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!

 

The Fabulous New Roman History Museum in Nîmes

For lovers of Roman history, the city of Nîmes in southern France is a must-see. It was once a major metropolis in Roman Gaul and today boasts a plethora of important sites: there’s the beautiful Maison Carré temple that Thomas Jefferson used it as a model for the Virginia state capital building, a large and well-preserved amphitheater, a massive Roman guard tower, and more.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Nîmes and now here’s another: the Museum of Romanity that opened in 2018. This museum exhibits thousands of fascinating artifacts and covers over 2,500 years of life in the city. And it’s great for kids as well as adults.

Val and I visited it a few weeks ago and had a great time. You can read my report on this terrific museum in France Today.

Van Gogh in Paris and Provence

If you are visiting Paris or Provence this year, don’t miss the fabulous sound and light shows at the Carrières de Lumières (Provence) and the new Ateliers des Lumières (Paris). They feature the works of Vincent Van Gogh, projected onto massive interior walls and choreographed with beautiful music. You’ve got to see it to believe it!

The Carrières de Lumières is in Les Baux-de-Provence, near both St-Rémy and Arles, where Van Gogh did much of his most important work. You can combine a visit to the Carrières with a visit to those towns, even seeing the room where Van Gogh lived in the asylum in St-Rémy; it’s a beautiful place and very moving.

Read all about it at The Good Life France!

New Rules for Sex in France

Sex permeates French society, including the language. All nouns have genders—either masculine or feminine—though it’s sometimes unclear why a word is one or the other. Chemise (shirt) is feminine, for example, while chemisier (blouse) is masculine. Go figure.

And just when you think you’ve figured out the gender rules, somebody goes and changes them. That somebody is the Académie française, the arbiter of all things having to do with the French language. And the new rules they just announced are such a big change that some consider them “true barbarism.”

Only in France!

Read all about it at Frenchly!

You Couldn’t Make This Up

One day our Provence friends Xavier and Marie-France decided that Val and I should join them at an avant-garde theatrical performance. They said it would improve our “cultural appreciation.” The show was being put on by a private group, the kind that rarely opens its doors to foreigners like us, so we were thrilled to be invited. But I have to say, it was about the strangest piece of theater I’ve ever seen!

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence.

Life in Provence is Different

A neighbor who feeds baguettes to the local donkeys? Another who wants you to taste his pig-snout salad? Folks who think Americans all wear cowboy hats and six-shooters?

Yes, life in Provence is different than California. I’m thrilled that a chapter of my new book Are We French Yet? has been featured in France Today. It tells these stories and more. You can read all about it here!

How to Make a Holiday Toast Around the World

Jill Barth is a well-known wine writer whose work has been featured in Decanter, Forbes, USA Today, and elsewhere. She recently wrote an article on wine-related holiday traditions around the world: Italy, France, Argentina, and elsewhere. She consulted experts about each country and I was thrilled that she contacted me as the French expert!

Here’s her fun article, just perfect for the holiday season.

 

My new book is out! Are We French Yet? is available at Amazon!

Christmas Traditions in Provence

Provence shares many Christmas traditions with the rest of France, like sapins de Noël (Christmas trees) and Pére 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.

 

My new book is out! Are We French Yet? is available at Amazon!

What Do the French Think of the United States Right Now?

President Trump will visit France this Friday, November 9, for a military celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This will be his second visit to the country often called America’s oldest ally. Which makes it a good time to ask, what do the French think of America these days?

Find out at Frenchly!