As you know, I just got back from a month in France, and although I have been to France before – being there for that amount of time made me realize a few things. As with traveling to any foreign country, there are funny differences, albeit minor ones, that make you go hmmmm. I’m not saying that one way is right, or one way is wrong… just different. And, if you tally up my personal experiences, it seems that we are statisically tied – kind of like Obama and McCain! Here’s what I learned:
THINGS WHERE FRANCE KICKS OUR ASS
- Food/Wine Yes, it’s true what they say – the food in France is incredible. Sure, I had some mediocre fare, but overall it was amazing. I had a sole meunière that would literally make you cry in a tiny restaurant in Paris that was straight out of central casting. I’m never going to order this dish again, as I know I will never find one as good as that one – ever. Oh, and the wine? California wines are good, Italian wines are great, but France kicks all of our asses. Sorry, but it’s true.
- Energy Conservation/Recycling You know, as I made my way through France, I realized how really wasteful we are here in the US. There were so many little things that are normal in France that would be thought of as revolutionary here as far as energy conservation goes. Things like the fact that you have to use your hotel key card to turn on the lights in your room or that all the hallway lights are motion-activated. I can only imagine how much money this saves the hotel with no a/c or lights on when guests are not there. Also, everywhere we went I saw giant glass, paper and plastic recycling bins. Not just at homes, but at restaurants and just on the street. And, people actually use them! It’s not a joke like the “blue bag” fiasco here in Chicago a few years ago. (Google it.) Plus, I saw tons of wind power generators and a few nuclear plants to boot. We look archaic next to this.
- Flowers I know that the French take their flowers and horticulture in general very seriously. But, I was still amazed at the gorgeous flowers and plants available at the flower shops and markets. I never saw a flower or plant that wasn’t just absolutely at its peak of beauty and perfect, no matter what town we were in. Loving flowers as every good girl should, I thought it was very cool.
- Transportation Yes, they have traffic jams just like everyone else, but overall I really noticed all the transportation options available in all the different places we went. I took the TGV, the French supertrain that got us 450 miles in 2 1/2 hours. It was clean, comfortable, and easy. I took the metro in Paris, the new trams in Bordeaux and noticed the cool rental bikes in Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Aix en Provence. The bikes work like the luggage carts at the airport – you put some money in, take the bike and turn it in at your destination at one of over 100 different locations in the city – it works and it’s a great idea.
THINGS WHERE WE KICK FRANCE’S ASS
- Inane TV I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but they have very serious TV in France. It wasn’t a language problem, but it was rarely that I could find something on the main France TV stations that wasn’t some sort of roundtable discussion, news program, or documentary. Yes, I saw their version of Big Brother, a couple of game shows and some Simpsons dubbed in French, but these were few and far between. We do much better with our 10,0000 channels of crap – because sometimes you just need to watch some crap and not think so much.
- Hair Dryer Technology I’m not sure how French women get to look so stylish and polished with the absolutely horrible hair dryers they are given. I can’t tell you how many different hair dryers I tried to use over the course of the month in the hotels that all had one thing in common: They toally sucked! (or blow, as the case may be.) They were either powerless, made in 1945, broken or, in one case, so strong I couldn’t use it (it was called the Jet 5000 – and it was!) I’m not sure what the hell is going on there with the hair dryers, but something needs to be done and pronto! Because of this, I look like Jerry Seinfeld in the “low flow” shower head episode in most of my vacation photos. (I don’t like the sound of that!)
- Cocktails I don’t know if it is because they perfected the wine thing so long ago, they kind of gave up doing anything else in the liquor category. I’m not talking about apertifs or digestifs – they’ve got that covered. I am talking about the good old fashioned cocktail. The French simply cannot make a decent cocktail. And, it seems that cocktails are all the rage right now, as all bars and cafes seem to have extensive cocktail lists. The problem is in the execution. No free-pours (always a very exact, very miniscule 4cl), paltry ice (two cubes at most), warm mixers. Plus, they’re damned expensive! Check mark for us for the good old fashioned shit-facer cocktail!
- Ice I already touched on this above, but what up with the ice, F? The French don’t like ice. No ice in your water. No ice in your soft drinks. Limited ice in your cocktail. No ice for sale at the store. No ice buckets or ice machines. Oh… wait. They do like ice for one thing – order a bottle of champagne or rosé and watch all the ice that comes in the bucket! Maybe that’s what they’re saving it all for…