Saturday, April 14, 2012

For Keeps

As I was saying to myself earlier, I've recently marked 6 months in France. I'm beginning to make plans for the next leap of faith in my life, which (obviously) I will detail for all y'all in painstaking and painful detail. Not yet though. Right now, I want to talk about something else.

French culture.

So, I think a lot of people get put off by France in general because they come here, and assume that because it's mostly white, because it's Western Europe, and because it's a progressive, large country that's been around for a while, that it won't be anything too surprising. It's not like you're going to Bangladesh or Russia or Namibia. France is easy to find on a map; everyone here has an iPhone; they don't even have a Royal Family or anything! We know what to expect!

Well, here's the thing: despite all these cultural similarities...it's not exactly what you expect. The traditions are different. The food is different. People have different priorities, different schedules, different values. It's not America, and it's not like any other European country (note: they are all, in fact, different!). And yeah, not everyone is going to be able to speak English to you!

After hanging out and pretending to be French for 6 months now, I am still no expert in how things are done. But there are certain bits of France that I am already planning to take with me forever. Things that we don't necessarily do at home, or that we don't emphasize, and make them mine. I'm a cultural thief. (I steal ideas...name that coach.)

The number one thing I am taking with me back to the US of A (and I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to pull this off) is the notion of fresh bread every day. Actually, I don't do that here, because I have little to no self control when I'm alone in a room with a hot baguette. The hope is that someday I will be able to handle having good bread on hand withOUT eating it in one fell swoop, and when I can do this, oh, it's on. My French family is all over the baguette scene. I think it's awesome that when the dad gets home, he knows that there is a hunk of bread waiting for him to take the edge off a hard day. This will certainly prove more difficult in the States, I'm sure, because of our lack of quality bakeries on every street....so maybe I'll have to learn how to make a baguette traditionelle. Gonna need a steam oven....
 this photo from '09 shows how happy baguettes make me

Another thing (that has to do with food) that I will be doing forever now, is making my own salad dressing. I'm one of those people who gets B-O-R-E-D before she finishes the bottle of dressing she just bought. Well, here in France they just combine all the random condiments in their fridge to make a super-easy (and super-tasty), customizable dressing! I do this in my shoebox too, mostly because I have all the things I need to make a dressing (oil, acid, sweetness, flavors) and I can't justify purchasing a big bottle when I don't really eat salads all the time. I've made dressings using olive oil, mayo, creme fraiche, spicy french mustard, ketchup, HP, sugar, red wine vinegar, balsamic (dark and white!), honey, onion, garlic...the list continues. Not all together of course! But I just throw all my stuff in an old pickle jar, shake it up, and then I have a container to store the leftovers. I'm a genius, I know.

 all that is in my fridge on any given day

Moving away from the food for a bit, I've also changed up the way I dress a bit. I have always subscribed to the "I'd rather be overdressed than underdressed" theory, so I will claim that, mostly, my fashion "don'ts" have been under control. Here in France, though, I think they take it up another notch. Not only do people actually put on clothes (gasp!) to run to the grocery store or whatever, they will dress themselves to stay in! Dress up to walk the dog! And runners? They aren't schlumping around the Champ du Mars in holey sweats. They are wearing gear. While I am sure part of that has to do with the Paris I live in (the 7th, merci!), I will wager to say that it's a big part of the culture here. I read somewhere that the people of Paris want to look good all the time because they think someone who isn't put-together will detract from the beauty of the city itself. I really do try not to hate on the crocs I do see from time to time (and I try to think "tourist, tourist"), but when I get back to America, I definitely plan on keeping the Parisian style going.

 this picture would be ruined if I were wearing sweatpants

My style has evolved further than just when I wear certain things. In general, one of the features I am most proud of is my hair. I have goooood hair, y'all, and I'm not afraid to own it! It dries straight, it has natural highlights, it's lovely and long. Plus, it's one of my "things" that hasn't changed a lot over the years. While my skin and weight and grooming has shifted all along the spectrum of terrible and gorgeous, my hair has been stable. And I used to always have it CLEAN. Wash it ERRYDAY. SHINY. Shampoo-girl hair. Well, in France, the aesthetic is a bit different: have gorgeous hair, but have it be realistic. Messy, textured. Unkempt, as some may say. So what has happened to me is that I've devolved into my summer schedule (shower every other day) and I've also stopped brushing it. I comb it after the shower, and then I let it dry (or dry it, if it's windy and crap), and then I leave it alone! Day two routine involves some dry shampoo and finger combing, but that's about it. Oh my GOD is it simple. I've somehow become even MORE low-maintenance with my stick-straight hair!

going out with unshowered hair...how-to

Anyway...that's what I'm going to do when I come back across the pond. It's going to be magnificent. But please, tell me if my hair starts being less tousled and more bird's nest.

Next up...things the French do that I will absolutely NEVER DO AGAIN once I leave this continent.

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