Category Archives: French customs

The Secret of Coffee in France

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Why can’t I get a proper cup of coffee in France? This is a question I am often asked by disappointed Australians and Americans who are used to a very wide variety of coffee beverages and are surprised to see that France, with its café culture, does not seem to have the coffee they are looking for.

Autumn leaves in front of Café Nemours on Place Colette, one of the most iconic cafés in Paris

Well, the reason is that it’s a café culture, but not a coffee culture. The French don’t walk down the street sipping from a cup. They either drink their coffee standing at the bar or sit down at a table.

Perhaps a little history of Australian coffee might help. To quote Aussie expat Luke Barclay, from Café de la Baie near the Mont Saint Michel :  “France doesn’t have a highly developed coffee culture like Australia does. Historically coffee is relatively recent in Australia – we are essentially English in culture up until a point and thus tea was the thing. But with post war immigration came coffee styles from around the world and these blends led to the highly specific style that is found in Australia and New Zealand – quite different to that found in North America and yet composed of pieces from European (and Eurasian) coffee. That said there is a complacency with many businesses and their coffee. I know from my Café de la Baie that the majority of French ask simply for a “café” as if there is only one style available and this is despite café au lait existing here as much as espresso. Thus few varieties are proposed by cafés. Further, the advent of automatic machines in France has reduced the quality. Those that make coffee know less and less about the techniques, quality is lost, machines aren’t cared for (or kept clean!). Temperatures, timing, ratio, grind qualities: all sorts of variables and most cafés just push a button and assume its a good brew.”

In France, in a normal café, you can have expresse (or expresso – note the “x”), café long, café au lait, café crème, café noisette and cappuccino (but not always – I remember a café in a small town in Brittany where we stayed several days where only one person could make it and she wasn’t always there). In more sophisticated cafés, especially in Paris, you might be able to get other types, but they are usually brasseries or cafés catering to tourists.

Baristas, as such, do not exist in France, as they are not considered necessary.

In Paris, a typical expresse is very “serré” which means that it has been tamped to death and is usually very bitter. Outside Paris, it is usually not as strong and therefore not as bitter. It is generally served in a small cup or tasse but not a ½ tasse as it is in Italy. It is considered a must after a meal but is also popular at other times during the day as a pick-me-up.

When I first came to France in 1975, all homes had a drip coffee machine and a coffee grinder but nowadays most people have an espresso machine of some sort and buy pods.

A café long is sometimes called an américain or Americano and served in a bigger cup. It is a weaker version of the expresse and made with a double dose of water.

A café noisette is an expresse to which a teaspoon of foamed milk is added. However, in some bars, they just add a drop of cold milk.

A café crème is an Americano to which a spoon of whipped cream has been added. It is often referred to as a grand crème.

A real cappuccino at Kat’s Coffee in Tours

We all know what a cappuccino is – until we get to France! Here it is considered to be an expresso topped with milk froth and sprinkled with cocoa. Now that automatic espresso machines are widespread, that version has definitely become the norm. If you want a creamy foamed milk cappuccino à l’italienne, you first have to check they have a machine with a wand and even then, as you can see in the photo below, there can be surprises. I rarely order cappuccino because I am invariably disappointed, except for a café in the city of Tours called “Kat’s Coffee” which has the real thing. I haven’t found a real cappuccino in Blois yet. If you don’t want it automatically sprinkled with cocoa you have to say so.

A cappuccino at The French Café in Blois

In Normandy in particular where they put cream in everything they can, a cappuccino is made with whipped cream and not foamed milk.

A café au lait is coffee to which warm milk has been added. It is the traditional French breakfast drink. After childhood, French people rarely drink milk without something in it, such as chocolate or coffee. A café au lait is also a way of introducing children to black coffee. As time goes on, you add less milk.

You can usually have most of these in a decaffeinated version, called déca. If you just ask for a déca it will be the expresse version. Otherwise ask for café au lait déca, grand crème déca, etc.

The word “café” by itself in French always means black coffee. You have to qualify it if you want something else. You always add your own sugar which is often in lump form (even in people’s homes) or in a sachet. You rarely see coffee crystals but you sometimes find brown sugar. Sugar substitutes are becoming more readily available.

Kat’s Coffee in Tours

All these drinks can be ordered simply by saying their names and adding “s’il vous plait” e.g. un expresso s’il vous plait”, “un grand crème s’il vous plait”, etc. If you want to check you are getting (almost) real cappuccino, you can ask “est-ce que vous faites vous-même la mousse de lait?” And if you don’t want cocoa on top “je ne veux pas de cacao dessus ».

The French do, however, appreciate different types of coffee beans, and specialists such as Verlet near the Palais Royal, serve a huge variety of beans. The owners travel the world to select suppliers and roast their own coffee. Closer to home, Jean-François, on Blois market, has a large selection of home-roasted coffee beans where we always buy our coffee. Each week, he has a blend-of-the-day to try on the spot. There is often a coffee menu in gastronomical restaurants. These select coffees are usually served black with no sugar so you get the real taste.

Another notable difference between French and Australian coffee is that robusta coffee (produced for the former French colonies) is mainly used in France rather than the less bitter, more flavoursome arabica variety.

Milk can also make a difference. In France, milk is usually long-life (UHT) and I’ve never seen any other kind in a French café. I don’t know whether this is the case in Italy, home of the cappuccino, but I suspect it is.

A word of advice about iced coffee. This is not something that people drink in France.

Coffee at the market in Blois (during Covid, so distancing)

And I can’t end this post without mentioning the wonderful Café (or Thé) Gourmand available in most French brasseries and restaurants. This is a coffee served at the end of a meal with a variety of four or five mini-desserts that change according to the ingredients the chef has at hand. They are a wonderful end to a meal if you can’t decide which dessert to choose! I have written a separate post about them here.

If you have found any good coffee shops or cafés in France that you’d like to recommend, please tell me and I’ll add them to my list. Many of those mentioned do their own roasting and sell beans.

Amboise: Eight O’Clock, 38 Place Michel Debré

Arles: Café Bazar, 8 place Antonelle


Sip Coffee (Aussie-type), 69 bis rue des Trois-Conils

Café Piha (Kiwi-type), 69 rue des Ayres

Alchimiste: 12, rue de la Vieille Tour + 87 Quai Queyries (Darwin)

Contrast: 16 cours du Chapeau-Rouge

Caen: Keys & Co  (Kiwi-owned), 45 avenue 6 juin in Caen


Brûlerie des Alpes, 56 cours Jean Jaurès

Tower Coffee, 6 place du Docteur Léon Martin

Café Myrö, 12 rue Jean Jacques Rousseau

Kai Iwi (Kiwi-owner), 5 rue des Clercs


7VB Café, 9 rue Caissière (2nd)

Café Piata, 14 rue Breteuil (1st)

Café Coogee (Aussie-owned), 100 Boulevard Baille (5th)

Mont Saint Michel: Café de la Baie, Saint Léonard, Vains


Hexagone (Melbourne-style), 121 rue Château (14th)

Coutume, 47 rue Babylone (7th)

Café Obrkof, 41 bd Voltaire (11th)

Café Méricourt, 22 rue Folie Méricourt (11th)

Hollybelly Café (Melbourne-inspired), 5 rue Lucien Sampaix (10th)

KB Cafeshop, 53 avenue Trudaine (9th)

Café Yves Saint-Laurent, Rive Droite, rue du 29 juillet (1st)

Hardware Society Café (Melbourne owners): 10 rue Lamarck (Montmartre just next to Sacré Coeur)

The Good New Coffee Shop (Aussie-owned): 27 bis Rue Mademoiselle (15th)

O’Coffee (Aussie-owned): 23 Rue de Lourmel (15th)

Patrick’s Le Ballon Vert (pub with good coffee): 33 rue de Montreuil (11th)

Café Kitsune, 51 Galerie de Montpensier, Palais Royal (1st)

Toulouse: Café Cerise, 4 quai de la Daurade

Tours:   Kat’s Coffee, 63 rue du Commerce

Versailles: The Stray Bean, 6 rue Royale


Exchanging an Australian driver licence for a French licence

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A driver licence issued by a country outside France is only recognised for one year once the person acquires “normal residence” in France, normal residence being defined as the place in which you live for at least six months (185 days) a year due to professional or personal attachments. If you are a foreign student in France, however, you can drive with your non-European licence during your studies.

Where to apply?

All applications are on-line at See instructions below

Who qualifies?

To qualify, your licence must be valid and issued by the country in which you had normal residence at the time. You cannot apply to have your licence to be exchanged if it is currently suspended, withdrawn or cancelled. If you have an existing driver’s licence that is less than three years old then your newly issued French licence will also be a probationary one until a three-year period has elapsed.

What about a motorcycle licence?

An update on the French government website at the end of January 2021 unfortunately provides the information that it is not possible to obtain an open motorbike licence (permis moto A) through an exchange. A restricted motorbike licence (permis moto A2) only will be issued (a power output of less than 35 kW). To be upgraded to an open licence, you are required to have 2 years of practice and 7 hours of additional training with a driving school. Unfortunately, there is no way of getting around this as it applies to all French motorbike licences.

When to apply?

The deadlines are as follows: 1st carte de séjour : Less than one year after your card was issued Visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour: Less than one year after the date of validation by OFII. It’s best to start the process a couple of months ahead of time as some documents may require a little time to acquire.

What do I need?

  • An Australian driver licence
  • An Australian driving record or traffic history 
First you will need an Australian driving record or traffic history, which is normally only available to the driver themselves. It can be ordered on-line but must be sent to an Australian address usually the last one on record. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to officially change your address to an address in Australia where the record can be sent. The system is different for each state. All the relevant links are given at the end of this post.
  • A passport photo
  • Proof of address
  • Proof of residency

Translation into French

You will then need to have your licence and driving record/history translated by a court-certified translator. The official list can be found on the Court de Cassation website This is the official list of certified translators in France. All other lists are usually agencies in disguise. Translation agencies cannot be certified themselves, only the individual translators who carry out the work which is usually outsourced. You can have the translation carried out by a translator living anywhere in France. There are no fixed prices for certified translations in France so they can vary considerably. You will need to take your licence and history to the translator in person or send them a good quality scan by email or a colour photocopy by post. A good quality scan means that it must be done with a scanner/photocopier and not a phone unless you have a special app. Translators usually ask to be paid in advance by bank transfer, PayPal, etc. The translation is sent back by pdf ready for uploading on the ANTS website.

On-line application process

All applications are now made on-line at 1/ Register on the website 2/ Follow the steps (you can use Google Translate to help you)) 3/ Photo: You will need an approved passport photo. This can be obtained in most photo booths (see complete list for Photomaton on You can also use a photo app: 4/ Proof of address:  The most common documents are your phone bill or electricity bill. You can also ask your landlord to write a letter saying that you are being hosted by them (lettre d’hébergement). Don’t forget to include the date you arrived. The person should say you have been continuously living with them since a specific date. You will need a copy of their ID. 5/ Proof of residency: You can use your “titre de séjour”, stamps in your passport, a letter from your landlord, lease receipts, a letter from the town hall in small towns, or anything else that will prove you have been living in France for the specified amount of time. One of the easiest ways to prove residency is to register with the Australian Embassy on your arrival in France. N.B. If you are applying for a motorbike or HR licence, make sure you fill in the form correctly.  It seems that the authorities are reluctant to issue exchanges for these categories.

What happens next?

After your application is examined, you will be systematically asked to provide your original licence. You will be contacted by the authority concerned and issued a certificate of secure deposit (ADS) for your Australian driver licence. You can use the ADS to drive while waiting for your French licence to be issued, but only up until the date of expiry of your Australian licence.

How long will it take?

The processing time will vary according to the complexity of your application and mainly depends on how long it takes to check your right to drive (driving history).

How can you track your application?

You can write an email or phone CERT de Nantes – Suivi de l’échange du permis de conduire By email : By phone : 02 55 58 49 00

If you move during the process

Send an email to the above address, together with a pdf version of proof of domicile and the ADS (i.e. interim licence) or, if you haven’t received the ADS, your birth name, given names, date of birth and nationality of the licence. The French licence is then posted to your home address.

What sort of licence will I get?

The licence is not probationary unless the original licence is less than 3 years old. The issue date indicated on the licence is the issue date of the French licence. The licence is valid for 15 years from the issue date (except when a medical check-up is needed, for drives of HGVs for example).

Special note about UK licences

Since 1st January, certain rules about driving in France have changed: If you were a resident in France before 1st January 2021, your licence will be valid for one year from that date, i.e. 1st January 2022. If you started living in France after 1st January 2021, your licence will be recognized for one year from the date of your arrival.

If you would like me to translate your documents (I am certified as a translator by the Orléans Court of Appeal and live in France), you can phone 06 76 41 99 43 or write to To know more about me professionally, you can check out my website

Good luck! All information taken from the official government site, verified in august 2020.


NSW QLD VIC SA WA TAS ACT!tabs-7 NT,-change-or-update-your-licence/apply-for-your-driver-licence-history

Why must birth certificates in France be less than 3 months old?

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Most foreigners living in France are asked at some stage to deliver a full birth certificate that is less than 3 months old. Why three months?

If you’ve even seen a French birth certificate of someone who has been married, you will understand why.

French birth certificates are “annotés” which means that any change in civil status is recorded on the birth certificate itself – marriage, civil union, separation, divorce, remarriage, death … It’s like a personal history rather than a record of a single event. This is also the purpose of the livret de famille*.

As a result, the French authorities always ask for a recent certificate, which is defined as less than 3 months old. Birth certificates are obtained from the town hall of the place of birth and are free of charge. You simply send a photocopy of your identity card and a stamped addressed envelope with a cover letter saying who you are and what you want and they usually arrive in a few days. You can also go to the town hall in person. Since February 15th 2019, birth certificates can also be obtained in multilingual versions (i.e. all the languages of the European Union).

In most countries other than France, birth certificates are not annotated. As a result, there is no reason to submit a certificate of less than 3 months, nor a translation of less than 3 months. Unfortunately, a lot of authorities are not aware of this. I am a sworn translator (Orléans Appeal Court) and have just translated a UK birth certificate for a British citizen who is getting married in a neighbouring town in the Loire Valley because the local town hall simply knows nothing about the regulations and my client doesn’t want to mess around.

I have personally used the same Australian birth certificate for countless cartes de séjour, two marriages, one divorce and a successful application for French citizenship. Each time, I explained that “les actes de naissance en Australie ne sont pas annotés.”

On the French official website, it says:

“Un acte de naissance, de mariage ou de décès demeure valable tant que les éléments qui y figurent n’ont pas été modifiés.” i.e. a birth, marriage or death certificate remains valid as long as the information given in the certificate has not been modified.

This means that, unless your name has changed (for a reason other than marriage) or there was an error in your initial certificate, you can use any full birth certificate issued since you were born. If questioned (which I very much doubt), all you have to do is quote the above sentence if an authority insists on a certificate less than 3 months old. Good luck!

*livret de famille: this is a little booklet you are given when you marry. It is added to each time you have a child. It also records divorces and deaths.

French-Style Primaries

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The first time I voted in the French presidential elections in 2007, there were no primaries. In 2012, the main parties held their own primaries but it was an internal vote and you had to be a party member.


This year, however, someone has thought up a new system. Anyone on the electoral role can participate in the primaires citoyennes as they call them (citizens’ primaries). The centre and right wing parties held theirs in November and the left wing and environmentalists in January.

There is no obligation to participate in the primaires on the part of the presidential candidates (Far Left Wing candidate Marine Le Pen abstained, for one) but those who do participate must agree to respect the outcome. Any political party or group can ask to be part of the primaires and the parties set their own rules about deciding who will represent them.

Voters in the right and centre primaires had to sign the following on their honour: “Je partage les valeurs républicaines de la droite et du centre et je m’engage pour l’alternance afin de réussir le redressement de la France.” (roughly, “I share the republican values of the right and centre and I am committed to the principle of alternation [of political parties in government] for France’s successful recovery”.

To auto-finance the ballot each person contributes 2 euro each time they vote. As in the presidential elections, there are two rounds. A total of 4.27 million people voted in the first round in November. The winner was François Fillon from the Republican Party with 44.1%, followed by Alain Juppé, 28.6% and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 20.7%. The other 4 candidates obtained less than 7% of the ballots. During the second round, Fillon scored 72.89% while Juppé didn’t do much better than the first time with 27.11%. All but one of the France’s 95 départements (administrative divisions) voted for Fillon.

The left wing and the environmentalists have just held their primaires citoyennes. Once again, the far left wing did not participate. The contribution this time was 1 euro per person per vote. The sentence to be signed was “Je me reconnais dans les valeurs de la Gauche et de la République, dans le projet dune société de liberté, d’égalité, de fraternité, de laïcité, de justice et de progrès solidaire”. (“I agree with the values of the Left Wing and the Republic, in their vision of a society of freedom, equality, fraternity, laicity, justice and progress based on solidarity.”)

A total of 1.65 million people voted in the first round. Benoît Hamon came out on top with 36.03%, followed by Manual Valls, with 31.48% and Arnaud Montebour with 17.52 percent.  All three are members of the Socialist Party. The other four candidates totalled 13.66%. During the second round, Hamon headed the list once again wiht 58.37% and Valls 41.63%. Once again, all but two départements (not the same ones!) voted for Hamon.

The total number of voters on the electoral roll in France is 44.8 million. There would seem to be another 3 million who have not registered.

In both lots of primaires, it would seem that about 15% of the voters were from the other side!

Since then, right wing candidate François Fillon has somewhat tarnished his image. His wife, Penelope, was paid €830,000 to be a phantom parliamentary assistant, his children received another €84,000 as his equally phantomesquechimerical assistants while they were still students; Penelope is also said to have been paid €100,000 as a literary consultant although there is no evidence of any output. Fillon himself may have embezzled funds when he was a senator and he omitted to declare €200,000 in earnings as a senior advisor for a company called Ricol Lasteyrie. He seems to have little choice but to dip out although he has asked for two weeks to make up his mind.

Juppé, the next in line, declared yesterday that he would not be “plan B” after François Fillon. He has a somewhat shady background as well.

Meanwhile, the Socialists are seriously divided about Benoît Hamon’s politics and many are debating about whether to follow Macron, President Holland’s extremely young finance minister from 2014 to 2016 who founded a breakaway party, “En marche” in April 2016 and chose not to participate in the primaires citoyennes.

Where all this will lead to, it’s hard to say. Marine Le Pen is certainly rubbing her hands with glee. The presidential elections are scheduled for 23rd April and 7th May. Vive la France!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisThis post is a contribution to Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. 

For other posts about France, click here.

Friday’s French – galette, galet, shingles, gâteau, cake, pancakes, crepes, biscuits

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It’s galette des rois time again.  This is the cake used to celebrate the Epiphany in France, the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th, the day on which the three kings reached Bethlehem. It has become an essential part of New Year throughout the country and is practised in different forms that you can read about here and here.


But I want to talk about the word itself. A galette is a flat cake, based on the word galet or flat stone, the sort you get on beaches in Normandy when they don’t have any sand and which are called shingles in English. Galet is a diminutive of gal meaning rock in Gaul.

By analogy, a galet is also a small cylindrical or conical wheel used to guide or support a mobile mechanical part. Ah huh, I hear you say. We’d call it a roller or wheel in French. The photo will help you identify it just in case it might come in handy.


A galette is also a buckwheat crêpe as opposed to one made of wheat flour. They are very popular in Brittany in particular and now used almost exclusively for savoury crêpes.

A ship’s biscuit is also a galette because of its shape, not to mention the tortilla which can be called a galette de maïs.

And talking about biscuits, that’s a word that doesn’t have quite the same meaning in French and in English. You can use it to mean our biscuit, which is also called a gâteau sec (literally dry cake). A biscuit salé (salty) is a cracker or cheese biscuit (which the French would never use with cheese, I might add – bread only is the rule!).

A biscuit pour chien is a dog biscuit but surprisingly a biscuit is also a sponge cake. If you want to be precise, you can say biscuit de Savoie. And those sponge fingers (or lady fingers as they say in the US) that you use to make tiramisu (my favourite dessert) are called biscuits à la cuiller because of the fact that you use a spoon to put the pâte à biscuit (cake mixture) onto the tray to cook them.

Cake exists in French but almost exclusively means a fruit cake, but not what we call fruit cake in Australia. A French cake is always cooked in a loaf tin, is quite dry and has a small amount of dried fruit scattered through it. If it is made with olives or something else savoury, it’s also called a cake, as in cake aux olives. The main ingredients are eggs, flour, butter and baking powder (plus sugar if it’s sweet).

Except for gâteaux secs as mentioned before or gâteaux apéritif which are appetizers, the word gâteau is used for all other sorts of cake and even for rice pudding (gâteau de riz).

If you are feeling confused, don’t worry! It takes many years to get it straight. I am still calling dog biscuits “gâteaux de chien” and immediately correcting myself. We bought some recently to try and stop the neighbour’s dogs barking. I’ve yet to test them but my brother swears it will work. He says training dogs is a piece of cake. (C’est du gâteau). Now the opposite of that – ce n’est pas du gâteau is apparently the equivalent of “it’s no picnic”.

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisI’m joining Lou Messugo’s AllAboutFrance link-up today. For other contributions, click here.

Friday’s French – Ecole Normale, normal, standard, norme, norm

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The first time I heard the expression école normale was when I took up a post as an assistant English teacher in Nantes many moons ago. I soon discovered that it was a teacher training college. I then heard about the école normale supérieure which is one of the most prestigious and selective university and research institutions, in both the arts and sciences.


The école normale supérieure is run and financed by the State with the aim of training researchers, university lecturers, teachers of grande école preparatory classes and secondary school teachers.

So I was somewhat astonished when reading Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure to learn that Sue Brideshead had enrolled in a Normal School to become a teacher. It was the first time I had thought about the word “normal” used in this context.

Ecole normale was the term given to the institution set up in French in 1794 to provide teacher training to students selected by means of competitive examinations. Normal in this context refers to the fact that it was to serve as a model for other schools of the same type i.e. to establish teaching standards or norms. The English institution was modelled on the French école normale. The name “Normal School” was gradually replaced by “teachers college” or “teacher training college,” so called because almost all collegiate level education programs are sub-departments of larger colleges and universities.

In France, there are now 4 écoles normales supérieures (ENS) and admission is highly selective: 218 places à Lyon, 205 à Cachan, 191 à Paris Ulm et 50 à Rennes en 2014.

The ordinary école normale no longer exists. Both primary and secondary school teachers are now trained at an E.S.P.E. (Ecole supérieure du professorat et de l’éducation) which replaced a previous institution, the I.U.F.M. (Institut universitaire de formation des maîtres), in 2013. And, incidentally, a primary school teacher is now called a maître des écoles (literally school master) and not an instituteur or institutrice which is amusing when you consider that in English, the old school master has been replaced by teacher.

The word norm or norme in French comes from the Latin norma, meaning a set square in the concrete sense and a rule or standard in the figurative sense.

Norme is the basic word for standard in French:

normes de fabrication – manufacturing standards

normes de sécurité – safety standards

normes françaises (NF) – French standards

Hors norme(s) literally means something that isn’t standard, what we would call unconventional or unusual in English. C’est une voiture hors norme(s) – it’s no ordinary car.

The use of “norm” in English does not usually include the idea of an official standard but rather something that is usual or typical. Its use is more restrictive and much less common than the French norme.

Strikes were the norm – Les grèves étaient la norme.

The norms of good behaviour in the civil service – Les normes de bonne conduite dans le service public

Many teachers themselves believe that 70 hours a week is the norm. – Beaucoup d’enseignants pensent que 70 heures par semaine est la norme.

The French normal can often be rendered by the French “normal”, but not always.

De dimension normale – normal-sized, standard-sized

C’est tout à fait normal – It’s quite normal/usual.

Il n’est pas normal – he’s not normal/there is something wrong with him.

On the other hand, in the case of “ce n’est pas normal“, we would be more likely to say “there must be something wrong”.

Ce n’est pas normal qu’ils aient droit aux soins gratuits – It’s not right that they get free treatment/They shouldn’t be getting free treatment.

Revenir à la normale – to get back to normal

Ses notes sont au-dessus de la normale – His marks are above average.

Similarly, in the other direction, normal in English is not always normal in French.

She bought it for half the normal price – Elle l’a acheté à moitié prix.

Classes will be as normal – Les cours auront lieu comme d’habitude.

Do you have any other examples?

Friday’s French – Trêve des confiseurs

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I heard a new expression on France Info this week – “l’entre deux fêtes” – which literally means “between two celebrations”, the first being Christmas and the second New Year. It’s the same construction as ‘l’entre-deux-guerres”, which is what the French call the interwar years.

We're spending the "trève des confiseurs" walking off the confectioners' ware at Chambord
We’re spending the “trêve des confiseurs” walking off the confectioners’ ware at Chambord

When I mentioned it to Jean Michel, he said it wasn’t new but I checked it out on google and “l’entre deux fêtes” only has 4,000 hits whereas “l’entre-deux-guerres” has 576,000 so it can’t be that popular. Then he told me something much more interesting. The period between Christmas and New Year is also called “la trêve des confiseurs“. “the confectioner’s truce”. Now that’s intriguing!

The expression first appeared in France around 1875 during a period of lively discussion in the National Assembly (lower house of parliament) between the monarchists, Bonapartists and republicans about the future of the constitution of the Third Republic. In December 1874, all the groups in the National Assemblee agreed that the New Year was not a good time for this sort of debate. To promote peace and harmony, they decided to go their separate ways and take a holiday until the New Year.

The confectioners were delighted and business boomed! As a result, the satiric press coined the expression “trêve des confiseurs”.

Today, the expression is also used to describe the traditional period of slack on the stock exchange and on the football field at the end of the year.

There is another meaning as well – the period in teaching hospitals when medical students devote their time entirely to caring for the sick and are dispensed from university classes.

I don’t know any similar expressions in English to describe the period between Christmas and New Year. Do you?

And just in case you didn’t know, there is no Boxing Day in France!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisI’m contributing this post to Lou Messugo’s All About France Link-Up. Click here to find out more about Christmas in France! 

Great Things about Christmas in France

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Phoebe from Lou Messugo –  traveller, francophile, expat, mum and foodie now living in Roquefort les Pins near Nice where she runs a gîte after many years of travelling and living in Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia – has come up with the brilliant idea this year of asking other bloggers what they like about Christmas in France.


The result is a post called 24 Reasons to Love Christmas in France that I’m sure you’ll enjoy immensely. Here’s a little introduction.

Christmas in France, what’s it all about, is it any different to elsewhere and is there anything special to enjoy?  I’ve written about it previously describing how the build up is slow and calm even under normal circumstances, but this year we’ve had to contend with tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, the resulting state of emergency nationwide and potentially worrying regional election results as well, meaning it hasn’t been the most festive of times recently.  Add to this a sense amongst many expats that Christmas is “better” at “home” surrounded by familiar traditions, sights and sounds and rather than feel happy and excited many find themselves feeling low and missing home. Read more.

Voting in the provinces

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There are no provinces in France but anything that happens outside Paris is called “en province”. In fact, France is divided first into 27 regions, including Normandie, Picardy and Brittany (our region is called Centre and not Pays de la Loire as one might imagine), while some of them are overseas (Guadeloupe and Martinique, for example), which in turn are divided into 101 départements.

France's regions in bold letters and départements
France’s regions in bold letters and départements

The present elections are for the départements (sometimes called departments in English which can lead to confusion) and called élections départementales. They used to be called cantonales.  Our département is called Loir et Cher, after two of the rivers it contains. We also have the Loire of course, but we share that with a lot of others as well.

Election billboards outside the polling station
Election billboards outside the polling station

We made sure we registered on-line as residents of Blois before 1st January, which is the cut-off date for the place in which you vote for the coming year. Last time, we voted in Paris. Our polling station  is n° 408 which we learnt from our new voting cards which we only received earlier in the week. Voting is always on a Sunday in France. Fortunately it’s just down the road in the school that closed last year.

Sign pointing to voting bureau 408
Sign pointing to polling station 408

When we arrive around midday we are surprised to see quite a crowd. We follow the usual procedure. First we show our voting card and identity card. We are then invited to pick up a ballot. As we have already prepared our ballots at home (we received theseby mail during the week as well), we say we don’t need one. “Ah”, says the attendant, “since you have taken an envelope, you should pick up at least two ballots.”

The voting bureau is at the end of the building where the people are standing
The polling station is at the end of the building where the people are standing

I proceed to take one of each, while Jean Michel refuses altogether. While he’s arguing, I go into a booth (isoloir) and put my ballot in the little blue envelope. I come out and stand in line for the next step. Jean Michel arrives behind me. “You have to go into the booth”, he says, “you can’t just put your ballot in the envelope”. I explain that I’ve already been in booth while he was arguing!

Step 1 where you should your ID and election card
Step 1 where you should your ID and election card

I throw away my other ballots in the rubbish bag and take a couple of photos, hoping that it won’t be considered out of turn. No one seems to notice. I then give my ID to a man sitting at the voting table. He looks at it and gives it to the next man who calls out my name, loud and clear. The lady on the other side, who has the electoral roll, asks how to spell it.

Standing line to vote
Standing line to vote

She then finds my name and I go past the urn to sign the roll. After I have done so, I am invited to put my ballot in the urn. “A voté” says the master of cermonies.

Jean Michel about to but his ballot in the urn
Jean Michel about to but his ballot in the urn

I then take a photo of Jean Michel about to vote.  We walk home feeling very Blésois now that we’ve actually voted here !

The school in our street from the outside
The school in our street from the outside

As I’m writing, the estimated results are UMP-UDI-Modem-DVD (right-wing/centrist parties), 36%, far ahead of their competitors, Socialist Party and allies, 28.5%, Front National (ultra-right-wing) 24.6%, the largest ever for these elections and the single party with the largest number of votes, and far left 6.3%. However, I don’t know what the turnout is but the figures at 5 pm showed it should not make 50% but is higher than the previous élections départementales by several percentage points. Unlike Australia, voting is not compulsory in France.

Spring flowers on the way back from voting
Spring flowers on the way back from voting

Most of France will probably have to vote again next Sunday because of the election system. One of the parties must have an absolute majority (mor than 50% of the votes) to get through on the first round. So looks like we’ll be doing the same thing next Sunday.

Invited for Dessert

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We haven’t seen Mr and Mrs Previous Owner for quite some time, what with moving, retirement blues, Christmas, New Year, the flu, Granada, getting over the flu and finishing the glass doors and shutters. However, we are now sufficiently en forme for a visit.

I took this photo from the stop of a step ladder on the other side of the wall enclosing the house when I was cleaning of the moss
I took this photo from the stop of a step ladder on the other side of the wall enclosing the house when I was cleaning of the moss

Mrs Previous Owner emails me and suggests either dessert and coffee or an apéritif. We decide on dessert and coffee because we know that the apéritif means a lot of vouvray and we’ll be driving to their home a half an hour away. We’ve also scheduled a visit to the nearly Brico Depot DIY to buy a window for the laundry.

I always feel badly when we see their house. Having to trade Closerie Falaiseau, which they spent twenty years lovingly doing up, for a modern house, must have been very hard. Fortunately, our enthusiasm for the Closerie helped them to get over the hurdle of having to sell for financial and health reasons after they both retired.

The daffodils planted by Mr and Mrs Previous Owner
The daffodils planted by Mr and Mrs Previous Owner

When we get there at 1.30 pm, Mr Previous Owner, who is very punctual,  welcomes us in and I am a little surprised to see that neither the living room table nor the kitchen table are set. Mrs Previous Owner appears and I give her the enormous bouquet of daffodils that Jean Michel gathered in our little wood earlier on. We have Mr and Mrs Previous Owner to thank for our wonderful carpet of daffodils.

Mrs Previous Owner takes us through to the veranda that fronts onto the kitchen. Despite the fact that we’ve been to their new home several times, I have no recollection of a glassed-in veranda! The table is set with plates, serviettes, wine glasses and coffee cups.

Wine glasses and coffee cups on the veranda
Wine glasses and coffee cups on the veranda

We sit down and Mrs Previous Owner brings out not one, but two stunning cakes from a local pâtisserie.

I don’t know what the situation in Australia is today, but back in my youth, no one would have dreamed of inviting someone over and not baking their own cakes or biscuits. In France, however, that is not the case and cakes bought at a good pâtisserie are more than welcome.

Chocolate and raspberry cakes from Eric
Chocolate and raspberry cakes from Eric Saguez’s pâtisserie

We accept the offer for a glass of vouvray to accompany the very delicious chocolate and raspberry concoctions made by Eric Saguez at his pâtisserie in Rue du Commerce in Blois, and even take seconds ! Good thing yesterday was a 5:2 fast day

Thanks to my iPhone, I am able to show them the new glassed-in doors and shutters. They are suitably impressed.

I tell them about the broken weathervane and Mr Previous Owner immediately says that if it happens again, he’ll be more than happy to repair it.

Our repaired weather vane
Our repaired weather vane

A little later, after coffee, when Jean Michel and Mr Previous Owner are in deep discussion about our alarmingly high property tax, I learn that Mrs Previous Owner hasn’t downloaded the photos on her iPhone for 3 years. We go upstairs to the computer so that I can show her how to do it.

It’s getting late and we still have to buy the window so we take our leave and promise to see them again soon at the Closerie, when the wisteria is in bloom.

Our standard white PVC tilt and turn window
Our standard white PVC tilt and turn window

At Brico Depot, we learn that they only sell white PVC turn and tilt windows which are not what we want since all our other windows are stained a dark oak colour. At least we haven’t gone out of our way. Two days later, however, having checked the prices for coloured PVC and wooden windows which turn out to be five times higher, we go back and get a white one. It is, after all, at the back of the house, down near the woodpile in an area which I intend to close off with bushes so I can put up a discreet clothes line. But that’s another project!

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