How to fit in like a local in France

Written by on July 10, 2014 in Expats in France

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How to fit in like a local in France: Donna Kerridge and husband Nik live in Pas de Calais and say that integrating into the local community is very important to them. Donna tells us how to fit in like a local in France – at your local café…

Sitting here in our French farmhouse, Nik and I have recently started fantasising about winning the lottery in sufficient, happy detail to actually get us off our butts to buy a ticket. I do worry that a win would spoil our quest for the simple life but at the same time, our house renovation is an endless money pit. A fantasy lottery win seems the only option, at present, for calming its ravenous appetite.

I dream of a perfectly restored Citroen 2CV (A Rhubarb and Custard Dolly to be precise) in which to add a wicker picnic basket bulging with champagne and foie gras. We’d pootle off around the countryside on our much deserved and rare days off.  Nik wants a Porsche and to jet off to the Amalfi Coast with screeching tyres.

“You can’t drive a Porsche to our favourite café” (I reason, as we walk the dogs down a leafy path) – “they would stop treating us like regulars”.  Blending in is the elusive Holy Grail for us and many Francophiles in France. Despite knowing that we stick out like sore thumbs (babbling away to each other in English for starters), we are endlessly alert to little details that validate our “status” as locals.

We have learned to shake hands with everyone in the local café, including passing strangers; this sets you aside as one who can say “this is MY local haunt”.  Sadly, our village café has closed, although Nik does still disappear behind its now closed door from time to time, returning refreshed and full of local gossip.  Shaking hands with all the clientele in the town café is inappropriate as it’s not “our town” but we are still greeted warmly and are usually proffered the friendly hand of the owner upon our arrival.

Ordering is important; in our region a café au lait  is une crème (or grand crème for me) but ordering milk in your coffee after midday is a no-no, no matter how much you crave it – half a sugar cube will take the edge off rather nicely.

For many years, I hankered after the little glass of “something stronger” that the locals nurse with their coffees. Finally, (with a wad of cash in reserve, just in case) I added “et un cognac” to my usual request (such a demand could in itself require a lottery win in London).  At my local, it is just 1.90€, cheaper than the coffee itself and rather delicious, served in a small brandy tumbler. The coffee comes with a Speculoos biscuit (crunchy and spicy) and a tiny morsel of dark chocolate.  Together they are a wonderful combination of sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

Nik prefers une Leffe (a local beer). And all this validates my argument I believe; being breathalysed in a Porsche would just be humiliating, whereas in a 2CV, surely it would de rigueur?

Donna Kerridge is part Kiwi/part British and moved to France with her daughter in search of a simple life.  She managed to complicate it with a new partner (Potter/Sculptor Nik, part British/part German), a draughty old farmhouse and a menagerie of cats, dogs, goats, chickens and pigs. Find out more at: www.farmhouse.fr

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