I was raised to appreciate and be curious about other cultures, especially France. Nice is also by far the location where I have lived the longest as an adult, so I am very much at home here (for the present at least, as “never say never” is one of my mottos as far as the future is concerned). I want to do a series of weekly posts over the next couple of months, exploring my experiences (almost always positive) of being a foreigner in France. For my first three years here, I more or less estranged any compatriots and other Anglophones to ensure mastery of the beautiful, French language and immersion into the local culture. This was lonely and at times painful, but oh so worth it. My friends here are 95% French or French speakers and I relish the quality of life in Nice. Clearly I could write a book, as so many have, on my anecdotes, so to give myself some limits, I shall use alphabetical constraints.
In making a list of subjects I wanted to share, I have been struck by two things: I could have easily listed 26 topics solely related to food and drink and have had to show quite a bit of restraint, as French culture and life is so much richer than this; secondly, many of the words I have spontaneously chosen are actually French words that have crept into our English dictionaries, showing the centuries of influence the Gauls have had on the Angles and Saxons (probably best illustrated by Asterix in Britain!). Alors, allons-y mes amis.
Aperitif (noun: aperitif – short drink – appetizer)
You may be saying, “we have this too” but l’heure de l’aperitif’ or the Apertif-hour is almost as sacrosanct in France (and I think Italy) as dinner itself. All over the nation, but particularly in the sultry, southern summers, from around 5.30-7.30 PM friends and families will unwind to a chilled glass of rosé, a tumbler of Pastis or flute of Kir, accompanied by some small, nutty olives Niçoises, It sets the tone for the evening ahead and prepares the stomach and soul for the anticipated meal. The aperitif warms the senses and the body, and stimulates thoughtful conversation.
Baroque (noun: extravagant & ornate style across the arts developed in late 17th and early 18th century)
In general I am not a great fan of baroque art and architecture, though am appreciative of operatic roots in this period. However, a discussion of Nice is not complete without touching on this overpowering style. While baroque was not big in France in general, the county of Nice was part of the Duchy of Savoy (“Italy”) until 1860 and so we have some serious Ligurian influences here including some stunning, baroque architecture. Walk the streets of the Old Nice and relying on sights, sounds and smells, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Genoa or even Naples. I could cite you many examples of rich, Counter Reformation, baroque buildings, intimidating small squares in Nice, but I will limit myself to the cathedral. I lived in spitting distance (literally) of la Cathédrale Sainte Réparate, in Place Rossetti, for my first three years in Nice and I can tell you, in my sleep, the tones and numbers of chimes and on what hour, the bells of this cathedral toll! For someone who prefers the simplicity of a place of worship like the Sacré Coeur in Paris, even I am impressed by St Réparate!
Chauffeur (noun: in French this can mean just driver, as well as someone employed to drive etc)
I am not at all an aggressive person. Quite the contrary, I shy away from conflict and combative encounters. However, after 12 years of negotiating French drivers and pedestrians in Nice, I have, *hangs head in shame*, noticed distinctly aggressive tendencies behind the steering wheel of my car or the handlebars of my motorbike. I am sorry, but it really is a case of “When in Rome…” though wait, my experience of Roman and Neapolitan drivers is even worse – they are, I suspect, predominantly a race with red-green color-blindness 🙂 I truly do love the French (and Italians), but the further south you drive in France and on down into Italy, the worse the driving becomes. Orange lights signal continue at your leisure, and red means accelerate with controlled force. Just drive a day or two in Nice, skipping through a few orange lights and check your rear view mirror and tell me how many cars followed you through those lights 😉 And don’t get me started on pedestrians with death wishes, hurling themselves in front of my bike with a “just you dare” glare, then again, can you blame them when no motorist would be seen dead stopping at a zebra crossing?! Let’s just say to survive as a motorist here you have to learn a whole new set of skills they didn’t teach you when you took your license.