It has already been eight months that I live in Reims. To summarize in one post the past year, planning and actually moving here would be not doing it justice. Life in France is wonderful, and I thought that passing on some of the things that I have learned, the oddities that I have observed, and the amusing incidences that I have experience might be more interesting as a year ender.
One of the first things I noticed in France was how service in a restaurant was a career and not a job that university students to do supplement their alcohol budget. Service is a learned trade and it was refreshing to know that those who brought me plates were as serious about me enjoying what was on them as I was. However, when it is time to clear the table, the French waiter doesn’t ask you: « Comment était votre repas? Cela vous a plus? »
He asks : « Ça été? »
There was a very uncomfortable pause the first time I was asked this question, simply because I was waiting for the waiter to finish his question. Ça été quoi? Was it what? Good? Bad? To my liking? Now I am used to hearing this incomplete formalty of a question, and I even find myself answering « oui ». But every time, I feel like the whole dialogue is very backward.
It is perfectly normal for stores to close every day between noon and 2pm, except on Sundays and Mondays when everything is closed. Some even open at 4pm. While they do stay open until 7pm, they only open at 10am. This rule applies for large supermarkets as well as large department stores. Between the hours of noon and 2pm, outside of the restaurant districts, you might think it’s the apocalypse and you are the only one who didn’t get the memo. It is less disappointing in France to think that stores are always closed than than open.
Every first Wednesday of the month, they test the general security alarm. The first time I heard it, I wondered if the Germans were back… because they haven’t changed the alarm since the war. While we asked around, we still have no idea why they continue to test this alarm. Perhaps the Remois are afraid that their cathedral will be burned, again. Especially since I have yet to see this beautiful monument without scaffolding.
Here, ambulances are not for immediate rescue purposes. Rather, they are used for those who are medically unable to move around. This is also the main reason for taxis. Emergency ambulances have a specific name affixed to them: the SAMU. They are not the same as the regular ambulances or Pompiers, who can also be called in case of an emergency, but so can the police, who doesn’t do the same work as the Pompiers. The Pompiers don’t just handle fires, they also handle medical emergencies… The police should be called after the Pompiers in case of an emergency because the Pompiers come when there is no chance and the police come to confirm that. The SAMU is when there is little chance and the ambulance when you will certainly survive. And the number to call is 18, not 911. I also would have thought this number would be universal around the world. But by the time I remember the number in an emergency and who is the appropriate service to call, it might be too late.
I would also like to mention non-QWERTY keyboards, the different electricity plugs that rendered all of my appliances useless, and the milk that is purchased in UHT packages on the shelf next to the crackers. And the rabbits that are sold by the butchers, totally skinned but with their heads still on and the eyeballs dangling from the sockets is a wonderful reason to consider vegetarianism. Some things I think one never gets used to. And I refuse to address the Canadian village that made a presence in the middle of town during the month of October. As a fellow ex-pat mentioned to me recently, I would have burned that tee-pee if it wasn’t illegal.
But I also have many things to be grateful for, many things that are differently wonderful. And as I start my first full year in France, and also start seeing seasons for the second time, I become more aware of who I can be as a person, how lucky I am to be where I am, and even when life seems complicated, there’s always a market open some where in town…
Happy Holidays et Bonne Année!