We have just come back from a holiday in France. We visited the region of Lorraine—home of the famous quiche and so much more.

To get there, we drove from Utrecht to Belgium, to Luxembourg and finally into France. It took a little over six hours. The biggest thing that I noticed on our trip was the changing landscape. I have lived in The Netherlands a year and a half and I am just getting used to living in a flat country. As we entered Belgium it was startling to see that the land was no longer so flat. There was also less water, as the Dutch have sloten, polders and canals everywhere. And this change continued until we entered the lush, glorious countryside of France and then there were hills beyond hills and mountains upon mountains. I thought I was going to see Julie Andrews running around the bend singing “the hills are alive.” I did not expect to be so wowed by the French natural beauty. Where there are mountains, there are valleys. In every valley are small villages or just a smattering of homes. There are fields of corn so high you could lose a Dutchman in there. Coming from the land of Van Gogh, it was a treat to see thousands of sunflowers that gave the land the perfect amount of color. And the bails of rolled hay reminded us of so many famous farm paintings from the last two hundred years.

When we drove through the small towns, I immediately thought of all the French films that have those houses or shops. There is such a distinctive look to them…they are all very old, have many different colors, most windows have shutters and there are window boxes in front of almost every home, filled with flowers. In fact, there are flowers decorating all the towns. In the center of town, there are hundreds of flowers, there are pots along the roads filled with bright colors. Some of the towns look tired and not very busy, but there are flowers  and that gives a great sense of life.

This may not sound very romantic to share, but I have to let you know about the grocery store we visited. It was like a super store, similar to American stores, and not like anything in The Netherlands. What impressed me the most was the selection. France is a big country and they can have a variety of products and they seem to have everything there. A pleasant surprise were the prices for certain items. The wine section is enormous and the prices for local wines are ridiculously cheap. The cheese area was simply overwhelming, as my eyes got big and my nose was twitching…there were a variety of cheeses and the aisles were filled  with multiple aromas. I really thought that there had been a mistake with the pricing, as they were so low. Finally, the bakery was fabulous and why shouldn’t it be? There were shelves filled with all sorts of breads and on the bottom shelf was a line of tall bagettes standing at attention for this American. How do you choose a bagette? I went back and forth looking at them all, and just took the one that looked the crustiest. I found out later that it cost 45 cents. I am not the Barefoot Contessa or any kind of cook at all, but I felt like one of those tv chefs who visit Paris and shop at the individual markets. The ones who squeeze tomatoes, get a free slice of smelly cheese and taste a pitted olive…as they close their eyes and moan out loud. I did none of these things, but I felt like I should have.

I have saved the best for last. The holiday was just perfect but if I had to choose one negative thing about France it would have to be their television coverage of the Olympics. In The Netherlands we had great coverage of the Olympics—from Dutch tv and the BBC. During the first week, we were able to switch back and forth to get a comprehensive look at the games. Remember that Dutch television uses subtitles and never dubs anyone. If someone is talking in English, I hear that person and there are Dutch subtitles at the bottom of the screen. The French, on the other hand, dub everything. Every single thing on French tv is dubbed. That means that if they show President Obama talking, they have a man’s voice speaking in French and you never hear the President’s words in English.

Their Olympic coverage was naturally in French and that meant that we had no idea what they were saying. And where we were staying did not have the BBC as an option, so we were stuck with the French. When Michael Phelps was interviewed, he was asked a question in English and as soon as he started to answer the reporter translated his words into French! You could tell this was not making Phelps too happy. The French sportscasters like to talk a lot while covering an event and it seemed like they did not take time to breathe or smoke. And their coverage was really focused on the French athletes, whether they won or not. There were times where we could not see a live competition because there were no French people involved. The issue of favoritism by country is nothing new, and the BBC sportscasters have certainly been pro-British. But the French take it to a whole new level. Hey, I know I am spoiled by watching American television coverage for years, but Dutch have done a pretty good job this year. In fact, it shocked me to say that after a few days in France I really missed hearing the Dutch.

In the stores, the clerks speak English. And it does not seem to make a difference whether you are from Spain, England or The Netherlands—they are going to continue to speak French. On the sidewalk, a man sneezed and I said “bless you.” I was quite stunned when he said “thank you” with a French accent. I have been very spoiled by the Dutch, as their English skills are quite impressive.

France is a beautiful country, there is no doubt. And they have their own way of doing things, but don’t we all? I have more stories and photos to share and they will come soon. The kids and I joked that we wanted to see a man with a tiny French mustache and he had to be wearing a beret. Mission accomplished. We saw our first beret on our second day and it was quite a thrill. More to come….

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  • Judy Savage  On August 14, 2012 at 12:56 am

    I mostly enjoyed your description of the way the landscape changed as you drove along. After living in New England, it must have been great to see some hills – and even mountains. I love the fact that there were flowers everywhere, too. Having never been to France I am enjoying it through your photos and your writing. Looking foreward to more………..

  • Jean Langley  On August 20, 2012 at 2:08 am

    The French are very protective of their language. I heard something on radio once that the French language hasn’t changed much because the French are such purists.But a language that can’t grow…..Actually, I think they end up using English words for some things because they don’t have an equivalent French word.
    I’d love to visit the French countryside. Thanks for sharing.

    Wine,cheese, and bread. That sounds quintessentially French!

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