10 Things To Do In France To Make You Feel French
As a Scottish person who has lived in France for three years – while housesitting between our world travels – I now feel qualified to recommend to you 10 fun and useful but not too serious things that you can do as a foreign visitor to France to make you not only feel more at home there but to feel more French!
I’ve also lived in the South of France just north of Toulouse.
On both occasions, the backpacking husband and I were on long-term housesit assignments to allow for some downtime from travelling while I was writing my Backpacking Housewife series of books for HarperCollins.
The chateau where we were living in South-West France was in rural France and an idyllic writing retreat for me.
While I was busy writing with the company of le chat called Monsieur Smudge, my backpacking husband was looking after the chateau and grounds and two rental gites and also maintaining the gorgeous swimming pool.
Life was idyllic and we fully embraced living in France and ‘feeling French’!
It was while we were living here between Bordeaux and Bergerac that we made great French friends with the lovely people renting the gites in the grounds of the gorgeous chateau. They invited us over for aperitifs and we spoke a lot of Franglish as they spoke only a little English and we knew hardly any French.
But we were willing to learn all the ways that we could feel more French!
It was certainly the most immersive way for us to learn not only about a new lifestyle but also the French language and how to feel French while we were living in France!
With our new French friends, we explored the towns and villages in the area and historic and beautiful cities. We ate long lunches while sitting outside in the sunshine. We went to traditional French markets and learned about French gastronomy and bread and wine and cheese. We toured the vineyards of Bordeaux and Bergerac and learned about the vins de la région.
We’ve also lived in the South of France in the Tarn region, not too far away from ‘The Red City’ of Albi, which is a UNESCO site about an hour’s drive north of Toulouse. Again, we were long-term housesitting but over the winter (Christmas was especially lovely here) in a gorgeous old ‘Bastide’ or fortified farmhouse just outside the ancient village of Monestiés – a place originating from the 10th century and now listed as a Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – one of France’s most beautiful villages.
Only this time, in the South of France, we had quite a menagerie of farm animals and pets to look after as well as the large property, the gardens and grounds, and a swimming pool.
I was still writing my books during this time too. But while staying at the farmhouse my dear husband and I divided up the chores equally. I was responsible for feeding and grooming the horse, two donkeys, a flock of sheep, a sheepdog and four cats, as well as mucking out the stables.
The backpacking husband was in charge of all the poultry – geese, hens and ducks, and anything to do with the tractor maintenance and farm outbuildings. It’s safe to say that we were certainly learning how to feel like French farmers!
So whether we were living in the South-West wine region or being French farmers in the South of France we enjoyed the wonderful French lifestyle, learned a lot about France, and even more about what it takes for a non-French person to start to feel ‘a little bit French’!
10 Things To Do In France To Make You Feel French
1. SPEAK (Parler):
Even a basic knowledge of French will help you make friends and make your time spent in France easier and more enjoyable. It will also open up more travel options too as French is spoken widely around the world. The French Diplomacy website insists that French is ‘a beautiful, rich, melodious language that is often called the language of love’. Oh la la!
Personally, I’ve found the hardest part of learning the French language involves understanding the grammar rules. But I’ve also found that practicing a few useful phrases and making an effort to converse in French while in France will set you miles apart from those who refuse to at least try. So don’t be embarrassed to get it wrong.
Plus, fledgling attempts at speaking French is a great way to make French friends!
The French are very polite and friendly. They’ll always greet you with a friendly ‘bonjour’ and a ‘ca va?‘ To say hello and ask of your wellbeing and they will never let you leave without a gusty ‘au revoir’ or ‘à bientôt’ and ‘bonne journée’ and kisses to both sides of your face (left then right).
I started learning basic French online using the free and friendly Duolingo app for an hour each day and then practising what I’d learned in real life while living in France and chatting to our new French friends and neighbours. In times of need (or frustration) I found using Google translate or a similar dual-language translation app to be very helpful.
If you are serious about learning French fluently through a professional tuition programme then you might want to enrol with a Rosetta Stone course, which will teach you the nuances of French pronunciation and accents and importantly, the formal and less-formal, language etiquette.
Getting a ‘feel’ for spoken French is made much easier listening to news broadcasts and programmes online. I would recommend listening to News In Slow French – there is a 7 Day Free Trial – and it’s a fabulous resource for French ‘immersion’ and to prevent that awful feeling of being totally overwhelmed when French is spoken so quickly that it seems impossible for your non-Francophile brain to interpret it fast enough.
So… to feel French you should speak French!
2. EAT (manger):
French cuisine is world-renowned and French cheese is plentiful and seriously delicious but actually, nothing is more important to the French than their basic bread (du pain) or more iconic than the French baguette. In France the Patron Saint of bread is Saint Honoratus.
Did you know that the right for a French person to eat bread is protected by law and the traditional recipe for a baguette is protected by the Le Décret Pain (1993) and that there is an annual Grand Prix de la Baguette competition held in Paris to win the title of La Meilleure Baguette de Paris (the best baguette in Paris).
Bread is so important that you can not only buy your baguette from a boulangerie but you can also buy them out of hours from a baguette vending machine. Fresh bread will be served at every meal and is always eaten with cheese (as opposed to cheese crackers which are a British thing).
As someone who often skips lunch in favour of a meal later in the day, I was surprised to discover lunch is considered the main meal of the day in France, and that the French routinely take a two-hour lunch break.
This means that all over France at noon the shops close and cafes and restaurants and brassieres fill up. So be warned, if you arrive any later than noon, you aren’t likely to get a table. And, if you arrive at a restaurant for lunch after 1pm and by pure luck there happens to be an empty table available, then you probably won’t get seated or served. This is because they close at 2pm in preparation for reopening in the early evening for a drink and dinner service.
I have to tell you – admit to you – that I put on lots of weight while living in France (in stark contrast to the majority of svelte French women who show restraint by eating many meals but only ever in very small portions). For me, not so much, as it’s all so delicious.
And, because there are hundreds of French cheeses to choose from and j’adore absolument le fromage (I absolutely adore cheese) and of course all those calorific French wines (j’aime le vin) which brings us onto drinks (les boissons)!
So… to feel suitably French you should always take a two-hour lunch (preferably with wine).
3. DRINK (boire):
Wine: “It is impossible to think of France without wine…” says the World Atlas of Wine, “as it is to think of wine without France”. France produces 7-8 billion bottles of wine per year as so is one of the largest wine producers in the world. I happen to love wine but until I lived in France I never properly appreciated how it was made or that French wines have a regional identity.
Champagne: French Champagne is a sparkling wine which owes its name to the region Champagne in the North-East of France. Often reserved for special occasions but also enjoyed on ‘le weekend’.
Pastis: Particularly famous in the south but very popular all over France as a cocktail, Pastis is made of aniseed and liquorice. Often served as an aperitif with water and mint syrup.
Kir: A cocktail made of blackcurrant liqueur and white wine from Burgundy that is enjoyed as an aperitif in France.
Picon Biere: From France’s north east region, Picon bière is a mix of beer and caramel flavoured bitters made with the zest of fresh and dried oranges.
Calvados: An aged brandy spirit ‘Eau de Vie’ made with apples or pears from the Calvados region in the North of France. Drink as an aperitif or as an after-dinner liqueur.
Cognac: Loved by the French and people all over the world. Cognac is a type of brandy. It is a distilled spirit made from grapes and produced exclusively in the Cognac region of western France. Enjoy as an aperitif or after-dinner liqueur.
Pineau des Charentes. There are a lot of different types of ‘vin de liqueurs’ available in France and among them is the Pineau des Charentes. Served chilled and drunk as an aperitif, this liqueur is a perfect mix of grape wine and cognac.
Cointreau: Cointreau is an orange-flavoured triple sec aromatic liqueur produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou in the west of France. It is versatile as an aperitif and used in many popular cocktails like margaritas and cosmopolitans.
Eau de Vie: Known in France as ‘the water of life’ this is an unaged fruit brandy either commercially or homemade from whatever local fruits are to hand. The one I sampled was made from pears. I found it strong and offensive. The backpacking husband loved it and so had a headache the next morning!
It’s not all about alcohol of course because there is Perrier: Perrier is a sparkling mineral water which comes from a source located in Vergèze in France. For me, it’s refreshing bubbles and clean fresh taste make it the champagne of sparkling water. Yet, unlike elsewhere in the world, it is so affordably priced you can drink it in France every day!
So… to feel truly French you should enjoy lots of French drinks!
4. SHOP AT A FRENCH MARKET:
Shopping at a traditional French market is a joy and the very best place to find the freshest produce from local artisans and farmers, fish suppliers and meat producers, fruit and vegetable growers, bread and cheese makers, an incredible variety of sausage and charcutiere and olives, and of course wines.
Most French towns have a market. The one local to us when we lived in France took place on a Friday morning and the stalls would line the village main street on both sides. Often, it was the best place for finding seasonal treasures like an amazing variety of earthy mushroom and the famous ‘black diamond’ truffle and the creamiest of local chevre fromage.
So… to feel typically French you should always shop at a traditional French market!
5. LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL FRENCH VILLAGE
There are around 150 of the most beautiful villages in France ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ to choose from when looking for somewhere to live in France and thousands of others that also deserve the title. This is because France is a beautiful place and there are so many historic buildings. When we lived in the quintessential medieval village of Monestiés – one of the officially beautiful villages – it was wonderful to experience a slower pace of life and to take a walk into the village and wander around the narrow streets into the square and to admire the ancient church and its old belltower. We also visited the nearby 13th Century hilltop village of Cordes Sur Ciel on a few occasions simply because it was such a pleasure to walk around the steeply sloping ancient streets.
So… to feel quintessentially French you should choose to live in a beautiful French Village.
6. LIVE IN A CHATEAU
Living in a gorgeous old chateau in France really is the stuff of dreams but for many it is a reality. There are thousands of chateaux all over France in various sizes and conditions and according to France Today and 60% of them are bought by overseas buyers at a ‘bargain’ and as renovation project. When I lived in the beautiful Dordogne region for two years – in the countryside between Bordeaux and Bergerac – I lived in a small chateau and it really was a lovely and a truly French experience that I can recommend!
So… to live the high-life and feel French you should certainly live in a beautiful French chateau.
To feel French and also look French you should always dress in French signature style. And, contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean wearing a beret on your head and a wreath of onions around your neck. It means adopting a certain effortless nonchalance and being tres chic at all times.
The key to looking French – and therefore feeling more French and to achieving that all important ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor – is to cultivate an understated look.
Of course, you must take care of your appearance and always be impeccably groomed, but you should never look ‘over done’. Looking truly fabulous as a French person is always accidental.
The French look is simple, ageless, and elegantly understated…
Avoid anything too bold or clashingly colourful. Never, under any circumstances, go garish.
So… to look and feel French have a capsule wardrobe of simple designs and neutral colours.
8. AGE WELL:
Do French people really age well or is it a myth? Well, according to French Women Don’t Get Fat Dotcom: “French women don’t get facelifts and, on average, are more accepting of ageing. Rather than trying to turn back the clock, they want to look good at whatever age they are. In France, there is a saying, ‘life begins at 50’.”
My lovely friend and neighbour in France is So French and she is the epitome of a classic French woman – proving that she does exist – in that she is well-spoken, kind, attractive, slim, and elegantly dressed in French style. She drinks champagne or water and the occasional expresso coffee. My French friend is a great cook and a generous host yet she eats only ever in moderation. And, typically, she has a tiny little dog that she simply adores sitting on her lap or tucked under her arm at all times.
So… to feel So French…we need to try to be more like my lovely and chic French friend!
The French love to debate and to protest and they often do so successfully. Time Magazine says: “It’s part of a national ‘culture of conflict’ that goes all the way back to the 1789 French Revolution when republican forces battled royalists to overthrow the hated French monarchy.”
When I was living in France, I often witnessed the ‘ Gilets Jaunes ’ (yellow jackets) protesting.
What began as a protest against the planned tax rise on petrol and diesel has now become a wider anti-government movement in France. These were mostly peaceful demonstrations conducted with lots of motorists honking their horns in support of the movement. Often the Gilets Jaunes set up a camp at road junctions to block the road and to disrupt traffic. Other Gilets Jaunes protests we’ve witnessed – like the one we accidentally got caught up in and had to run from in Toulouse – was a full-on riot with police resistance and tear gas canisters being thrown in the street.
So… to protest like a French person always have a yellow jacket on display in your car to aid your way through roadblocks.
10. VISIT FRANCE ALL OVER THE WORLD!
To feel French all over the world you don’t actually have to be in European France because France is the only European country to have overseas regions on three different oceans.
All of the residents of the Overseas French Regions are French nationals with exactly the same status as the mainland regions.
France currently has 12 overseas territories that are home to some 2.6 million people.
Plus there are 29 countries worldwide (Switzerland, Canada, Haiti, Morocco, just to mention four) that list French as their official language.
The inhabited French Overseas Regions are:
Saint Pierre and Miquelon – North Atlantic
French Guiana – South America.
French Polynesia – South Pacific
New Caledonia – South Pacific
Wallis and Futuna – South Pacific
Saint Barthelemy – Caribbean
Saint Martin – Caribbean
Guadeloupe – Caribbean
Martinique – Caribbean
Mayotte – Mozambique
Réunion – Indian Ocean
So… to feel French you should travel and practice being French all over the world!