What Do the French Think of the Transit Strikes?

France is experiencing its biggest strikes since 1995, with the nation’s transportation system largely shut down, paralyzing the country. The strikes began in December and continued through the holidays, with regular street protests in Paris and other major cities. More “Days of Action” are scheduled, when thousands of protesters will again march in the streets. Getting around Paris has never been harder.

What do the French think of all this? Are they still solidaire with the strikers or are they tired of the hassle? I looked at some recent polls and the answer was surprising.

Read all about it in Frenchly!

Discover Marcel Pagnol, the Bard of Provence

Jean de Florette…My Father’s Glory…Marius and Fanny. These and other beloved works were all written by Marcel Pagnol, the bard of Provence. Ask a local what author best describes their part of the world and chances are they’ll name Pagnol.

A fascinating character, Marcel Pagnol was not only an author but also a great filmmaker, the first to be elected into the prestigious Académie française. And he’s my favorite French author. No one else can conjure life in the south of France the way he can.

Want to learn more? Read my article about Pagnol in Perfectly Provence!

Christmas in Provence

Provence shares many Christmas traditions with the rest of France, like sapins de Noël (Christmas trees) and Père Noël (Father Christmas.) But it also has some unique ones of its own.

One is the santons, those cute little figurines sold all over Provence. They depict characters from village life such as the baker, the fishwife and the scissor grinder. They are popular with tourists, kind of like Hummel figurines but with a French twist. And their origin goes back to the French Revolution.

Crèches (nativity scenes) had long been popular in France but were banned by the fiercely anti-clerical leaders of the Revolution. What to do? An artist from Marseille came up with a clever solution. He invented santons and turned the crèche into a “village scene,” using his little figurines in place of the usual Biblical characters. This passed muster with the anti-religious zealots, who somehow missed the fact that santon means “little saint,” and a new tradition was born.

Another Provencal Christmas specialty is le gros souper (the big dinner) eaten before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is full of religious symbolism, like the three white tablecloths representing the holy trinity and the seven dishes representing Mary’s sorrows. It also requires a great deal of preparation, so fewer families today have this big dinner than in years past.

Perhaps the most famous Provence Christmas tradition is the treize (thirteen) desserts. Wait, thirteen? Yes!

These are eaten after midnight Mass, which means in the wee hours of Christmas—what a great way to start the day! Like the gros souper, the treize desserts are full of religious symbolism. Thirteen, for example, represents the number of people at the Last Supper.

Each family can decide what to serve but the desserts usually include fruits and nuts, candies and some sort of sweetened bread. My favorites are the two kinds of nougat, one white and one black, symbolizing good and evil.

Like the gros souper, fewer families prepare the treize desserts today than in the past but they maintain a loyal following. Some people just skip the dinner and the Mass and go straight to the desserts!

So at your Christmas dinner this year, when you are debating whether to have another slice of pie—go for it! Just tell your family that you are taking part in an ancient and noble French tradition.

A Forgotten French Classic

The New York Review of Books called it, “The runaway best seller of nineteenth-century France, possibly the greatest best seller of all time.”

The Washington Post described it as, “Aristocrats with secrets, a prostitute with a heart of gold, criminals nicknamed the Schoolmaster and the She-Wolf, an evil lawyer, thwarted love, blackmail and conspiracy—this is a sprawling novel that packs in everything and then adds more.”

What is it? Les Mystères de Paris / The Mysteries of Paris, the book that inspired Victor Hugo to write Les Misérables. Almost as interesting as the book is the author himself, a man born to privilege (his godmother was Empress Josephine) who became one of the leading Socialists of his day.

The book is ripping good fun in either French or English. Read all about it at My French Life!

Living Like a Local in Provence

Val and I live part of the year in St-Rémy and we’ve tried to become as local as we can. An important part of that is getting to know our region’s history.

One way we’ve done this is through local associations, which are groups organized around a common interest. Associations are popular in France and every town and village has at least a few. They might be cultural, charitable, athletic—you name it. A friend of ours is in a walking group and she joins fellow members for “randonnées” in the countryside every weekend.

We’ve made it a point to go to lectures put on by our town’s historical society. Want to know about the women of the French Resistance? How about what the Pont d’Avignon looked like before it collapsed? Or maybe the REAL story of Mary Magdalene in Provence?

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!

The Greatest French Book of All Time?

France is known for great literature. Think of all those famous authors–Hugo, Balzac, Proust, Camus, Flaubert, and more. Ok, maybe we haven’t read a lot of them but Les Mis was terrific, wasn’t it?

Out of all the books written by French authors, which one is the best? Maybe Madame Bovary? The Stranger? In Search of Lost Time? Or maybe the beloved Little Prince?

I decided to find out. You might be surprised by what I learned.

Read all about it in My French Life!

The Most Roman City in France

Just west of Provence, across the mighty Rhône River, lays the Gard Department of France. Gard and Provence share a deep Roman history, from the days when both were part of the Roman region of Gallia.

Because it is so close to Provence, a visit to Gard makes for a nice day trip from Avignon or St-Rémy-de-Provence or wherever you might be staying. And one of the highlights of a visit is the city of Nîmes, once called Nemauses and known as “the most Roman city outside of Italy.” Emperor Augustus made Nemauses his local capital and today Nîmes is filled with sites and monuments that make it a must-see for any lover of Roman history.

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!

French Universities: Bad or Just Misunderstood?

The latest Shanghai Ranking of the world’s universities has just been published. And once again France is disappointed. The list is dominated by American and British universities, while the top school in France is only ranked #37, four spots below the University of North Carolina. Headlines across France all have the same message: France “lags behind” and something must be done!

Are French universities really that bad? Or does the Shanghai Ranking not value the things that make them special? I decided to find out.

Read what I learned at Frenchly!

 

Do The French Take Too Much Vacation?

You’re probably familiar with the stereotype: the French are always on vacation. And it’s true that they get a lot of time off — not including public holidays, the French enjoy an average of 30 business days off per year, compared to only 16 in the United States.

Taking several weeks off in the summer is a French tradition. In fact, the summer season is so busy that it’s hard for everyone to vacation at the same time, so some go in July and some in August. There are even nicknames for them: the July vacationers are juilletistes (from the word juillet, for July) and the August vacationers are aoûtiens (août means August).

What’s not clear is if all that time off hurts the French economy. Should those français and française quit sipping wine and get back to work?

Read all about it at Frenchly!

How to Become a Parisian in One Hour

One of the hottest shows in Paris in Olivier Giraud’s How to Become a Parisian in One Hour. Over half a million people have seen it…and even the Parisians love it!

If you can’t make it to Paris, Giraud has written a funny book that covers the same material. Ready to try your hand at some French reading? The French version is an easy place to start (there are lots of pictures!)

Read all about the book and the show (including a video clip!) at My French Life.