Thoughts About Rural France

For those who are interested, I have begun blogging about a two week bike trip I recently took to the Pyranees at Life In The Great Midwest. It will probably end up being a fifteen or twenty part series so feel free to follow along over the next several weeks if you like.

For this blog I have a few short thoughts about how I felt as a tourist in southern France.

In general, the people there were fantastic. Most everyone greeted me with the typical high pitched “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” everywhere I went. I think every single person I met besides one checkout clerk at a supermarket was very friendly and liked to talk.

I participated in an actual bike race while there and the riders that I could communicate with were also very friendly. I told them all I was from Chicago since that is easier than trying to explain where Wisconsin is. The riders were somewhat amused that a person from the USA was in their race – I looked later and there were a total of six Americans in a field of thousands. Since most of the people riding with me were by association pleasure bikers and not pro or semi-pro racers, we encouraged each other and got along quite well over the 120 mile course (which had 11k feet of rise). In the riding lines everyone took their share of the pain out in front.

Everyone in France eats a loaf of bread a day it seems. Why do they eat so much bread?

The sausage over there is high quality, and not much beats the confit de canard.

The views at the tops of the mountains are simply breathtaking.

In general, all of the natives were pretty nice, even in the bigger cities like Toulouse and Lourdes that I visited. It may have been because I looked like a tourist (especially with my bike gear on) but at times I had street clothes on and was treated nicely as well. I had been to Paris once before and was treated like crap, but I was much younger. But then again, there could well be a difference between city folk and country folk. Perhaps those who have traveled more extensively through France could comment on this.

If you are a skier, I would think that this area would be great fun as well – from what I could tell this area really caters to the ski crowd.

16 thoughts on “Thoughts About Rural France”

  1. “But then again, there could well be a difference between city folk and country folk.”

    I had friends who spent a lot of time around Normandy, and they confirmed that the locals were far friendlier than Parisians. They compared it to New Yorkers’ brusque manner, as opposed to us friendly rustics in flyover country.

  2. I’ve never been to France, but was told by a friend that no one washes their hands after using the bathroom. They go and then proceed to touch all the loaves of bread in the market looking for just the right one. Is there any truth to that?

  3. My parents and others that have visited France have also observed that French vs. Parisians are very different people, at least regarding their behavior towards Americans.

    I get the impression that Parisians at their worst combine New York anger and Gallic snobbery, whereas the provincials at their best combine Midwestern hospitality with French style.

  4. My wife & I had our honeymoon in France. We started in the Loire Valley, visited the coast of Brittany and ended up in Paris. We found the people in the “country” to be warm and friendly even when we couldn’t communicate. In Paris, they seemed very much like any “big city” people you would find in the States (a little cold and distant). All in all, everyone was very nice. I found that if I attempted to communicate in French first they would take pity on me and switch to English almost immediately (My French is horrible). I think they appreciated the effort.

  5. I have been visiting France since 1983. I have found a marked change in the attitude of Parisians toward Americans in that time, especially the past ten years. I have made some effort to speak the language although I am no linguist. I think some of the change has come from a definite drop in American tourism in the 1990s.

    On my first visit, my wife had forgotten to bring sturdy walking shoes. We went to Gallerie Lafayette to buy some. We were treated rudely and finally left. We walked down past the Rue de la Paix and found a small shoe store with a single person to help us. She was obviously the owner and we had no trouble communicating. We had dinner in Prunier, a famous fish restaurant. We were the only English speakers there and were treated rudely. Of course, service is comprise so you can use the tip as retribution although you can be sure none extra was added.

    In the 1980s, on several occasions, I tried to make reservation at Tour d’Argent, a famous and very expensive restaurant on the left bank by Notre Dame. I was laughed at and told I needed to call at least 6 months in advance. In 2006, we were in Paris over early July and my wife’s birthday is July 4. I called and had no trouble getting a table for five. We had my youngest daughter and her two cousins with us. The staff could not be more courteous and we got a table at the window with the best view of Notre Dame. We were complimented on the beauty of the girls and the maitre d’ took photos of all of us and was generally exceedingly courteous.

    What changed ? I think Americans stopped coming. The bill was still 2,000 Euros for dinner but it was as much in 1983.

    The rural French, or even the left bank Parisians, have always been friendly. An effort to speak the language is amply rewarded. My daughter was there again two weeks ago with her uncle and got compliments on her French. She wants to live there. For years I thought of looking for a place in southern France but I am getting too old and have too many grandchildren now, I guess.

    Even the attendants in the Metro and RER are courteous and attempt to speak English now, unthinkable 30 years ago.

  6. Hey, what’s all this animosity against New-Yorkers? Dan -if you came to visit, I’ll get you all wonderful fragrant warm bread from my neighboring Greek bakery in Brooklyn!
    One thing I can tell you for sure – New Yorkers have nothing on Muscovites when it comes to snobbery, rudeness and general elbow skills. I’m saying that as both a “country people” and as a “Moscow girl”.

  7. Speaking for myself, Tatyana, I didn’t mean that New Yorkers are all angry, but that there is a level and type of anger among some New Yorkers that is entirely unremarkable there, but which would be considered absolute lunacy in quieter parts.

  8. Setbit,
    the anger
    -is heard from people who verbalize it. those who are content don’t yell. this city has both and more.
    -anger stems from being in battle all the time. the competition is fierce and bets is primal survival. what it takes to get a 30yo Chinese guy in a business suit to cry on public? I saw one on a sidewalk near Stock Exchange in 2000.

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