Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home and Away

For those of you who haven't been to France for a while, here's my views on the place:

Their motorways are much better than ours with hardly any traffic jams. So they should be, as you have to pay to use them. Every so often you pass through a line of booths where you are charged an amount based on your mileage, the ambient temperature and a random multiple dreamt up by the booth operator. As far as actual driving is concerned, there are a number of differences that you need to be aware of.

When changing lanes on the motorway, French law requires drivers to signal and move at exactly the same time. It is illegal to give any notice of your intentions to other road users, presumably to ensure that every driver remains fully alert. If you wish to repeatedly change lanes for no reason other than to test the reflexes of your fellow travellers, then the signal can be dispensed with. Lorry drivers should remember that the same overtaking rule applies as in the UK; ie only do it on a hill so that you can block up two lanes for miles on end.

When approaching a roundabout it is important not to disrupt the flow of traffic by reducing your speed at all. Simply treat it as a bend in the road. When you wish to leave the roundabout, just do so regardless of which lane you are in. Note: if several drivers are on the roundabout simultaneously then priority is given to the one chattering on his mobile phone. Whatever purpose Zebra crossings might have was never revealed to me. If you pass a cyclist struggling up a hill, then you have to give them room and shout "Bravo!" which is a nice touch.

If any readers have ever complained about the prices at British motorway service stations then stop what you are doing, write to them now and apologise. French prices will make your eyes water. (In fact I challenge you to find anything that is cheaper in France than Britain apart from supermarket beer and wine and the house wine in a restaurant) Beer in a bar or restaurant is now 5 Euros a half litre absolutely everywhere!

French meals consist of a cold starter of greasy things followed by a warm main course of greasy things. It is the most over rated food on Earth and no Frenchy under the age of thirty will touch it. Italian restaurants have taken over and are invariably excellent. (Does anybody know why we never get Italian restaurants with wood burning ovens in the UK? Is it our smoke regulations? If you can get round it, then open one and make your fortune). One thing the French are good at though is croissants and pain au chocolat. (Their women are slimmer than ours too, probably because they don't eat sugary snacks all the time- the Tabac isn't piled high with confectionery like our newsagents are)

French wine is even more over rated than their food. Buy a random bottle of French wine in the supermarket and it will be terrible. As they steadfastly refuse to label bottles with the grape then you have absolutely no idea what you are getting. Bizarrely (with reds and rose anyway) the cheaper you go, the better it tastes. The stuff that comes in a plastic bottle for one Euro is the best of all.

The weather makes up for all of this though, in my opinion. After three weeks, I could cheerfully spend the rest of my life camping in the South of France. We camped near Embrun, an old town with a beautiful cobbled centre at the southern end of the French Alps which has an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. Such conditions make living in a tent a completely hassle free existence, with no hoovering or DIY to feel bad about not doing. Also there is very little cleaning needed and when you only have half a dozen items the washing up doesn't take long at all. This easy routine leaves plenty of time for bike riding and quiet contemplation by the swimming pool (campsites in France are about a million times better than English ones and get much quieter after August 15th)


Anonymous said...

If you buy your wine in a French supermarket, you deserve what you get. Our local Spar sells better antifreeze.

One word: "degustation." Taste before you buy - and buy direct from the chateau.


Dafydd said...

You forget to mention the litter - lack of - there isn't any - anywhere - ever ! Plus you never see council workers picking it up - conclusion ?

Anonymous said...

Oh litter , yeah - and the tattoos and piercings - and spitting - Not .

NorthernTeacher said...

Frank, Vive la France for 2 more things: cheese and champagne!

Though when I went camping in said country, yep, the pain au chocolat beat everything else.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree about the red wine. Best I ever tasted was 1euro a litter and came in the same sort of container usually reserved for frying oil in the UK

I think it's quite sad that the thing I miss most about living in the UK is our trips to France

Lilyofthefield said...

My 0.78 Euro carton of red that I bought in an Italian supermarket last week just to see how bad it could be was miles better than anything I've ever had from the M&S Dine In For A Tenner range!

I've just come back from Naples, Mr Chalk, so don't try and tell me anything about TERRIBLE DRIVING.

Paul said...

There's a pizza shop with a wood-burning oven in Penzance if you're ever down that way.

Sarah in deepest, darkest Lomellina said...

"Is it our smoke regulations?"

Probably, smoke regs are the reason why so few new pizzarias in Italy are given permission for a wood burning oven and have to make do with electric ones.

Morninigstar said...

Got to agree with your 1 Euro bottle of wine comment ! Mind you some of the more expensive stuff tastes quite good too after 20 bottles of the former !