Top 7 "Moments in France"
By: Bread is PainBeing an expat has moments that are difficult, funny, exciting, even terrifying and no two countries are alike. Here are a few of the moments that France has to offer:
# 7: The Language Moment: The time you accidentally offend people.
Speaking in a different language is always complicated, no matter how long you have studied it. Every language has subtle nuances and phrases that are cultural not just linguistic. You may be able to understand every single grammatical rule of a particular language but still be lost when you are in a country that actually speaks it…and French is no exception.
When I first arrived and began learning French I would put together sentences as best I could with the words that I knew – doing a literal translation in my head. Most of the time this would work out but every once in a while I would fail miserably. One such situation was the first time I met my husband’s family. We had just finished a long hike through the mountains and were sitting down to a lunch at a restaurant. I turned and smiled over at my sister-in-law, saying:
“C’etait bon marché, non?” To me, this simply meant, “It was a good walk, no?”
She looked at me a little confused and then down at the menu of the restaurant.
“Uh…oui,” she responded.
I turned to my husband and said, “C’est bon marché, right? Isn’t that how I say it?”
He also looked confused and kind of embarrassed. I could feel the heat on my face at this point, wondering what I’d done wrong.
He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “that means that it is cheap. You just said the restaurant is cheap.”
!!!!!!!!! EHRMERGERD! I flushed fully at that point, feeling all eyes on me, the crass American talking about money and the cheapness of the restaurant they brought us to. In my mind it was horrible and I wanted to melt into the floor.
The rest of them just laughed, quickly understanding what I meant and explaining to me how that is a difficult turn of phrase if you haven’t studied French long.
Long story short, this stuff happens, you will have a moment when you think you’ve ordered one thing and you get another or you answer a question completely wrong, but just shrug and laugh it off…because nothing will come off more French than that.
#6: The Awkward Kiss Moment: The “I kissed a girl and I…did not like it, it was horribly embarrassing” moment.
The “bise” is a complicated thing in France. In the movies, it is all natural and simple: two kisses given on either cheek to each person you meet.
*I’m sorry, we must interrupt this programming for a momentary pause*
Apologies, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t type. Let’s just say it is not quite that simple. The rules for the “bise” are extensive and I think the French must be born knowing them because otherwise, I can’t explain how anyone can fully grasp each little nuance. For example, there is no clear rule about how many kisses to give, sometimes 2, sometimes 3, there is one region in which they just give you 1 kiss so when you go for the second one you are left hanging mid-air awkwardly. There are even a couple of places that do four and, I believe, some crazy-kissing-peeps (that is the official terminology) do FIVE. Another problem is that there is not a particular side that one moves to first. As a result, I once ended up turning the wrong way and kissing a girl I had never met on the mouth…yeah…that happened.
So, what is a non-kissing (as in, I don’t even kiss my parents) foreigner to do? Look, you are going to have a moment at some point during your time in France in which you make a “bise” mistake…in fact, you will probably have several. So don’t sweat it, every expat in France has gone through it, and when that embarrassing moment comes just…embrace it (har har har…pun intended, nerd out).
#5: The Food Moment: The moment when you realize what all the fuss is about.
Sometimes when I imagine France on a map, I just see it as a large mass of products and yummy dishes coming out of a cornucopia. There is so much to French cuisine and every single region has a different specialty. There is foie gras and magret de canard in Perigord, Crepes in Normandy, Escargots and Boeuf Bourguignon in Burgundy, Cassoulet around Toulouse…the list could go on and on and one will, without a doubt, have amazing food moments while living in France.
My first one was simple and beautiful. We had just arrived in the country, my husband and I, and we were settling into a temporary apartment. All we had was luggage, nothing by way of kitchenware. With that in mind, we ran up to the grocery store and grabbed some simple snacks for a dinner: paté, cheese, bread, cornichon. The sweet, soft paté, crusty baguette, bitter and creamy cheese, with a cut of vinegar from the cornichon – it was so simple and so good.
Since then, I have had a lot (really a lot…I’m kind of gross about food) of amazing French cuisine; sometimes at fancy restaurants or casual places, sometimes at people’s houses, and it has all been wonderful. But…but, there will always be something magical about sitting across from my husband in a tiny little studio apartment eating grocery store cheese and paté and realizing that this was going to be my life.
#4: The Fatty Moment – When you discover your jeans have shrunk.
“I don’t understand…the zipper is…UGH…oh my god, I can’t breath…panic attack, panic attack, get it off me! AHHHHHHHHHH!”
I’m running through my house trapped inside of a black cocktail dress that is cutting off the circulation to my lower body. I kind of look like a sausage that someone over-filled.
Eventually, I remove the offending garment and sit on the edge of my bed in sweatpants.
“I don’t get it,” I say to my husband. “It fit me just fine last year.” I peer studiously at the dress as though its physical properties have changed while sitting in my closet.
He shrugs (the French like to shrug a lot). “Je ne sais pas,” he responds. “Last year we were in Australia and this year in France – a lot has changed.”
“WHAT?!” I say, outraged and leaping off the bed. “I don’t overeat, you overeat! How dare you accuse me over being a fat glutton!”
Right…um okay, so maybe I do know what the issue is.
During your stay in France you will likely have a moment in which you become rather…meh...fluffy. Don’t panic! I know, that you will be looking around at all slender French people and wondering what the deal is but remember, they have been living here all their lives – clearly their bodies have adapted into some sort of super-sonic fat burning machines (this is all very scientific and provable, I swear). New-comers’ bodies, on the other hand, haven’t acclimated to the dietary changes and simply can’t handle all the cream, butter, cheese, spreadable meat…le sigh. Obviously, it is a biological issue and has nothing to do with the fact that you spent your first week in France eating paté and cheese every day for lunch (what? Shut up, I didn’t do that, obviously I’m talking about someone else, gawd) or that you write poetry about cheese (see #2). Eventually, you will get used to the higher fat content and realize that much smaller portion sizes still satisfy…until then, maybe don’t try on clothes from the previous season.
#3: The Mean Moment: When you realize that France can be snarky.
“Oh my, how I love France, everything is wonderful! I think I will go to this nice fromagerie and buy some delightful French cheese.” I am skipping through town in a little bubble of happiness.
“Bonjour Madame,” says the shop owner as I enter.
We will ignore the fact that he called me “madame.”
“Bonjour,” I reply and then ask for what I am looking for.
“Where are you from,” he asks me as he walks me towards the proper section. I note that there is amusement on his face from my accent.
“Je suis Americaine,” I respond, smiling amicably.
“Ah,” he laughs and shrugs, “...Nobody’s perfect.”
I look at him flatly. Really dude?
I leave the store a few minutes later…bubble burst.
This sort of stuff is just going to happen to you when you are an expat, it is part of the deal, and…meh…maybe…well…eeeeeh…possibly a bit more in France. (!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my god, can she SAY that?!) Look, I’m not saying that the French are meany-pants (okay, maybe I’m saying it just a wee bit) but rather attempting to explain that the French have a sense of humor that can feel a bit rough to those unaccustomed to it. There have been multiple occasions in which I have been offended by something that someone has said, only to have my French friends shrug in confusion at my sensitivity. In France, a little verbal sparring and heavy-handed teasing is appreciated and encouraged – it is almost like a sport.
So remember this when you move to France and when you have the moment in which you get mean-pantsed (ha – a play on getting “pantsed,” get it?) you will not take offense but instead join in the game…because, it is true, nodoby’s perfect.
#2: The Cheese Moment: The moment when you realize just how much cheese can mean.
Gold silk spinning round, Velvet texture, soft, profound, Pungent smell, no sound
Yeah, it’s a Haiku (see Mom? I did learn something in school)…about cheese. And yes, I hear you judging me and I don’t care because cheese in France is dead sexy. This is not waxy Kraft singles or a mild cheddar or pleasing mozzarella, cheese in France means business. You think you’ve had Camembert and Brie before? HA! Methinks not, kind sir/madam. You think you’ve eaten fondue because you’ve been to The Melting Pot Restaurant? Not even close!
Cheese in France is like nothing you’ve ever had elsewhere. Sure, you can get French cheese overseas but it is never the same. Here in France, they treat it tenderly, reverently, ensuring that it is housed and aged correctly before eating – the French are almost religious in their seriousness about cheese. There is no doubt that at some point while living here you will have a moment in which you get a little crush (or a big crush) on the cheese. Perhaps it will be a Brillat-Savarin or an Epoisse or St. Felicien or…well, there are about 300 national cheeses so I’ll stop there but you get my point…
#1: The Parisian Moment – The moment when you realize that Paris really is the most beautiful city in the world.
This is all about the sigh of pleasure you will experience as you sit at a café, sipping a coffee and watching the people pass-by on a Paris sidewalk. You’ve seen it a million times in the movies and read about it often in books but nothing can prepare you for just how beautiful Paris actually is and what it feels like to walk her streets and stand on her bridges looking down the Seine towards Notre Dame. Paris is one of those cities that is alive and has a personality; wandering around Paris is like having a conversation with someone really attractive (really attractive) and super interesting.
Whether you end up living in Paris or elsewhere in France you will, at some point, undoubtedly, have either a brief or long-term love affair with the city because…well, perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best:
“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”
...and so will a walk around France.
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Contest Comments » There are 95 comments
What a fun take on the challenges of living in another country! I like her writing style!
NK, your snippets of daily life in France are fantastic! They make me want to revisit with a whole new perspective (and itinerary).
Your musings capture perfectly the sassy, sultry, and delicious soul of Paris. And reminds me of the most important lesson in being a foreigner, to be open and relaxed, but when that fails, eat (and drink) well and often!
The writing style, humor and transparency are incredibly fun to read. I adore the side notes/comments. From reading, I feel I could easily see myself in her shoes, though without the fantastic style to share with others. Definitely talented.
This cracks me up! I love reading your blog and it REALLY makes me jealous of your world!
definitely a good picture of my country and a great sense of humour in writing
Love it! Even more being French and married to an Australian wife. Please keep sharing your moments with us.
Very nice !!! As a french, I find "Bread is pain" very fun and so current !!
I love NK's blog, she is hilariously funny and her post make me 'lol', keep up the good work!
Your blog saved me from making faux pas when I was in Paris. Thank you!
Hihihihihihi euh sorrry for my French... Hehehehe it is HILARIOUS, how funny it is to see how foreigner can see us! If it can comfort you I am French and I still struggling with the "Bise" each area have its own code who make life very difficult for all of frogs eater ;) keep calm and carry on NK you are on the good path !
Being Nancy-Kate's husband, I'm going to be heavily suspected of being biased :-) (Quoi!?) She fully captures the essence of my country (and, guys, if anyone can testify, it's me : those facts are true!). Her "Parisian Moment" is just a jewel itself. Being a Parisian myself, she manages to make me view my City with fresh new eyes, non absent the romance - but of course. Bah oui!
That is soooooo true!! I´ve been an expat in Berlin, Valencia and Barcelona - and this just made me laugh!! Love the one about the rudeness - reminded me of Barcelona!!
Cool, had a great moment reading through it ! When can we get the next one ???
This blog totally makes me laugh and I end up learning a lot too! Makes me want to travel more!
"Bread is Pain" ... it reminds me on the time i´ve been abroad! Keep on going, it´s lovely and simply honestly writing.
I always look forward to your blog posts! Your commentary on ex-pat life is educational, relatable, and often hilarious!
Every time I read a blog post from "Bread is Pain," I want to pack my bags and move there... now! I wouldn't survive a day, though.
Hysterical as usual. I find myself checking for new entries on a daily basis to make me laugh.
Fabulous insight, as always you make me both laugh and reminisce :) merci!
LOL, nice one, with many truths. I have to add to #6 though, that the side one starts with making "la bise" is mostly regionally dependent (e.g. in Isère one starts on the right, in Moselle one would start on the left). French people might be better used to adapt to "regional habit collisions" and compensate quicker for those situations... highly psycho-rigid people like me though have a hard time getting used to regional change EVERY time they travel from one place in France to another one (and end up in numerous awkward situations like the one you described ;) ). But in Paris where anybody from anywhere flows together I guess this results just in a huge mess in regard to this question. :)
I love your sense of humor, and your ability to capture these amazing moments in your blog!!!
great read and lots of laughs... i look forward to more installments.
I always look forward to the next instaallment of Bred is Pain. the author's writing, alwys good, just gets better. A fun read, as well as a great one.
It feels like she knows the life of an expat inside and outside with the wit and humor to get through it gracefully. Great reading :)
C’est bon blog. Right? Isn’t that how I say it? - NC, merci for not publishing in French yet. I'm afraid you'd lose a faithful reader. (Though I have adopted "n'est-ce pas?") Keep up the good work. And to XAV AKA MB, I enjoy picturing you as the good-natured Parisian Ricky Ricardo of this publication. Always a fun read.
Having been in many of the same situations before in France (bise, cheese, Paris, and shrinking pants to name a few), I always laugh and eagerly await the next installment. And find myself checking airfare a bit too often.
I absolutely love reading Nancy-Kate's blog. She inspires me with each new post!
I always look forward to the Bread is Pain blogs. I find myself constantly laughing out loud. Keep up th great writing!!
I absolutely love this writer's style. She's funny to the extreme, light-hearted, and really conveys what it's like to live in France to someone who's only visited. Well done, and I hope you win the prize, N-K. You deserve it!
Thanks for the giggle fit! Love France, really love when our cultural differences are viewed with a large dose of humor. Well done!
Love it! As a person who dreams to go to Paris one day, I will live vicariously through your witty posts until I get there. Side note: I'll let the teachers at WSHS know that you actually wrote a haiku.
Very funny article about my country. But the "bise" is not so complicated finally, it's a romance question !
NK in my mind's eye I see what you are sharing and it is wonderful. It makes me want to dig up and dust off my French. Please continue to share your insights; you make me laugh.
I enjoy reading your blog, especially the spot-on conversations you have with 'France'. Helps me know I'm not all alone in my American head wandering through the country.
Toujours très agréable de te lire NK! you'll make it, no doubt! bises a toi et ton fêlé mari! ;-)
Regard incisif & drôle. Très sympa à lire Please continue il's very fun. Hâte de lire la suite des aventures Bizzzzz
I love reading about your adventures (and mishaps) in France! Your stories are so vividly written and your experiences so well described that I can literally feel your pain/happiness/frustration/excitement about daily life in a foreign country. And you always make laugh out loud...you've got a great sense of humor about everything! Keep it up!
so true it made me laugh. some things we french people take for granted - or just plain normal - can be terrifying or very exciting for expats. your writing style makes it so enjoyable and asking for more!
You've nailed it my friend! have experienced all the 7 moments including awkward fake it till you make it situation.
Those little stories are just so true. NK is a good storyteller, i like the way she paints everyday life in France with right words, perfectly choosen for these lived situations. Keep on the good work.
I always love your balanced view of things coupled with a sense of humour. Exploring France through your eyes makes me realize that differences are to be celebrated and laughed about them and occasionally scratch one's head...I also gained 7 kg when I first moved to France!
As always, you make me laugh. Your blog is a true reflection of your sweetness and humor (and snark) ;)
Nancy Kate is a personality all to herself. Her writing exudes this personality. Her wit and keen observations make her blog a must read. I am glad to call her a friend.
Ahhhh, your blog lets me extend my intense love of France, yet helps me realize there might be a little downside to living in "GOD'S COUNTRY"!!
Perhaps it was kissing the Blarney Stone at a tender age that gave Nancy Kate the keen wit to report her shrewd perceptions about both perils and rewards of living in France. Haikus AND quotes from historical figures! She is putting her education to good use. How I wish I had had the benefit of her advice on my first trip to France many years ago! NK's blog posts continue to be an anticipated source of entertainment, enlightenment, humor and pleasure. Keep up the good work, NK!
The kissing section was so funny I actually laughed out loud. I loved it, but I always love your writing. Excellent.
You had me at the fatty moment. I gained a LOT of weight when I moved to France, so much in fact my wedding dress for the civil ceremony, um, didn't freaking zip up! If you don't win this blog competition, or take France (I'm ignoring my creepy T-day story, and bowing out gracefully), there is something wrong with the world. Okay. Time to put the spotlight on you. Off to pimp you out. Wear your highest heels...
What a delightful escape from grading exams in the good old USA. I love your writing style and plan to check your blog often.
Your experiences remind me so much of one of my favorite books, Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull! Your writing style is an embellished version of hers!
What a fun way to start my morning! Had me laughing the whole time!
Love your writing! Hope you win! I would follow your blog!
Thank you so much NK for sharing this wonderful and honest article. Wish I were there experiencing this as well! Happy holidays.
As a fellow foodie and cheese lover, I especially enjoyed the food references and the ode to French cheese. Enjoyed the blog. The prose is accessible, and the anecdotes very human and relatable, no matter the country. Made me smile numerous times.
Your seven top moments in France, described with your usual wonderful sense of humour, are exactly spot-on. And they are all just as true today as they were when I arrived in France 38 years ago!
Good to get another set of experiences through the blog when you're in France and I'm in Germany!
My week-long visit to France cannot compare to what you have described as living in France. Your post brought back some lovely memories has rekindled the desire to visit the country again (even if it is a little snarky)
NK's writing style and ability to laugh at herself thru her frustration along with her love of adventure and exploration create an ambience which I enjoy vicariously while laughing along with her.
haha, love the cant fit in my jeans moment. Im having one of those in Australia right now. Great blog :)
Very funny and well written! Every country has is own subtle differences.....
Another great post NK! Reading your blog always brings a smile to my face!
Your blog NK, is so wonderfully descriptive, colourful and funny. It's such a welcome break to read in my work day.
haha ! a friend of mine had a very akward language moment : sitting close to the chimney during he first xmas diner with her boyfriend's family, she came up with that phrase : " ouh, je suis chaude !" ...
Jacobins be always lurching in the shadows, ready to pounce on unsuspecting expats. Remain forever cognoscente, and... keep on keep'n on!
Even my english is not great, I'm a addictive of NK blog ... always humorous and realistic post about french experience ... Nancy'll become a famous novelist/storyteller, j'en suis persuadée !!
Bread is Pain is one of the only blogs that when I see a notification of a new post in my inbox, I do a little "Yay!" because I know that I will read something that will make me laugh (always), make me think (usually along the lines of "that is SO true" and move me too (the girl plays it like she sees it). No one and I mean no one does what NK does. She most certainly deserves this award! Go NK and go Bread is Pain!!!!
Bread is pain is one of the best expat blogs! Makes me laugh about awkward situations she faces!
Love this!! Such a funny and clever read! We can all have a little Paris through you.
What I like is how this presents both sides of living abroad: how wonderful a culture can be as only an "outsider" may appreciate it, and also how a nation can forget its own history lessons, as an "outsider" is also astute enough to note...(the "nobody's perfect" crack, overlooking the fact that a huge amount of Americans fought and died saving France in the World Wars..guess they were too busy making cheese to save themselves (get it? the "mean pants" lesson learned!!)
Each post has been a very good moment. Discovering my country, culture, people,(bad ??) habits through your eyes has been fun and very interesting. Thanks and keep writing of course !
I love how you capture so many moments that seem small in nature but are so hugely perceptive. And, of course, hilarious :-)
Love the way you describe France and what makes it so unqiue and special in such a humorous, realistic way. Makes me want to travel back to France as soon as I can!
So funny! Nancy Kate, once again, totally insightful, witty and perceptive!
Great post. As a fellow expat in France, all I can say is yes, yes and yes ! PS My cheese crush at the moment is...Kiri ! La honte !
Delightful read. Please that a friend directed me to this site.
NK I love love your style, your stories make me feel like I am there with you !!! You have an amazing talent .... That is inspiring me to pack my bags to move to France !!!
I like reading about your new life in France. Remember that song we sang in Girl Scouts - "Make new friends but keep the old"? Thanks for keeping your old friends up on all the news. You're having the experience of a lifetime. Your insight and humor shines through in the blog. Keep writing!
Great! We like a lot your seem too improve your French, and found some very funny interpretations of our langage expressions (sorry for our bad english!!)
Ahhhh, France. He's one of those guys - most people have a friend like him. He's an unrepentant snob and more than a bit of a jerk on occasion yet somehow absolutely everyone loves him for it.
Hilarious! "Bread is Pain" is a must read for all Americans preparing to travel to, not just live in, France. I look forward to reading the author's entries and cannot wait to travel again once my children get a little older!
Nancy Kate - so proud of how you've embraced France and shared it with your U.S. friends and family! Happy travels, look forward to the new gems you find in 2014!
What a great treat this was to read. The prose is subtle, witty, and thoughtful. The vignettes NK captures are precious and illustrative moments that speak to anyone who has had a taste of pleasure and p a i n while living abroad. Thanks so much for these. I look forward to reading more!
Unfortunately, I have yet to experience France, but I look forward to the opportunity when it happens! Your experience and advice will be helpful.
OK, I have visited Paris, and traveled in France, but I have ALWAYS wanted to live there. Reading your blog makes me wistful all over again. Mostly for that Poilane bread, which was right down the Rue du Cherche Midi from my hotel the last time I was there!
NK, Every time I read one of your blog posts, I am either laughing out loud or crying big tears. Many times in the same post :)
Woaw! You're in love! Thank you for this (very) kind view of my country... It's not a paradise, nor a Treasure Island, but you've found some of the little gems we are hiding. The kissing is something we cherish, and it should not be too difficult. Look at the other person when you kiss her and you will never make any mistake, or you will have time enough to stop before a "lips-landing" :-) Merci madame !
Great read! You made me smile . Such a talented writer!
Great blog and always enjoy reading your posts. Definitely want to visit France one day and these posts let you know what you can really expect. Look forward to more of your posts in 2014!
i don't have so many words in my vocabulary to discribe how much i do appreciate that you started writing blog girl:) every time: your new post is equal big smile on my face;)))thank you for that:) waiting for more!!!!
I love it! I agree with you that being an expat in France has all this amazing sides, I found your vision so realistic and funny at the same time. Thank you for share with us!
Eh oui NK !! but the way you describe it, it seems that you love all these french little "coutumes" :-)
Great post! I like how you've managed to offset your culture shock / terror with humour. Really approachable in that I've never been to France but can still relate to your post and picture it all in my head. Also love your depiction of the cocktail dress situation, sad to say that I can relate - although don't have the French cheese and spreadable meat excuse! ;)
Hehe I love this list, and I love her blog! Now I want some brie...
Good job, nicely done and très amusant. Keep on observing and writing.
Well done Nancy Kate, I found this to be a very enjoyable & well composed piece and you managed to get so many French traits into this piece. I particularly like the Language moment, brilliant!!