There are some things you can’t learn in a classroom. My many trips to France taught me so much about the French way of life and French culture. Is the French way, the better way? What can we borrow from the French to enrich and improve the quality of our lives at home? Check out what I’ve learned from my travels to France.
1. Go For Quality, Not Quantity With Food
Whether it is bread, a pastry, chocolate, or cheese, the French go for quality, not quantity. This includes portion sizes too. They are smaller than in North America and you may actually find that you don’t eat as much when you’re indulging in high-quality products.
Grocery stores will carry what you need but steer clear of inferior products like “processed” meats and cheeses or croissants made with margarine (UGH). Go for high-quality products and savour every bite. (vs. gulping it down in a matter of seconds).
2. Shop At Your Local Farmer’s Market
Whenever I’m in France, I visit the local farmer’s market and I’m trying to do it more often at home. It’s an experience in itself checking out what is popular in the area and what is seasonal—such as Rocamadour cheese and walnut oil in Sarlat, or oysters in Cancale, Brittany. The outing becomes a great opportunity to buy local produce, meats, and cheeses for my next meal.
3. Skip Fast Food
It’s not to say the French don’t eat at McDo (their term for McDonald’s), but there are too many high-quality, delicious meals available in France and where I live, too. Avoid those foods that are processed and deep-fried. Just don’t waste your time on wasted calories and low-nutrient fast foods.
It’s fine to do take-out. Just be sure it’s really good take-out and DO NOT take it back to your desk at work. Head to a park and dine in nature! It’s your lunch break, after all, isn’t it?
4. Don’t Snack
Overall, the French don’t snack. They stick to three meals a day. Why fill your stomach with junk and have less room for the quality meal that’s coming in a few hours? I don’t know about you, but when I travel to France I rarely snack and even though I may have fairly large dinners, I still come home not having gained weight (yes, all that walking helped too).
If you really need something to tide you over, grab a small handful of almonds or a piece of dark chocolate.
5. Take Long Lunches And Dinners
Is the art of conversation dying during meals? Not as much in France especially when everything stops at lunchtime. (Many) stores close for 1-1/2 to 2 hours mid-day and time is made for a leisurely meal. If you can, put away your smartphone or computer and enjoy those lunches and dinners not just in France, but at home too. Eat mindfully. Savour your meal and you’ll really notice the flavours.
6. Drink Red Wine—The French Paradox
Have you heard of the French Paradox? This slogan refers to numerous scientific studies where French people had low rates of coronary heart disease even though their diets were rich in saturated fats.
But, was it due to the French having better diets (and the previous 5 points)? Due to different types of saturated fats that the French eat? Was it due to the higher consumption of wine, particularly red wine which contains resveratrol? (France consumes the most wine per capita in the world).
To date there is insufficient evidence to suggest that wine was the key reason; however, it hasn’t changed the French love of wine and to be honest, until evidence proves otherwise, I’ll continue to have wine with a meal. It also makes everything much more enjoyable.
7. Walk, Bike, Take The Stairs, Take Transit
How do the French keep fit? While you will see runners in Luxembourg gardens, for the most part, the French lifestyle involves having a healthy diet and walking everywhere. Up and down stairs. (There is often not an elevator in the building anyway). Or they ride a bike or take transit. It’s good for your health and good for the environment.
8. Drive A Smaller Car
Most often when you rent a car in France, it is a compact or medium-sized car. Large cars, vans or SUVs cost considerably more to rent and to fill up. It’s also more difficult to drive or park your car, particularly in small towns.
Stick with a fuel-efficient car and even try for a hybrid or e-car in France and at home. France has numerous charging stations everywhere, especially in the bigger cities and fortunately, more stations are being installed in North America too.
9. Bien Dans Sa Peau
Maybe it’s my age and I care less. Maybe it’s because when I’m in France I can truly be myself. Either way, this phrase, “Bien dans sa peau (comfortable in one’s skin or feel good in one’s skin) is a great reminder in my daily life to be true to myself —inside and out. It’s not just with my clothes and style, but also with my emotions and the things I choose to do.
We always seem to be in a rush. When was the last time you sat at an outdoor café, having a coffee or glass of wine, and watched people go by? Probably the last time you were in France? Do it at home, but don’t take out your smartphone. It’s the perfect opportunity to practise some mindfulness.
11. Be A Flâneur
We should all be “flâneurs”. It’s good for our physical and mental health and it’s the French way of life. What’s a flâneur, you ask? It’s the French term by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) describing a person as a “loafer” who saunters or strolls and appreciates his/her surroundings.
And it’s not a bad thing to go out for a walk for the sake of taking a walk. It can be a mindful activity where it’s just you being in the moment with nature, not attached to your smartphone, of course.
12. Use Less Energy
In French houses and apartment buildings, you will often find that the hallway lights turn off automatically after 30 seconds—just enough time for you to get upstairs or into the next room. Great idea for conserving energy at home if you want to avoid turning off lights “manually” each time!
I have rented many homes in France and while there was a washing machine, there was rarely a clothes dryer. Who needs it when you can hang your laundry outside? Just another way to save energy.
13. Go For Quality, Not Quantity With Your Wardrobe
One thing that I really like about French women isn’t that they just dress well, but they wear clothing that is timeless and high quality. While the catchphrase lately is a capsule wardrobe, it’s basically a small collection of clothing that are matched and interchanged year after year.
A silk scarf that can be worn with many outfits. A crisp white shirt that can be formal or casual. Black tailored pants that go with a few different tops. No more “Fast Fashion” where cheaply made clothing is mass-produced, worn for one season and thrown away. Follow the French who have sustainable wardrobes with quality fabrics that stand the test of time. Invest in quality items that you’ll have for years.
14. Keep Working On Your French Language Skills
So many locals in France that I have met speak English in addition to their native French. There’s something to be said for having another language under your belt. I’ve been taking French for the past 50 years. It’s good for travelling through France and even better for your brain health! (Consider taking French lessons via Skype. I’ve been doing it for months and love it).
15. C’est La Vie
The last lesson that the French has imparted in me is the French phrase, “C’est la vie”—that’s life. (That’s how things are). While the English likely use the phrase more than the French, it’s the meaning behind the words that matter.
There are some things that you can fight and change and some things that you should just live with. Knowing the difference is what will keep your stress levels in check. In a long line at the grocery store? C’est la vie. There’s nothing you can do to make it move faster. Just accept it.
Any other French lifestyle tips you think we can learn from the French? Please share!
If you’re interested in more advice and tips like this post, check out these posts:
- 10 Dos and Don’ts
- 6 Embarrassing Mistakes That Tourists Make in France
- Ordering Steak Frites Like The French
- Ordering Snails In France
- What You Need To Know About Ordering Bouillabaisse
- What To Expect When You Take A French Immersion Course
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