Sunday, July 25, 2010

old world / new world: church bells

I've been trying (trying!) to not rant on about all the frustrating things in France. The fact is, France is a country with a huge history and very strong culture and some things are the way they are because that's the way they've always been done. Coming from a young country where changes and improvements are made for the sake of efficiency, I sometimes find myself asking "why?" when I know a much simpler solution exists. Changing the minds of the French is difficult and they will always defend the old way, even if it's inconvenient. All that is to say that I've come up with a new category of posts, called old world / new world. It's not so much a rant topic as a comparison between the new world of my home country and the old world of my adopted country.

To start things off, I thought I'd mention a positive thing about the old world: church bells. Every village and city has at least one church and most, if not all, have church bells. On the hour and the half-hour, time is marked with the appropriate number of rings, with the half-hour getting one ring. This goes through the night, making sleeping with the windows open a bit of a challenge for light sleepers! On Sundays, Feast days, as well as for weddings and funerals, there is a longer ringing ceremony that lasts a good 10 minutes. In my village, there are two bells that are a tone apart and they ring independently, sometimes taking turns (ding dong, ding dong / dong ding, dong ding) and sometimes hitting the mark together (diong, diong). Whether I'm lying in bed, working in the garden or preparing a meal, I always enjoy this marking of time and events.

Friday, July 23, 2010

midi: the holy hour (or two)

One thing I had to get used to when I first started coming to France was the fact that everything is closed at lunch, making it impossible to get anything done between 12 and 2pm. While I'm certainly better at planning my errands to account for this, I still find it frustrating and all tasks seem to take much longer as a result. Another part of me admires this regard for the need to have a proper meal and take time out of the day to relax a bit. Here, there is no question of staggering lunches so as to keep services open; everybody takes their lunch at the same time, lights are turned off and gates are locked closed. Period. Even on the highway, you can see cars in little pull-offs and families gathered around the car (or a picnic table if they're lucky) sharing a meal. As soon as it's midday, it's time to stop what you're doing, wherever you're doing it, and sit down to lunch.

Most people still eat a big meal at lunch, with meat, vegetables, salad, cheese and dessert (and wine!). I tend to stick to a homemade sandwich or salad, and when French people find out that this is what I eat for lunch, they say that it's very unhealthy! I've never thought of sandwiches as unhealthy, but perhaps they're thinking of the 16" white baguette sandwich filled with cheese, ham, butter and mayonnaise. Personally, if I have a big meal at lunch, I feel really lethargic afterwards and need a nap, so I can't imagine changing this particular habit while working.

A part of me would like to see France have the same business and banking hours as Canada, but I can also see that it would be a shame to lose this part of French culture. It's admirable (in a way) to not cave in to the 24/7 mentality of the world (unless you're trying to get something done!).