Living in the French countryside offers an affordable, healthy, and peaceful lifestyle.
It’s a great experience, but can also come with challenges, remember the funny stories of Peter Mayle. Here are a few things we’ve learned about the French countryside and the people how live there.
People are friendly
In fact, they’re very friendly. They’ve been going out of their way to be helpful too. Anyone who says that French people are all rude have clearly never travelled in the French countryside. We’ve literally had someone running after us in the street to correct their travel directions.
Waiters are slow, but they care
Parisian waiters are excellent and attentive. They get you in and out before you even know what’s happened. But it’s not so in the countryside, where they take their time and help you pick what they consider to be the best food for you.
People aren’t obsessed with how they look
People in Paris wouldn’t be seen dead in their sports clothes outside the gym. They’re slim, chic, and always on trend. But it’s not like that in the countryside. People don’t tend to put on airs, they’re simply themselves – and it’s sometimes quite refreshing.
There are many hidden gems
It’s amazing how many villages that are just a name on the map turn out to be outstandingly beautiful spots.
There’s actually a lot of info in English
In Paris, you’d be lucky to find a tourist sign that’s translated in English, at least one with any interesting information. But not so in many countryside spots. Even small villages sometimes have translations for English-speaking tourists about the history of buildings and so on.
People have more time for you
There’s simply a slower pace in the French countryside. We’ve ended up in conversations in bakeries and pharmacies with the other customers. And it’s been happening a lot.
People are proud of their villages
It’s very easy to see that French villagers love their villages. There are colorful flower displays on every corner, often no graffiti at all, and everything is exceptionally clean. People are proud of their homes.
People don’t switch to English (even if they can)
In the countryside, people are very encouraging and patient, and happy to help you along with your French, even if it’s not perfect.
Hunting is a big thing
More than a million people practice hunting in France. French hunters have (or should have) passed theory and practical tests before being given the appropriate licensing to go out game shooting. As well as safety aspects, the tests also include quarry recognition. There are also certain rules and conditions regarding how close to property they can shoot – and whose land they can or cannot pass over.
Berets are still beret good
Flat caps similar to those associated with Yorkshire are more commonly worn nowadays, but you may see men in the French countryside wearing berets, especially older folk and people at traditional rural events.
The iconic hats were originally worn by shepherds in the Pyrenees who used wool from their sheep and the mountain waters to make a hard-wearing, relatively water-resistant felt. Farmers, general laborer’s, the military and anyone who worked regularly outdoors soon adopted the head covering and eventually it became fashionable among artists and women too.
Laulhère in Oloron-Ste-Marie, in the Béarn province, is arguably the best-known beret manufacturer.
Various creatures may set up camp in the attic
Hear the pitter patter of tiny feet in your loft? It could be mice or rats but alternatively it could be edible dormice or stone martens.
The edible dormouse (loir) is widespread in France, except the far north and west, and is quite cute looking with bushy tail and dark rings around the eyes. It sometimes sets up camp in a house in the early autumn and, like mice, can do damage by chewing wiring, though it’s unclear if this would happen with modern wiring. It tends to hibernate from about October until April.
Stone martens, also known as beech martens, are called fouines in French and are quite common across rural France. They too seem to like munching at loft insulation material and electric cables. Easier said than done but try and block any potential entry holes seen near the roof with chicken wire or similar as once they’ve taken up residency, they are difficult to evict!
They have big frogs
Marsh frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) are arguably the largest of the frog types likely to be found in France. It’s probably the commonest too and can survive well in water conditions.
For those unsure of how best to differentiate between frog and toad; basically, frogs have smooth, slimy-looking skins, whereas toads are squatter and have dry, ‘warty’-looking skin. Also, if it hops when moving, it’s likely to be a frog but, if it crawls, it’s generally a toad!
Lunch and Sunday’s
So, you want to shop, sightsee and taste fab food while you’re on vacation in France? Here’s the thing. Time it wrong, and you might end up locked out of all those things.
The biggest thing is the fact that everything stops for lunch. Shops close at 12 and reopen at 2 in the larger towns, in the smaller ones perhaps not until 3. Businesses close too. Markets open early around 7 a.m. and close around 1 p.m..
It took a while to get accustomed to the fact that it is simply impossible to do anything during these hours, except eat of course!
There’s a rhythm to the French schedule, and you should definitely know it before you visit. That way, you can plan your days in France properly and not miss a thing.
This came out as the biggest problem that many people face in rural areas, the fact that public transport is so poor or even non-existent in parts that you are almost entirely dependent on the car.
French Emergency Numbers
There are different French emergency numbers and helplines depending on the accident, illness, or support required. You can also dial the pan-European number 112 to reach all services:
- Europe-wide SOS emergencies: 112
- Medical emergencies (Service d’Aide Médicale d’Urgence or SAMU): 15
- Police: 17
- Fires/accidents (fire brigade, sapeurs pompiers): 18
Bread (pain) is baked several times a day in France. Look for the boulangerie with the longest queue to find the best bread in town, and don’t hesitate to practice your French on the locals while you wait. Bread comes in all shapes and sizes from the long and very thin ficelle to the chunky, crusty pain de compagne.
Enjoy a long, long lunch
Around noon every day, most people close shop or leave their offices and go for a long lunch. So, find a restaurant or café, peruse the menu (fixe prix – fixed price – is usually very good value), order a pichet of house wine and sit back and enjoy. Warning: if you choose the classic steak frites, be aware that ordering it bleu means virtually raw and while bien cuit means ‘well-cooked’ it will still be pink in the middle. Read about which top French foods you have to try.
If you get chatting to the barman, get the lowdown on local places and events.