I remember in 2005 when I was taking a language class in Malta, on a boat trip I met my first French people. In Russia, we always had this idea of French people being romantic and classy, from the movies we watched and the books we read, but those were of course just some random teenagers, who came up to me and straight up proposed to teach me how do a French kiss… so my romantic ideas were sort of shattered, although I guess someone would find this proposal romantic in a way. Later on we also acquired one French guy pretty much out of nowhere, who spoke absolutely no English, but still for some reason liked to hang out with our Russian speaking group, and he just kept randomly pointing at things and saying to us what they are called in French. It was quite funny but also rather strange.
In 2008 I went to South Africa and had the unstoppable frenchie in our group, who liked to enter the classroom through the window and randomly sing in the class. He was a hurricane and again, didn’t transmit any of those ideas we had about French people previously. He made the most introverted guy I had ever met in my life dance, and he also tricked some poor Saudis into drinking alcohol so they ended up dancing on the bar table. At least one thing you have to give to him, he was and still is unforgettable.
But then another French guy happened in my life, that one that some of you have met and the one that is residing with me in the same apartment. In 2009 when I came back from South Africa in June, I told my parents that now I was going to France. I must admit, my parents thankfully were always so patient with me, as I repeatedly want to go to faraway lands and meet people I have acquired on the Internet, and they let me do it. This particular case was not without a million of obstacles as my visa was not ready by the time I was planning to leave, and there was a party to attend and I had to be there on a certain day otherwise I’d have to get my ass to the middle of France by myself somehow without speaking the language or having any clue of what I was actually doing. But in the end it all worked out somehow. I have met a whole bunch more of French people, and realized that in fact they drink more than Russians, that they are not as cultured as us, but overall who cares about intellectual conversations in a party – we had a good time. Afterwards we went to visit a city of St. Malo, where my friend Olivier comes from. It was a beautiful medieval city, very windy, but a lot to experience including constant harassment from the seagulls.
Then there was Paris… ooofff, Paris is overwhelming when you visit it for the first time. The buildings, the Eiffel Tower, the lights, the people, the champagne, the river Seine, the bakeries, it all feels like sparkly bubbles in your head when you see it for the first time.
But then again, we were young and there was a lot of friends to spend evenings with at the Latin Quartier, drinking shots and roaming around the vicinity looking for trouble.
In 2011 for my 25th birthday my sister and I decided to go visit France again. My boyfriend was not even in France, but whatever, actually we first went to Nice, and then to Paris. Funny enough, when we went to the beach in Nice, we found ourselves to be surrounded by Russians complaining about traffic in Moscow with a guy playing Russian tunes on the accordion in the background. So much for getting out of Moscow to find ourselves in this setting. We went to Cannes and St. Tropez to see the life of people whose pockets are too heavy with cash, we had our fair share of time looking at Marc Chagall’s art and visiting the perfume factory, roaming the not so small streets of Nice, eating mussels and drinking rose wine. Then we went to Paris… we stayed somewhere not far from Montmartre, in a room so small, that when you open the door you have to get in the room by stepping on the bed. The receptionist was never not smoking and half of the time just passed out somewhere behind the counter.
One thing about that trip is that it was so cold in Paris that August that I had to go buy a jacket from Uniqlo, I think it was like 6 degrees in the morning and generally quite windy and unpleasant.
On the day of my birthday we went up the Arc De Triumph, which they charged me the full price for now since I was 25, haha, welcome to adulting. Apart from that we did plenty of cultural things, visited museum of Invalides, Eiffel Tower (which I don’t think would ever happen otherwise if I wasn’t there by myself with my sis), Montparnasse, La Defense, Notre Damme de Paris, the Tulerie Garden and many more other gardens, and extensively walked Montmartre (I rarely go there on my visits to Paris now cause my husband doesn’t like it). Apart from seeing my friends acquired previously from the infamous party, we didn’t really mingle with many French people, just enjoyed our time, our croissants, coffees and red wine on the terraces.
Over the years, I have learnt plenty of French language to understand what people say around me, and my pink sunglasses have faded substantially now when visiting France. Going to Paris is usually a dread, with the airport that never works properly with all the strikes. It is either hard to get through it, or out of it.
People always complain about everything left and right, starting from the moment you get in the queue with them in Dubai, you just hear the never-ending row of complaints. The traffic in Paris has become such an issue, that apart from driving there in the Middle of the night, it is never enjoyable.
And then being in the capital of France with someone who comes from there, of course they don’t see the city as anything interesting any more. I managed to convince my husband to go to the Louvre once, and it was like 10 years ago if not more.
Every time we’re in Paris, I win an opportunity to go see one museum if I am lucky and we are there long enough for that. Otherwise, we just always end up in a bar with friends complaining about adulting, taxes and the prices of drinks, and now also the cost of petrol.
The other day I was talking to a friend, and I said I am really not looking forward going to Paris again. She told me that if I was there just doing what I wanted to do, I would most probably enjoy it quite much… which made me think about the time that I was there without strings attached, and it’s true, we had fun. But family obligations, and general set up of things don’t leave much time for doing what I want… and frankly nobody is asking my opinion about what I want to do.
There’s like a million castles to visit in France and 500 restaurants to go to, and there is never enough time to do it. I visited Epernay city, the home of champagnes and had an interesting time in a questionable hotel, where the owner insistently proposed to take some photos of me and my husband on the bed… and while it was the World Cup of Football championship, they had no tvs on the property, because she told us, people usually engage into different kind of activities in this place… I don’t even want to know what those activities were. But champagne tasting is fun, and we went home with our luggage full of bottles.
Last September we went on a trip to buy a car for an adventure upcoming in 2023. We went to a place called Clermont-Ferrand, and my husband spent quite some time getting this car from the owner, trying to learn how to fix it, only to find that three of us (with our additional friend from St. Malo) can’t be driving together, otherwise the suspension is too low, so the friend and I rented a fancy Toyota hybrid and enjoyed our journey around the rural sites of France in a car that was worried every time you get out of the lanes, and too close to the vegetation on the side of the road. The best memory I have from that trip is the fields full of orange cows, with their bells dinging in unison creating absolutely magical atmosphere.
And though the weather was miserable, there were some pretty castles on the way, and we even visited the place of death of Richard the Lion Heart. A castle bought by some enthusiasts, that we didn’t even plan to visit, just happened to roam in on our way.
Another obstacle while traveling through smaller places in France would lie in the fact that you have to plan your lunch and dinner at the exact certain times, otherwise there will be no one to serve you. If you happened to walk into a place 5 minutes later than the lunch time suggested, they can’t help you and won’t help you, and won’t even tell you if there is any other place to go. It is what it is.
This summer there was France again, another road trip, another bulk of miserable weather, more country-side roads, and a few days back to Saint-Malo city.
It’s a wonderful place to be, lots of moment to enjoy, good food and beautiful scenery of the old city, lots of tourists which are always fun to look at, and thankfully the weather was getting better. We also managed to go see the Mont Saint Michel, and even though we didn’t visit the castle itself, we spent some lovely moments in the field looking at it, and also enjoying the site of French paratroopers falling out of the planes every 20 minutes.
Going to France is a complicated affair for me, but what helps is just to try and live in a moment. Enjoy the small things, even though the big picture is trying to doom your existence. Appreciate the smells, the sounds, the flowers, the moon, the ability to travel… and don’t let the other things get to you. Never expect anything, but always be grateful for what you have right now.
But there are definitely certain things I love about French people (and their culture), like their immediacy, good food, how funnily genuinely they can get upset at things that don’t matter at all, the slang expressions that don’t make any sense to English speakers, how they always tend to make themselves a French Universe around them wherever they are, how they always tell you that they must have some cultural things surround them, even if they never engage into those things, and how genuinely they believe that anything French is always better than made by other nationalities.
Anyway, enough frenchness for today
Enjoy your day wherever you are.