I had never tasted real cheese until my first trip to France. What we have in America is not cheese. What we define as cheese is a pasteurized, processed, dead version of what cheese is supposed to be, with an exterior only resembling what cheese is supposed to look like. In France, cheese is alive, its taste sharper and stronger.
I ate more cheese during six days in France than I had for the previous six months combined in America, but I dropped five pounds during my visit (booya). This was partly because I walked the majority of my days, and partly because French foods contain fewer artificial ingredients and processed sugars than American foods.
It isn’t exactly a traditional French dish, but I found myself having “quatre fromage” (four cheese) pizza often, to bask in and savor their superior cheese. I wanted the taste to linger in my palate forever.
I did not eat any escargot, frog legs, or raw duck liver, any of which may have changed my mind about French food.
There is a lot to love and appreciate about French culture, which I will attempt to describe here. But words never do justice to the experience. At best, they pass some of the emotions and images from the writer to the reader.
Besides the cheese, which was enough in itself to love the country, I couldn’t help but notice that the French, as a whole, can do less with more. They consume less, take up less space, drive fewer miles, and eat smaller portions, yet they live efficiently and their happiness does not suffer from their fewer quantities. They may own a small car, but many are content with public transportation. Their waste is a tiny fraction of ours, as is their greed. We are more Capitalistic than the French. Capitalism (which I do love, don’t get me wrong) gone awry can motivate us to devour everything, unscrupulously and indiscriminately.
Despite needing to consume less, the French have an affluent sense of style. Their clothes are more vogue than the trendiest strip of Southern California. A walk through the park is not the duty of sweatpants and a windbreaker, but rather a well designed scarf, new jeans, a pure wool jacket, and pricey shoes. Though a critic might summarize their sense of style as vanity, I believe that it reflects self care. Clothes in France are sized to fit the human body better than clothes fit here. Coats always seem tailored perfectly for the men wearing them. The extra large jacket I bought fits me as though it was designed specifically for my genetics.
I bought some Bocage shoes while I was there. I used Google Translate and a web searched Europe-US size conversion chart to communicate with the store clerk what I wanted. You can see my shoes on the top right (I’m proud of the shoes and wearing them everywhere):
The positive assumptions of the French being artistic, introspective, questioning, pondering, and existential seem accurate. I watched a French film, “Ma Vie de Courgette”, which exhibited all of the qualities mentioned above. The French people I met were careful planners and skilled persuaders who questioned issues at every angle and took their time to do so. They also knew how to have a good time.
While roaming the streets during the Fetes de Lumieres (Festival of Lights), I saw excitement, wonder, unity, and a strong community around me. It was a distinctively French light festival that lasts for four days and draws millions of people to the city to witness. It was aesthetically mesmerizing (I found myself often lost in the luminescence of the city), and the art was uniquely French, which made it all the more entrancing.
New technology beamed over old architecture, much as the city itself was a unique blend of old and new.
I felt the ancient history of the place as I walked, and it made me want to walk forever. I liked to imagine the Romans who walked on the same streets, so many years ago. Old and new, young and old, modern and ancient… the blend was everywhere. There is Bellecourt, with its countless modern clothing stores and shops, and then there is Vieux Lyon neighboring it, with its older architecture and quainter shops, where one might find more distinct local souvenirs.
I wish I spoke the language better, but there is only so much time in the day to learn new skills. I had to make do with “Je voudrais vin chaud” (I would like hot wine). This took me far in my nightly endeavors. This, coupled with “Je faim” (I’m hungry) are all I needed to survive a vacation.
I miss the cheese already, and I miss my French colleagues, who effortlessly made me smile. Luckily I have some excellent shoes and a nice winter coat that I picked up to keep some of my inner European spirit alive.