.  Be aware that applying them officially is often considered to be the ultimate sanction.

9. Just as the English show a deep distrust of the weather but love talking about it, the French have no faith in their politicians but adore discussing politics. So gen up on Mr Cameroun (or whoever’s replaced him by the time this blog is published) and his policies. You’ll be expected to know all about them. And they still love to hate Mrs Thatcher.

10. Despite the fact that Marxist-inspired, egalitarian ideology still influences Gallic thinking, living with the French will soon reveal that they’re a bunch of conservatives at heart with little desire for change. As an Anglo-Saxon (especially the U.S. version) be prepared to be treated as an ultra-liberal capitalist with a strong tendency to exploit the downtrodden poor. The media remind them of this every single day. American Capitalist

11. Be suspicious when he tells you he agrees that motorway speed limits should be lowered, there should be more speed cameras, tax evasion should be punished more severely, etc., etc. What he really means is that all this is fine as long as it applies to everybody but him.

12. When an Englishman walks past a pretty woman in the street he’ll usually fix his gaze on an imaginary spot two yards ahead. Any Frenchman worthy of his salt will actually look at her with desire. I quite understand that the newly-landed Englishwoman might find this a little disquieting at first, but try to be positive and consider it to be a form of flattery. Though they’ll never admit it, most Frenchwomen expect this. And if a Frenchman doesn’t eye you up and down, it could simply be that you’re getting on a bit. Or you’re just letting yourself go. Take a cold, hard look at yourself in the mirror to see what needs to be done.

13. Living with the French also means you’ll have to deal with that infuriating habit they have of serving tea with a jug of warm milk. Be sure to point out to the waiter when ordering that you want it ‘avec du lait froid’.

14. If you’re English and are confronted with authority in France, try and get out of that silly habit of doing what you’re told without asking questions.

15. Unlike the English who’ll go to extraordinary lengths to reply, ‘Well you certainly might have a point but on the other hand don’t you think that …? when they’re intimately convinced you’re speaking total rubbish, the French don’t normally consider direct rectification, disagreement or contradiction as being tantamount to a declaration of war. So don’t be offended if you’re told, ‘Non, je ne suis pas d’accord!’

Boucherie Chevaline16. Living with the French also involves not throwing up your arms in horror when he says he’s looking forward to eating a nice horse-meat steak for lunch. Though the number of boucheries chevalines is now fast declining you can still buy horse meat in some specialized shops or market stalls.

And finally be aware of and make all necessary compensations for the fact that with many French people the sight of a uniform can have very much the same effect as that produced by a red rag when dangled close to the nose of a bull.


La Percée du Vin Jaune

La Percée du vin jaune (2)On 5th and 6th February the flag-bedecked Jura town of Lons-le-Saunier will open its streets and wine-cellars to the 20th edition of what has now become the biggest and most unique of all French vinicultural festivals (it now even enjoys an international reputation), the Percée du Vin Jaune, traditionally held on the first February weekend of each year in one of the four AOC yellow wine-producing communes of the Jura (though this is the second time round for Lons-le-Saunier).
      La Percée du vin jaune (1) And what’s more understandable that a unique festival should celebrate a very special kind of wine ? Though its origins are blurred by the mists of time, legend has it that all goes back to that period long ago when a Jura wine grower forgot all about a cask of white wine he’d stored in a far corner of his cellar, only to discover many years later that it had undergone an incredible metamorphosis – wonderful enough to justify the appellations of ‘divine nectar’ and ‘liquid gold’. It’s true that the wine’s rich yellow robe, its subtle nose of walnuts and spices and complex nutty flavour with hints of honey and apple are such that nothing really comparable exists. Vinification is also special as the Savagnin grapes are harvested later than most other varieties, giving the wine its higher alcohol content; and after fermentation is over it’s allowed to age peacefully in oak casks for six years and three months during which a veil of yeast forms on the surface, thereby insulating the wine from all contact with the air. After ageing the cask of vin jaune is pierced (hence the name la Percée,) by a tap being inserted, and the bottling process begins.  And the specifically-shaped bottle is just as special as the nectar it contains. Going under the name clavelin it contains 62 cl compared to the normal 75 cl – the 13 cl difference (the ‘angels’ share’ as it is so charmingly called) representing the inevitable evaporation during the lengthy cask-ageing period. What’s more, once the precious liquid has been bottled it’s almost as immortal as the angels themselves with an ageing potential far outstripping other wines : at an auction in 2011, a clavelin dating back to 1774 sold for 57 000€ ! Le vin jaune can be drunk as an apéritif with diced portions of Comté cheese; and if you happen to be in the Jura and get the chance to eat in a restaurant of repute, I’d whole-heartedly recommend the speciality dish of coq au vin jaune with cream and morille mushrooms which you’re sure to find on the menu.
      La Percée du vin jaune (3)The event itself is a festival of warmth and good humour attracting an average of 45 000 visitors each year. Not only is it a golden opportunity to savour a glass of vin jaune but you can taste the whole range of white, red and rosé Jura wines offered by the 70 or more wine growers present. Attractions begin at midday and include street musicians, sketches, talks on the different Jura wines, wine tasting and cooking contests, an auction of old vintages, not forgetting a special Percée evening on Saturday. The official cask-piercing ceremony (la mise en perce) is scheduled to take place from 11.15 onwards on Sunday morning, and starts off with a procession led by the red and yellow-robed brotherhood of wine-growing organisers, les Ambassadeurs du Vin Jaune, proudly escorting the first 228 litre, 2009 vintage cask of yellow wine which is triumphantly borne to the platform on which it will be publicly pierced and tapped.
      So why not come along and enjoy this rare festive occasion? Parking is free, extensive and well signed up. Vouchers can be purchased on Internet and exchanged for tickets (14€) on the spot. The price includes a special commemorative glass in which you’re offered a sample of the divine nectar along with 10 taste tickets allowing you to enjoy the distinctive flavour of other Jura wines. What’s more, this could be your last chance to be part of this very special day. For apparently rising costs and the extensive organisational efforts involved might cause the 2017 edition not to take place. And I’ve even heard rumours that la Percée du vin jaune could be abandoned forever. Quel dommage!


Barfield School Preview

                                 Barfield School

CALL OF FRANCE Front Cover 2

The classroom door burst open and in marched Ron Cooper. Michael hadn’t heard a knock and he was sure there hadn’t been one.
      ‘Hey, you!’ Cooper barked, pointing an imperious forefinger at a boy sitting in the middle of the second row.
      ‘Wipe that stupid grin off your face, lad, and sit up straight! Where d’you think you are? At home watching telly?’
      The boy spun round.
      ‘No, I mean you, you idiot.’ The finger was waggled with simulated impatience. ‘What’s your name, boy?’
      ‘Me sir?’
      ‘Yes, you sir. I’m talking to you, you half wit!’
      ‘Higgins sir.’
     ‘Stand up when you speak to me!’
     Higgins shot up. It was as if Cooper’s command had triggered some jack-in-the-box-like spring sunk into the seat of his chair.
     ‘Mr Morgan, the headmaster would like to see you at break,’ Cooper announced, hardly bothering to lower his voice, his glowering face still half turned towards the boy. Without one word more he stormed out with the same studied theatricality as he’d swept in.
     ‘OK. You can sit down, Higgins!’ Michael said gently. Though it was obvious that this intrusive display of gratuitous authority was yet one more calculated attempt by the deputy head to reinforce the reputation of fierceness he had among the pupils, Michael suspected it was also his way of expressing contempt for the more enlightened approach followed by young teachers like himself; but the indignation he felt was prompted just as much by the retrograde effect this sort of random victimization might have on the boy. Higgins was not the easiest of pupils to manage, and Michael was even tempted to think that he might be suffering from some form of emotional disturbance which could be affecting his concentration; however, he’d recently had proof he was a good, sensitive lad at heart, and had been congratulating himself on having obtained a kind of co-operation based on a still tenuous strand of respect. So, what it suited Cooper to have seen as nothing more than an imbecilic grin was simply Higgins’s way of demonstrating to his young French teacher that he was doing his best to show interest in his lessons. One thing Higgins reacted against – and this with his own special brand of obdurate tenacity – was what he considered to be an injustice; and what was more unfair than this type of adult bullying which he was probably all too exposed to at home, and which Michael himself – though he did have the excuse of mitigating circumstances – had been guilty of not long ago?
      It had all happened at the beginning of this new school year. Several times during their first lessons Higgins’s restless determination to reject his teacher’s efforts to encourage his participation in the process of learning French had reached such an uncontrollable paroxysm that, without the slightest warning, he pushed his chair gratingly back, stood resolutely up and, gazing out of the window next to him, announced to the rest of the class in his broad Yorkshire accent, ‘I can see seagulls on t’ football pitch.’ A chorus of loud guffaws had followed. The first time Michael had ordered him to move to a vacant desk in the middle of the second row in the hope that the simple expedient of increasing the distance between pupil and window would significantly reduce the likelihood of any future repetition. It had the opposite effect. Each time he’d told him patiently but firmly to sit down and look at his text book. The boy had grudgingly obeyed. But the final straw was when it occurred three times during the same lesson. Michael had lost his self control, marched up to the boy and given him a solid clip round the ear. In a fit of rage Higgins’s had seized his book, flung it across the classroom before lapsing into a deep sulk.
      ‘Right. You’ll stay behind at the end of the lesson, my lad. I want to have a word with you!’ he’d simply said. Higgins had glared at him with sullen dissent.
The end of lesson came, the class filed out and the boy trudged out to the front. He was the first to speak.
      ‘You shouldn’t hit people smaller than yourself!’ he declared, his eyes blazing with defiance.
      ‘What did you say, lad?’ He’d heard perfectly well the first time but his question was intended to grant the boy a chance to moderate the tone and wording of this undisguised challenge to his authority while giving himself a second or two to think.
      ‘You shouldn’t hit people smaller than yourself!’
The words were spoken with the same dogged determination. It flashed through Michael’s mind that this might justify a second slap, but he was lucid enough to see it would probably be the cause of an irretrievable breakdown between them.
      It wasn’t the first time he’d been brought to ponder on the fact that a show of physical force by a teacher could in no way be a solution to establishing a mutually respectful relationship with his pupils. His memories of that first time were still painful. It had been during the second term of his teacher training course when student teachers had each been appointed to schools where they could observe seasoned teachers at work and gain direct teaching experience by taking classes alone. Michael had been assigned to a traditional boys’ only grammar school where a ‘streaming’ system was in operation: pupils were placed in ‘A’, ‘B,’ ‘C’, or ‘D’ classes according to their level of ability. Usually he was given easy ‘A’ or ‘B’ forms where pupils were eager to learn and class discipline never posed any great problem. However, there had been one notable exception: trainee teachers had to present a second teaching subject as part of their course and, as Michael had chosen English, he had regularly sat in on the lessons of a ‘D’ form of fifteen year olds. He remembered asking himself at the time if the ‘D’ didn’t stand for ‘dustbin’; for it was a motley class of low academic achievement where some thirty pubescent youths were dumped together as so much waste. He couldn’t help feeling undercurrents of resentment, hopelessness and low self esteem. However, their regular English teacher was extremely gifted in his ability to understand and communicate with his pupils. It made Michael realize that a good teaching rapport is a mixture of sincerity, empathy and vocation. The lessons took the form of class discussions – so many question and answer sessions where pupils could give vent to their problems and frustrations. Michael was struck by the trust they had in their teacher, the involvement they showed in his lessons, the frankness with which he answered their questions, and the resulting atmosphere of respect that reigned. One day the teacher suggested that Michael should take them alone. It was a total disaster. The minute he stepped into the classroom he knew they were determined not to give him the slightest chance. Their sole motivation was to make this student teacher suffer for the humiliation the system had forced on them by creating a riot from the start. Perhaps things have changed since then, but in those days teacher training courses did not include advice on how to establish and maintain classroom order. Teachers were simply expected to learn from hard experience. Michael’s reaction to this collective aggression was to give those he considered to be the ringleaders a violent swipe across the face. It only made matters worse: such was the racket that a teacher from the classroom next door had to come and re-establish order. The class was immediately taken from him. It had served as a mortifying yet salutary lesson.
      So, it must have been this humiliating experience along with one of those vaguely understood bursts of spontaneous empathetic feeling we are all at some time or other seized with that prompted him to say, ‘O.K. Higgins, you’re right. I’m sorry I hit you. I promise it won’t happen again. And I hope this won’t stop us from being friends.’
      It briefly occurred to him that it might be dangerous for a teacher to expose such emanations of the heart so nakedly to a pupil; but the boy’s reaction had not disappointed him. His face had lit up, they’d shaken hands, and since then the seagulls on the football pitch had gone unnoticed. Moreover, this morning as they crossed paths in the corridor he’d been considerably gratified when Higgins greeted him with a cheery, ‘Hello, sir! Did you see that programme about France on telly last night?’ He’d taken this as a sign that he hadn’t associated Deputy Head Cooper’s loutish weight-throwing with teachers in general, and that there had been no resulting deterioration in the relationship of respect he was congratulating himself on having established with his pupil.



“Would this loathsome inner creature which had poisoned his past and was now infecting the present leave its slimy traces on his future?”

Cover-BradfieldSchool-draft3dDisappointing academic results, an unfortunate first love and a negative first job experience all go to make Michael Morgan deeply disillusioned with the path his life has taken. He decides to train to be a French teacher. But at home the atmosphere is poisoned, his work becomes tedious, and his disastrous management of relations with two female colleagues leads to disturbing repercussions … and tragedy strikes. He longs to wipe the slate of his past clean by starting a new life in France. And then he’s given the chance to immerse himself in an exciting business venture. Should he stay in England or pursue his French dream? But is it himself he’s running away from ?
The first novel in the trilogy CALL OF FRANCE, Barfield School is a psychological dramatization of some of the things which led the author to start a new life in a country he’s always felt an irresistible attraction for.






Promoting and Marketing a Self-Published Book


End of BookThere’s an understandable tendency among Indie authors to think that when their book comes to a final full stop they’re somehow at the end of their labours. For beyond the satisafaction it brings, I can’t help comparing that moment when you tell yourself that the actual writing is now complete to the sorrow you feel when faced with the finality of having to bid adieu to companions you’ve shared your life with for so long that they’ve now come to be a part of yourself. For not only did you invest yourself in your work of fiction as a whole but, above all, in the characters you portrayed. So what’s more understandable that the two years I spent writing Barfield School ( Book 1 in my CALL OF FRANCE series) should have created such an inextricable association between author and his characters that the separation has got such a conclusiveness about it that I can’t escape the thought I’m being severed of chunks of me? Fortunately, I’ve planned CALL OF FRANCE as a trilogy; so for some of the characters at least, it’s only an au revoir.

This is not to say that all these companions can be considered as friends. For though those portrayed in Barfield School are fictitious in so much as each consists of an imaginative re-assembly of varyingly proportional bits of different people whose paths have crossed mine in life, my feelings are mixed in regard to some; and one even turns into an enemy. And in an autobiographically-oriented novel like Barfield School it’s hardly surprising that the person who contains the most of myself – my past joys, dreams, doubts and fears together with my failures and failings – is the central character, Michael Morgan. Am I being presumptious when I say this is not without reminding me of Gustave Flaubert’s alleged declaration, Madame Bovary, c’est moi?

'Madame Bovary, c'est moi.'

‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi.’

But even though I’ve finished, past experience has taught me that I’m nowhere near the end. For I’ll now have to focus my efforts on promoting and marketing my self-published book. And I don’t mind admitting that the emptiness I felt on severing my two-year-long literary osmosis is being replaced by a growing unease at the thought that the next step will be to place both creator and creation into  what I can’t avoid thinking will be the uncaring hands of strangers. As the first steps in promoting and marketing a self-published book I’ll need to find a portrait photographer who’s sensitive enough to be able to coax me into adopting a pleasant authorial pose. I’m already anticipating problems as I don’t smile at cameras easily. And I’m seriously hoping he can make me look at least ten years younger. I’ll then have to get a graphic designer to come up with a cover illustration captivating enough to tempt people to buy the masterpiece I keep trying to convince myself lies behind, while  satisfying the author that it’s as near as you can get to conveying the spirit of its contents. What makes me even more uncomfortable is that the two are not necessarily compatible. At the same time, I’ll have to concoct what has got to be a short but well-crafted author bio. I’ve been informed I can blow my own trumpet provided I fit a mute. And since I’ve already published a non-fiction book ( FTT’S FRENGLISH THOUGHTS) comparing the English and French (humorously, I hope), I’m just wondering whether I should be bold enough to describe myself as an ‘award-winning’ or ‘best-selling’ author. After all, it’s what everybody seems to be doing these days. Or perhaps I could stick this in what has got to be an equally brief but compelling back cover blurb. Finally, before I can publish I’ll have to get somebody to convert those 82,000 or so words I’ve labouredso long to produce into a suitable ePub, Kindle and PDF format. But the worst is for after. I’ll then have to get down to promoting and marketing it all. Apparently, it’s the most daunting part. So it’s far from being the end. In fact it’s only just the beginning.

I’ll keep you updated.

French Tourists Abroad

StereotypingWhen the annual summer holidays cause France to pull its shutters down for a month, the holiday reservation site Travelzoo carried out a survey on how their European subscribers viewed the behaviour of French tourists abroad. The 2,398 people who took part were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the behaviour of French tourists who seem well on their way to being considered the worst in Europe. Criticisms only go to endorse the clichés we frequently hear applied to the French. So, what exactly is it they find so hard to stomach?

For one thing all seemed to agree that  French tourists abroad are extremely hard to please, and never stops belly-aching. The French have a high expectation level with regard to their holidays, so everything must be just right – to the most minute detail. Apparently, one of the favourite occupations of French tourists who’ve just taken possession of their hotel room is to go round looking for the slightest speck of dust. And they’ll even look behind that picture frame above the bed! And if their room doesn’t have a magnificent sea view they won’t hesitate to bounce down to reception and demand that it be changed immediately. What’s more, the present economic crisis has made things even worse. The British tourist, on the other hand, will only complain in the most extreme cases, and as long as there’s plenty of sun and cheap booze available, is perfectly happy.

Arrogance French tourists abroad are also considered to be an arrogant lot – mainly because, like their English counterparts, they make absolutely no effort to speak a foreign language. The French are proud of their country, its culture and language, and are inclined to consider themselves slightly superior to others. Not only do they act as if they were still in France, but they expect to be able to find what they’re in the habit of eating at home. Mind you, to be perfectly fair, I don’t think this is a particularly French trait. At the age of 14 I went on a school trip to the South of France. For me it was a paradise on earth, and the food, though certainly different, was for me an absolute delight. But many of my fellow pupils didn’t seem to agree: their main gripe was that there weren’t any fish and chip shops around! And what is more normal with this nation of gastronomes that the French also expect to have not only quality food and cooking available at the lowest possible price, but the high level of service that goes with it. The British tourist on the other hand, as long as he gets a cooked breakfast, is quite happy with a ham sandwich or a mediocre buffet-type meal.

StinginessBut even though the French consider holidays to be extremely important, and will only deprive themselves when they have no other choice, they don’t want these holidays to cost them the earth. This explains the growing popularity in France of the all-inclusive type of holiday where you know down to the last euro exactly how much it’s all going to cost you, and where you’re certain that, if you don’t want to, you won’t have to fork out a cent more. But what contributes most to this ‘stingy’ image is when it comes to leaving a tip. French tourists will only tip when they’re fully satisfied with the service (which is extremely rare), and even then (as, to be quite honest, I’ve personally often been in a position to note), this is far from being a general rule. One of the main justifications for this is that the waiter receives a salary just like them. On the contrary, Anglo-Saxons are culturally more inclined to leave a tip – even when the quality of the service leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s also understandable that in this country of haute couture and designer fashion clothes the holidaying French tend to pay more attention to what  they wear.  And even though they tend to dress more casually, there are still certain standards which they rarely abandon. The British and Germans, on the other hand, will stroll nonchalantly round holiday resort shops clad in nothing more elaborate than flip-flops and shorts.

Seville tour guideNot only do the French want their holidays to bring relaxation and enjoyment, but they also like to come away with the conviction that they’ve added something to their personal culture and knowledge. The guided-tour type of holiday, where you visit different places of cultural or historical interest each day are, therefore, far more popular than with holidaymakers from other countries. So frequently can this be observed that in Seville it has prompted the standing joke that at 4 o’clock on a sweltering summer afternoon only dogs and French tourists are to be seen in the streets. The English and Germans are more inclined to spend their days soaking up the sun on a lounger round the swimming pool, or just lazing on the beach with the occasional dip in the sea.

The World’s Most Popular Holiday Destination

Foreign tourists in FranceSome interesting statistics emerged from a recent survey conducted by the DGCIS (Direction générale en charge des questions de compétitivité), and the Banque de France which revealed that France had a total of 84.7 million foreign visitors in 2013 (an increase of 2% compared to 2012), thus confirming France’s position as the world’s most popular holiday destination  – well ahead of the U.S.A. and Spain.

As might be expected from a close neighbour, the highest number of visitors came from just the other side of the Rhine. In 2013 German tourists alone represented 15%, or a total of 13 million. Next came the British, some 12.6 million of whom headed for French holiday bliss – an increase of 3.4% over the previous year. And even if there were fewer Belgians, Luxembourgeois, Italians and Spanish than in 2012, the number of tourists from Ireland, Portugal and Greece exceeded levels before the economic crisis. France was also an increasingly popular holiday destination for tourists from Poland (+18%), and the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Denmark and Sweden (+13.5%). The largest number of non-European visitors were from North America with a 5.8% increase in 2013 compared to a drop of 7.8% in 2012. The highest number of Asian visitors came from China with 1.7 million tourists in 2013 – an increase of 23.4%. Moreover, these latter figures are in constant progression as the number of Chinese visitors doubled between 2009 and 2013. On the other hand, the number of Japanese tourists dropped by 6.7% in 2013 compared to the year before, mainly due, it seems, to an unfavourable yen/euro exchange rate.

Statistics also show a tendency for tourists to stay longer. The length of stay increased from an average of 6.9 nights in 2012 to 7.7 in 2013 – a rise of 2.5%. However, the number of nights spent in paying accommodation (hotels, rented accommodation, camping sites, bed and breakfasts, gîtes) increased less than the number of nights spent in non-paying accommodation (at friends’, or as part of accommodation sharing schemes), 3.2% as opposed to 4.6%, and paying accommodation represented 67.1% of the total number of nights spent in France in 2013 compared with 68% in 2012, and 69.6% in 2007.

French amusement parkAnother recently published survey, conducted this time by the INSEE (the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies), reveals that the 83 million tourists who holidayed in France in 2012 spent a total of 145 billion euros, two thirds of which came from French tourists, and the rest from foreigners. Most of this money was spent on transport, accommodation and eating in restaurants or snack bars. However, this expenditure was not evenly distributed from a geographical point of view as half was spent in only three regions: the Ile-de-France (Paris and surrounds), the Rhône-Alpes and the South-East (Provence and the Côte d’Azur). This was mainly due to the rich geographical, cultural and historical diversity of these regions as well as the amusement park of the first, combined with the ease of access afforded by airports and motorways.

Camping site‘Tourism is the largest industry on our planet, representing 12% of the world’s GNP and more than 200 million jobs,’ Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister stressed at a recent meeting. He also pointed out that by 2030 the world international tourist sector will have doubled in size.  His aim, he added, was to attract more than 100 million foreign tourists to France in the coming years – thereby maintaining France as the world’s most popular holiday destination.

Gare du NordSome of the main measures taken to achieve this include extending Sunday shop and store opening hours in tourist areas, increasing the number and quality of hotels and camping sites, renovating the Gare du Nord in Paris to bring it up to par with London’s Saint-Pancras, improving transport facilities between Paris and Roissy Airport, making it easier for non-EEC citizens to obtain short-stay visas, and creating special police brigades in Paris to ensure tourist security. Monsieur Fabius has also announced his intention to create a Conseil de la Promotion du Tourisme which will work with both the public and private sectors to produce a tourist plan for 2020. The council will meet annually.

Paris Elected as Their Favourite Shopping Town

Tourists shopping in ParisAccording to an article which recently appeared in the Economics Supplement of the Figaro newspaper Brazilian, Chinese and Russian tourists have voted Paris their favourite shopping town. Moreover, 28% of them come to Paris just for the shopping. A solid argument in favour of Sunday opening for shops and stores which, at the moment, is the subject of considerable controversy in France. A recently published study by Advice Consultants, Abington, shows that luxury boutiques are the capital’s trump card when it comes to persuading foreign visitors to part with their money.  Figures also reveal that for more than 75% of tourists Paris is by far the most attractive place to do your shopping – well ahead of its eternal rivals, London (11.7%) and Milan (5%). The survey which focuses on Brazilian, Chinese and Russian tourists (three nationalities representing the biggest potential for development) shows that an almost unanimous 93% of Brazilians place Paris at the top of their place to shop list, while 71.5% of Chinese and 58.9% of Russians do the same.

Place VendomeThe same survey notes that out of an average of ten days spent in Paris these same shoppers devote two whole days just to shopping – 28% of them admitting that shopping is the main aim of their visit. And their budgets are high – which is just as well since their favourite shopping places are the Champs-Elysées, the Boulevard Haussmann, the Place Vendôme and the Rue du Faubourg-SaintHonoré, all of which are famous for their high concentration of de luxe boutiques and the astronomical prices they charge for their wares.

According to the survey, 75% of the Brazilians taking part planned to spend between 3.000 and 10.000 euros, including meals and accommodation, while 8.5% said they would probably be spending even more. The budgets of most Chinese were more modest  – between 500 and 3.000 euros for 57% of them. Nevertheless, 10% of them said they were ready to spend more than 10.000 euros. As for the Russians, more than 60% planned to lighten their wallets by sums ranging from 1500 to 10.000 euros.  Lumped together, these tourists would, therefore, be spending on average the ‘modest’ sum of 4.980 euros.

Chinese shopping in ParisAs for the things they intended to buy in their favourite shopping town , 51% of tourists plumped for clothes, 40% for souvenirs and 38% for cosmetics. The three top designer names quoted were Louis Vuitton (27%), Chanel (14%) and Dior (12%). The survey did show, however, that these tourists didn’t in any way exclude a visit to more affordable shops like Sephora, Zara or even H&M.

Duty-free shopAnd proof that some tourists are quite prepared to leave their purchases to the very last minute is supplied by the fact that 44% of those questioned admitted that they planned to do some last minute shopping at airport duty-free shops while waiting to catch a plane back home. Airport terminal shops could rely on foreign visitors spending an average of 645 euros, the Chinese and Russians spending their money mainly on perfumes and cosmetics, while most Brazilians favoured top of the range wines, cheeses and  gastronomical goodies like goose-liver pâté and truffled sausages.

Why Foreign Tourists Love France

An article I read recently in the weekend T.V. supplement of the daily regional  newspaper Le Progrès reveals some of the reasons to explain why foreign tourists love France.  But when we fall head over heels in love we tend to turn a blind eye to everyday reality. My italicized comments are intended to bring things back nearer to earth .

French Parks. Aynur, 48, a nurse from Turkey.

Jardin publiqueI’ve noticed that French towns have well-maintained parks with statues and fountains. They’re so clean that you can sit on the grass – so convenient for people who don’t  have a garden.

Watch out all the same, Aynur. Generally speaking, the French are an undisciplined lot, and tend to let their dogs do it anywhere … so I’d advise you to look carefully before placing your bottom on that beautiful, clean grass.

French Calm. Maika, 27, a sales assistant and Rachel, 27, a web editor from Spain.

We find the French aren’t as noisy as the Spanish. It’s very pleasant when you’re sitting in a café or restaurant. At home people talk much more loudly – especially in the evening over an apéritif. Sometimes you can’t even hear yourself speak.

In my own experience, when it comes to hearing ’em before you see ’em, there’s nothing much in it between the French and Spanish. Personally, when it comes to loudmouths, I find Italians are the worst of the lot.     

Terrace de café

French Cheeses. Urszula, 25, a museum curator from Poland.

FromagesHow lucky you are to have such a great choice. At home there are only a few cheeses, and they’re all a bit bland. The family I was an au pair girl with in Lyon introduced me to goat’s cheese, Comté and Roquefort Blue. Yum! Yum! I also like your ritual of all dining together. At home people eat alone in their little corner.

Yes, Urszula, I would agree with you about French cheeses. But the downside is that, as General de Gaulle found out to his cost, how do you govern a country which has two hundred and forty six varieties of cheese? And I didn’t realize you Poles were such an unsociable lot.

Provence. Paolo, 55, a department head, and Stefanie, 53, a housewife from Italy.

We were  enchanted by this region. The villages are charming and the countryside is unbelievable. And the lavender fields are just magic. France is really a very romantic country – even more so than Italy!                                                                                                                    Champ de lavande

Yes, yes, Paolo and Stefanie. You make it sound like two teenagers falling in love for the very first time. But aren’t you both old enough to know that once you’ve lived together for a while the  charm can begin to wear thin?                                                                                                                                           

French Bookshops. Kuang, 22, a student from China.

LibrairieI’m really impressed by the number of small bookshops in France. There’s a lot of choice at all prices. I really love books on art, illustrated by numerous photos. My suitcase is already full of them.

Hurry up, Kuang, because all those bookshops are fast disappearing. More and more French people are buying them on Internet. Apparently, it’s much cheaper.

French Confectionary. Katherine, 19, a student from the U.S.A.


I worship French cakes and sweets, especially eclairs and macaroons – they’re so delicious. What I find astonishing is that they’re so refined and light without being too sweet. It makes a change from cheese cakes.

Go easy on that sugar and cream all the same, Katherine. We don’t want you getting as overweight as most of  your compatriots.  

      French People. All, 39, a doctor from Australia.

CommercantSome  friends told me the French never stop moaning. Personally, I find it’s the opposite.  We’ve visited several towns in France, and each time people offered to help us when they saw we were a bit lost. And the shopkeepers are really so pleasant.

Perhaps you’ve been lucky so far, mate. As a general rule, the French are not always noted for being over-helpful to bewildered foreigners, or being convinced believers in the principle that ‘ the customer is always right’. And they do love protesting. Look at all those street demonstrations.

French Weather. Nigel-Mohammed, 41, a Managing Director from Trinidad and Tobago.

Here the sky changes from one day to the next.  You also have as many hot days as cold with rain and wind. It’s so varied! At home we have a tropical climate with a temperature of 30° C all the year round. Mind you, the tourists love it.

Come off it, Nige! If you’d had to endure the kind of summer we’ve just had you’d be glad to get back to that horribly monotonous 30° C temperature you get all the year round back home!

Ciel et nuages

French Bread. James, 29, a school manager from England.

BaguettesWhat a delicious smell you get when you walk past a bread shop! It really makes you want to step inside and buy everything. The person who invented the baguette was a genius: it’s delicious – even though there’s nothing inside. The bread you get in England has no taste to it.

It’s true the baguette has a light and airy crumb, but you seem to be saying that the ‘nothing inside’ tastes delicious. Or is it just the crust you like? And James, not all English bread is as tasteless as you’re trying to make out. Small bakers do exist. Why not try a nice, crusty, home-baked country loaf?

Old French Buildings. Amelia, 36, an interior designer from Singapore.     Vieux batiment

At home the buildings are mostly modern skyscrapers which have far less charm. Foreign tourists have the impression they’re travelling back in time, and each town has its own style. The other thing I love is blanquette de veau.

Hey Amelia, you might not know it, but not all the French are still living in the Middle Ages. They do have modern skyscrapers, too! I agree with you about the blanquette de veau, though – provided the calf hasn’t received too many growth hormone injections. Believe it or not, a friend of mine once bought a joint of veal from his local supermarket, only to find a syringe embedded in it!























Picking Wild Mushrooms in France

Wild mushroomsIf you’ve been enticed across the Channel by the prospect of living a rural idyll, picking wild mushrooms in France will probably be high on your list of activities . Literally hundreds of varieties of cèpes grow in the forests and fields. Here are ten tips which I hope will help to make it a rewarding experience.

1. The exact quantity of mushrooms you’re legally allowed to pick depends on the region but is usually limited to around two kilos per day. Recently there have been problems with some East Europeans who actually camp in the forests, remove commercial quantities, literally pillaging certain parts. As a result, mushroom picking in certain areas has now been restricted to the locals. Be aware that officers of the ONF (Office national des forêts) are now on the prowl, and offenders could find themselves facing a maximum fine of 750 euros. So play the game and only pick for your personal consumption.

Propriété privée2. The rules of elementary politeness require you to ask the owner’s permission when you envisage picking wild mushrooms in private fields and forests.

3. That forest you go picking wild mushrooms in is probably vast (some forests in France are more than 300 square kilometres in area), so don’t get too carried away. If you stray too far from the beaten track you could lose your sense of orientation and find yourself hopelessly lost. So don’t forget your mobile so you can call the police.

Pharmacie4.  Some wild mushrooms and fungi are poisonous, and the visual difference between edible or not can be minimal. Eating the wrong ‘uns can cause great discomfort, even death (each year approximately 30 people never live to pick again) – so choose only those you know. If in doubt get your local pharmacist to give it the once over. As part of his studies he’s been trained to identify the dangerous ones. But it’s probably even better to ask a local.

Cueillir des champignons5. Like many things in France picking wild mushrooms is subject to a myriad of rules and regulations as to how, when and where. For more detailed information consult your local mairie. The most important rules are that they can only be picked when a certain size, and you’ve got to cut (and never uproot) the stalk at the bottom using a knife only. And you’re also supposed to carry them in a wicker basket so that the spores can fall out. This helps propagation.

Hunter6. You might think that the most dangerous part of picking wild mushrooms in France is the risk of eating a poisonous one. This is not necessarily the case. Always remember that in the Autumn months you’ll be sharing the forest with hunters – so you could be mistaken for a deer or a wild pig. The French chasseur is short-sighted enough (or such a bad shot) to be the cause of around 170 accidents per year – more than a score of which are fatal, and three score of which are considered extremely serious. Roughly 20 of these accidents involve non-hunters while the remaining 150 stay in the family.  So be wary when you venture into the forest – even if it’s just for a post-prandial stroll. It might be a good idea to wear a fluorescent jacket.

Morel mushrooms7. If you live more in the south you might be tempted to go looking for the distinctive honeycombed and uniquely-flavoured morille (morel) mushroom. They’re expensive to buy in shops (350 euros a kilo), and prized by gourmet cooks, many of whom consider them equal to truffles. Don’t go after them in Autumn, though, for the simple reason that they only grow at the beginning of Spring. They pop up mainly in forests when the snow begins to melt. They tend to grow around pine trees in the mountains, and near elm and ash elsewhere. And they often hide among dead leaves. It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack but don’t get discouraged. You’ll gradually acquire a sixth sense and it’ll all be worth it.

8. You can dry them by piercing the stalk with a needle and thread and hanging them upside down in a dry room.

9. Don’t expect even your French pals to tell you where the best morille spots are. They’re jealously guarded secrets. One of my friends finds hundreds  every year but the only information I’ve been able to drag out of him as to their whereabouts is ‘South from here.’ In the Jura where I live the best spots are only passed on from father (usually on his deathbed) to son.

10. Uncooked wild mushrooms freeze badly but dry well, and can be stored in airtight containers. However, they’re best consumed the day they’re picked. Don’t put them in a plastic bag as this will cause them to sweat.

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