After I wrote recently about moving to France someone emailed me to ask what so different here in Pas de Calais, northern France from living in England, after all, we’re separated by just 21 miles of the English Channel.
I could probably write a book about it (in fact I am trying to do just that) but for now, here are five things I love about France…
1. Heritage. The love of festivals, the desire to celebrate the past and to create events that celebrate the now. The passion of people here to keep traditions alive and make new traditions for future generations is something that I find really heart-warming.
From ancient festivals like the Dunkerque Carnival which has been going for hundreds of years to completely new ones such as the Festival of the Turkey in Licques which feels like its been going for ever but is in fact only 20 years old. It isn’t just the passion of the organisers that keeps these things going – there is great support from the people too. Certainly in my part of France everyone enjoys the chance to celebrate anything, this is a region that loves a party.
2. Boulangeries! Okay, there are great bakeries in every country but they are usually few and far between and hugely expensive. In France almost every artisan bakery is great and there are thousands of them. Bakers are immensely well qualified and people take their bread and cakes seriously – if a baker underperforms, the boulangerie won’t survive. There is a baker in a little village called Renty who is officially the best baker in the north of France (he won a huge TV contest). Going to his little shop, experiencing the sight of him pulling the bread from the big wood oven behind the counter and the scent of fresh baked bread, cracking slightly as it cools down is always fantastic. I also love how there is a patron Saint of Bakers in France who has a cake made in his honour, Saint Honoré… which leads me to:
2a. Patisseries! Being a cake maker in France requires a whole new load of qualifications and skills from a baker. Think macarons, Paris Brest, Madeleines, eclairs, meringues, croquembouche, mousse, crepes, Chantilly Cream and petit fours – French cakes are the best!
3. Countryside. I love the beautiful countryside of the Seven Valleys where I have a home. Undulating fields of green and yellow, diverse hedges, pea flowers in the summer, soft pink and purple meadow flowers in the autumn. Teeming with wildlife – boar, deer, herons and a plethora of birds and a recent spotting of a stork and its nest in a village two miles away was very special. I never tire of taking photographs of this area.
4. Friendliness. People here have time or make time to be nice to each other. If I walk the dogs everyone says hello and talks to me. If I go to the shops – it’s the same. Even walking into the supermarket the cashiers say hello to whoever walks in and in fact not to say hello to staff and customers when you walk into shop is considered quite rude. If I walk into a local bar, even though I may never have seen any of the people there before, usually the owner and the regular customers will shake my hand on arrival and departure.
5. Markets. I can go to several street markets every day of the week within easy travelling distance. I know that I will find local, seasonal and artisan produce and a warm welcome. Flea markets are held almost every weekend throughout the spring through autumn and they are a great way to really immerse yourself into the culture of France – it is the national hobby to go to a brocante, as they are called here.
I could go on and on, and I will of course, but tomorrow maybe, and the next day.
If you’re thinking it all sounds idyllic, there must be somethings to dislike about living in France – well you’re right, there are things I don’t like about living in France, but not that much!).