France A-Z

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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.


Cathédrale Sainte Réparate - I lived in the building on the left on the floor just above the café's awning.


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!


My Fazer





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.


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16 Responses to France A-Z

  1. Diane says:

    Oh Joanna, I am going to love reading your posts. My husband and I sat laughing when I read out to him about Chauffeur, it certainly brought back a flood of memories of our very first trip to Europe in 1987. Even bus drivers go crazy the further south of France and Italy as ours did. We were on a 24 day trip through Europe and our driver went down a one-way street heading the wrong way, our guide apologising madly for our crazy dutch driver, who also like many other drivers in Nice and Rome ignored police (traffic wardens) waving their arms trying to direct traffic and noone taking any notice. I remember well the constant noise of blowing whistles. We stayed at the Plaza Hotel opposite the waterfront in Nice. Ahh steeped in history, the clinking of wine glasses, shops of leather bags .. although we were asked to try, I passed on the e’scargot
    Wonderful..can’t wait to read more…

    • Joanna says:

      Haha, Diane I thought you would enjoy some “travel” thoughts, especially as I knew that you had already been to the Cote d’Azur. I could have written so much more about the driving…. like the constant double and triple parking…. or the Vespas weaving in and out overtaking at whim on either side of the lane…. the horn-blowing at the slightest provocation…. It is scary enough on four wheels but on my pushbike or motorbike, I feel like I take my life in my hands each time I ride (which is most days as I commute to Monaco on the motorbike). In contrast, traffic in Monaco is sedate and respectful, with every car letting you pass on pedestrian crossings.

  2. Diane says:

    Oh Joanna, don’t remind me…haha. That is quite a hike for you from Nice to Monaco. The streets of Monaco if I remember are very narrow to, probably why drivers are a little more curtious.
    As for double/triple parking…. don’t they call it “abandon” parking…hahaha

  3. This is going to be a fascinating series of posts! I have never been to France (or Italy, or anywhere in Europe other than England, I’m ashamed to say) and I anticipate learning much in the most delightful way.

    Looking forward to “learning my ABCs” with you!

    • Joanna says:

      Well, Beth, it is my hope that having read Little Bo in France and Italy and with my ABC’s; you won’t be able to restrain yourself from visiting this part of the world 😉

  4. You describe these so well and with so much humour, Joanna – almost feel like I’m there again! (soon…) XR

    • Joanna says:

      Thanks, Rach. Just three weeks – can’t wait to see you and the Canadians again. It was a “Bar and Pizzeria” Presentation you wanted for your students, wasn’t it? Just kidding 😉 will brush up on my History of Nice before the 25th, promised xxx

  5. I looove reading this post. I haven’t been to France yet, but I would definitely read up on your posts to get myself familiarized with the French culture. I AM reading Bourdieu right now though and falling asleep and lapsing into beautiful daydreams every now and again (give me wordless picture books any time of the day), but I find that it is helpful in getting myself more familiarized with the arts scene in Europe. =) Reading your posts though would provide me with a better insider information.

    • Joanna says:

      Thank you, Myra. It is fun writing about things one knows well. Oh my, Bourdieu is certainly no light reading, good on you! I think his sociological perceptions probably vary a little from my own 😉

  6. Patricia Tilton says:

    Wonderful peek into your life. I love to hear you talk about your adopted home, Nice. My husband would fall in love with the Baroque architecture. Makes me want to travel to France. Like Elizabeth, I’ve only been to England, Wales and Scotland, in Europe. Oh well! Lovely dream. You certainly make it all come alive.

    Have been dying to see your motorbike — you’re brave. Now I will have a picture of you in my mind riding to and from work.

    What is an Anglophone — and English speaking person. You keep using that term and I’ve never heard it before until I met you.

    Look forward to future sharings of your home and lifestyle. Would love to be so near the opera houses, Monaco and Italy.


    • Joanna says:

      It really is a dreamy place to love, Pat. And I try daily never to take it for granted.

      Yes Anglophone means English-speaker e.g. all the Swedes, Danes, Dutch here would fall into this category.

      Maybe when I get to “O” I should mention our own little opera house here 🙂

  7. Pingback: FRANCE J-L : Miss Marple's Musings

  8. Joanna, I have just read ABC and i loved the words you chose. I like the sound of Aperitif. It sounds so relaxing and enjoyable! Looking forward to the other letters.

  9. Joanna says:

    Eric, cheers! Or, Santé, as we say here!

  10. When traveling in Italy, france or Spain the motto we took on was, “He who brakes first loses!” Enjoying these ABC’s!

  11. Joanna says:

    Julie, this is a great and appropriate road safety motto for around here!

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