When thinking about France, the first thing that comes to mind for someone who isn’t French is, surely, cheese and wine. Yes, France is an incredibly popular country for its reputation: we all enjoy hundreds of types of cheeses and excellent wine (as I’ve been told, not being a wine drinker myself), we all wear berets and striped t-shirts and walk around with baguettes under our arms. Well… that is, you’d have guessed, not at all how I see my own country. So let me show you the things that make France so French to me. 

I was born and bred in France, and it is without surprise, the country I’ve lived the longest in. While growing up, I never noticed that some things done in France might actually be surprising to someone from another culture/country’s perspective. But once I started travelling and living abroad, I realised that some things that we do/have in France are even for us “très français” (very French), as we would say.

1. Trying out all kinds of “baguette”

So you thought ordering a “baguette” at the bakery would be easy? Guess what, it might not be! The baguette is a long and thin white bread, but across France you could also find breads with a similar shape and a very different name or recipe! For instance: with cereals, sourdough, with olives, with grains, called “tradition”, “rustique”, “flûte” (flute) or even “ficelle” (string) – with slight differences in weight for the last two – with pointy ends, with round edges, etc. Depending on the region you’re in, make sure to check out what they have in their bakeries, you may be surprised! What’s for sure is that anywhere you go in France you will always find croissants, pains au chocolat (also named chocolatine in the South), brioches and fine pastries! Miam miam!

2. “Faire grève”

French people learned a long time ago that striking can be a pretty efficient way to obtain what they wanted from the Government. Indeed, it has been quite effective in the past. It’s become such normality nowadays from the common transportation companies to strike that everyone actually gets annoyed by it. Their favourite time of the year to strike is obviously winter, when it’s cold, dark and depressing outside. You’ve been warned.

3. Drinking “l’apéritif”

What could be better than some delicious, mouth-watering little alcoholic drink before a big lunch or dinner? “L’apéritif” is probably the most traditionally French thing I could think of. Not every family have an apéritif before a meal in their day-to-day life, but they would certainly enjoy it with friends or family at a special event: birthdays, Christmas, promotion at work, good results in an exam… Everything is a good reason to celebrate and enjoy this very social moment. The good thing about it is that any small bite-sized food will go well with an apéritif – olives, cherry tomatoes, crisps, cheese cubes, crackers, slices of salmon, mini sandwiches etc.

4. Adding “petit” in front of everything

“On va boire un petit verre ?”, “On se fait une petite raclette ?”, “Mon neveu est un vrai petit ange !”. Without being pejorative, adding the word “petit” in front of everything doesn’t mean that things are smaller in France, it just makes them nicer, cuter, more adorable and more friendly. However, remember that using “petite” in front of the word “amie” will not mean “your little friend” but “your boyfriend/girlfriend”!

5. Buying “le calendrier des pompiers”

If you decide to live in France for a little while and you end up being there around Christmas time, don’t be surprised if the firemen come knocking at your door to sell you their calendar. A lot of firemen are volunteers in France, and to help fund their station they sell a calendar every year in order to get some tips. After all, they are being called for any problem: a cat in a tree, a flood in a flat, a woman going to labour in her house (true story!)… So beware of not giving anything to them or being too stingy! Otherwise, they might not be very helpful with you in the year to come. 

6. “Râler”

Don’t hold a grudge against French people for always complaining, it’s in our blood! They’re out of your favourite dessert at the restaurant? This old person is taking too long to cross the street? The electricity bill has gone up again? The store-clerk didn’t say “bonjour”? Every reason is a good reason to complain and whinge and grumble for many many French people. Now, “râler” is also, sometimes, just a way to make conversation.

7. Drinking cider in a tea cup

That’s what you might think when you order a glass of cider in France, and especially in Bretagne and Normandie, as it comes in what looks very much like a tea cup. But, actually, it isn’t a tea cup! It’s called “une bolée” (a little bowl) and a Breton will tell you that this is the right – and only –  glass to drink cider from. Beer and wine need special glasses, don’t they? So why not cider?

8. Enjoying a “café gourmand”

This is a very French thing to have at the end of your meal in a restaurant. If you’re not sure you want a full dessert or if you are tempted by several options on the menu and you like coffee, this will probably be for you. A café gourmand is a cup of coffee served with a plate of 4 or 5 bite-sized desserts. Perfect to end a meal and try out the best desserts on the menu. Of course, if you prefer, there’s always the option to have cheese instead of dessert.

9. Driving in a circle

France may be the country which counts the most roundabouts in the world. Ok, maybe not. But it sure feels like it when driving around a city in France. In some parts of a city, you can count one roundabout every 500 meters or less. That’s enough to get car-sick, or start complaining, in my opinion.

10. Having choice in the supermarkets

People often ask me what I miss the most about France while living abroad. My answer would have to be: the choice in the supermarkets! It’s not that I can’t find varied and delicious products where I currently live but, in France, the choice is real and vast. Whether it’s cheese, biscuits, chocolate, pasta, rice, can of vegetables or wine, there must be dozens of brands in one aisle. Actually, they usually even have an aisle each in the supermarket, at least in the big ones.