Here are ten things I have learned while living in France.
1. Cheese is one of the five food groups all by itself. You cannot have any meal without starting or finishing off with a wheel of gooey, smelly yummy fromage.
Even the 2euro cheese quadrants in the supermarket are worthy of a Masterchef finale so there is never an excuse not to have cheese on your table.
2. Sundays are precious! In the little villages all the shops are closed and the families meet together to have six hour lunches outside in the warm sun. Most of the ingredients are organic or better yet grown in the backyard. Time is taken to devour each course and there is no limit to the feasting.
3. Every place in the world has characters worthy of a novel. In Corby, I had two favourites.
# Crocodile Dundee was given this name by Franck the owner of Fouquet's pub, simply because he wore a huge akubra type hat adorned with various parts of animals attached- feathers, teeth or skin. The first time I saw him, he sauntered into Fouquet's commanding attention with every step. Franck lovingly told us he was Australian and called him Crocodile Dundee. He was as French as the Marseillaise and often told a joke or two to keep the adoring crowds amused. He wore the biggest crucifix around his neck and I believe the hat stopped him from falling forward due to the weight of the cross. He had a particular seat at Mass on Sundays and was one of the kissing both sides of the cheeks initiators during the sign of peace time.
#Forrest Gump was christened by me. He lived in our street right across the road from the supermarket. He would wear tight fitting colourful t shirts to cover his beer gut with large baggy shorts down to his knees. Every morning I would see him standing outside his front door having a ciggy or three. His 'bonjour' was loud and proud and he would never miss saying it to us. I often saw him just wandering the streets drinking or smoking and humming his favourite tune but never was the 'bonjour' forgotten. He used to go the Ruby's bar and fill the garbage bags with rubbish for the owner late in the afternoons so I think he was a necessary part of the Corby township. Life was like a box of chocolates for Forrest. We never knew what we were going to get from him.
4. It is amazing how your brain morphs into another culture or another language without you even trying. To this moment, I am still saying, 'oui' to every question asked. It is also amazing that when you start to speak in the tongue of the country you are in, the recipient believes you are fluent enough to understand a whole conversation without full stops. Many a time, a head nod and the picking up of one word amongst a thousand got me through what had the potential of being an embarrassing situation.
5. The bidets in Japan were more superior than any I could find in France and there weren't many.
6. The baguette is a sign of social acceptance and superiority. Around lunch time, if you are seen without a baguette protruding from your shopping bag or pocket, you are deemed a social outcast. The locals of course can tell the difference between a baguette bought in the supermarket and those acquired the local patisserie (the latter being more superlative).
7. Rederies. The word is hard to say but the activity is easy to find pleasure in. It simply is a Picardy ( the region we were living in) word meaning flea market. Everything went for 2 Euros or less and some rederies had up to 500 stalls. There were some bargains and some amazing war artefacts available to be bought I. These markets.
8. The peage ( highway toll roads) were placed around France to enable collection of money for future road works and improvements. Most of the time, they were easy to manage but every now and then, there would be one that would not take a 'go card' equivalent and not take money. Many a time, we used our warning lights and had to reverse out of a payment lane because the machine would not take our money, the boom would not lift or the help button didn't work. We pleased large lines of cars and trucks when we discovered that we were in the wrong lane despite the pictures of Euros placed on top of the lanes and had to reverse out of the entrance lanes with many 'pardons' being uttered.
9. The catholic churches are full of relics from various dead saints. Our local abbey had various skulls and leg bones from holy people like St Collette (Corbie's patron saint) as well as a finger from St Nicholas and a tooth from St Peter. It seems that the holy ones are mere shells in their graves because every piece of their bodies have been sawn off and put into boxes and delivered around the French countryside to the faithful. It had the opposite effect with me. I lost a little faith in understanding why this was so necessary to do. Perhaps this was the early stages of donating your body to the church not to Science.
10. The nights in Summer are bright until 10:30 pm. Because of this, I discovered the reason for the window shutters. In order to sleep, you needed to enforce darkness on the house by pulling these down. Some houses even kept them shut until 11:00 am the next day. Great for security and privacy, warmth in Winter and introverts. Corbie's shutters went down around 6:00 pm each day and then no-one was seen again until the next morning. The streets of this little village were deserted every evening. It was like no- one actually lived there. Even loud Australians were successfully contained within these little houses during the evening hours.
Of course , I learned so much more on my journey. With time, these lessons will reappear as I travel on with life.
One thing is for certain, the road behind me now is laced with joy and learning and I look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation. You don't always need a GPS to guide you through life. Half the fun is taking the challenge to start and finding the satisfaction in being led.