|Colorful streets of Arles|
We came to Provence ostensibly for two reasons—to see as many Roman ruins and eat as many French pastries as possible—and we left the region impressed at how kind and mannerly the French are.
|Avignon, seen from the Papal Palace|
(But more power to you if those are your thing! It’s important to know what you yourself prefer to experience instead of feeling obligated to do or see this or that when traveling.)
|The Roman amphitheater of Nîmes|
Safe to say, because of the to-die-for pastry offering, my friend and I frequently indulged our Hobbit tendencies, having Second Breakfasts and afternoon coffee breaks in true Baggins form.
But all this snacking led us to wonder, with such a rich, buttery cuisine, why aren’t the French fat? This perennial debate will probably never be settled, but the way I see it, it’s probably a combination of several factors. Not only do the French drink gallons every year of antioxidant-containing coffee and red wine, they also like to order a carafe d’eau with their meals—a free pitcher of tap water instead of bottomless Cokes. Like Spain, much of the cuisine is based on healthy fats like olive oil and real butter, portion sizes are just large enough, and the whole way cities are laid out encourages walking around instead of driving.
Ordering all of this food and coffee forced me to brush up on my rusty French, which I had last spoken over two years ago while running naïvely around the north of the country. Surprisingly, I remembered a LOT more than I thought I did, even having a small conversation at the tourist office in Arles and making the connection that the sounds “twah-zuh-ro kahtr-van-dees-seht” meant 3,97€. In a country as passionate and nationalistic about their language as Americans are about English, at least attempting to start a conversation in French (rather than defaulting to parlez-vous anglais?) opened up a lot of doors for us that may have remained closed had we gone around yelling in English.
|The Maison Carrée, a Roman temple in Nîmes|
In contrast with Spain, “inside voices” exist in France. I remember my friend and I were having lunch one day and we suddenly realized how quietly everyone was speaking—almost whispering! And while we never partook in this custom, we observed several French people greeting each other with not two but three cheek kisses (it’s only two in Spain!). I say “tuh-MAY-toe,” you say “tuh-MAH-toe,” I guess.
|Avignon’s Papal Palace|
I’m not sure if my friend and I would have been on the receiving end of such kindness from the French had we 1) not attempted to speak the language at all or 2) been Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent, so all I can share is my biased, privileged experience. However, from my point of view we Americans really need to rethink that whole Rude French myth.
|The Pont du Gard|
Previously on my “Gathered Thoughts” series:
* Collected Lessons Learned from a Trip to France (Christmas 2012)
* Collected Lessons Learned From a Trip to Morocco (Holy Week 2013)
* Gathered Thoughts From a Trip to Italy (Christmas 2013)
* Thoughts from Aragón, Spain’s Forgotten Interior (Carnival 2014)
* Gathered Thoughts From a Trip to Portugal (Holy Week 2014)
* Thoughts from a Road Trip Across Spain’s Northern Coast (All Saints Weekend 2014)