Having returned from my recent jaunt to France, I’ve realised that there are some things that the French do very well…and some things that the French could learn from us. I’m quietly confident that they’re not listening to me, but here is my list anyway.
Things the French do better than us.
Now admittedly as you approach, drive through, or leave a town you will be met with a bewildering number of speed limit changes (they even put 30km/h signs in front of speed humps), but once you are out on the highway it’s 130km/h (or 110km/h if it’s raining). 130km/h! That really makes a difference on long journeys. Plus they don’t sit in the fast lane and hold other people up…no, they just sit in the lane that they’re comfortable with, and if they have to pass someone, they do and then move back into their lane.
Plus they pretty much all drive manual transmission, which means they actually have to pay attention when they’re driving. Chapeau France!
I had always thought of myself as relatively knowledgeable about cheese. I wasn’t scared of blue cheese, I’d cooked with Taleggio, I’d tried Rocquefort. But arriving in France made me realise just how much I didn’t know. Over here, Chevre is pretty much a one trick-pony (or goat as the case may be), but over there, there are dozens of types of Chevre. Not to mention sheep’s milk cheeses, local specialities like Neufchatel and a dazzling abundance of all of the cheeses you already knew. Best of all, everything I tried was delicious.
Drivers vs Cyclists
The French appear to have taken an unusual approach whereby the cyclists aren’t jerks, and the drivers aren’t arseholes…and in a complete surprise, the ‘Drivers vs cyclists’ problem is non-existent. The two groups just co-exist. All it really takes is people being willing to forego 10% of what they want in order to accommodate someone else…but unfortunately with our new found national sense of entitlement, any time we don’t get 100% of what we want is seen as a calamitous loss. So I can’t see this happening here any time soon.
Mountains and chateaus
One of the downsides to having a nomadic population up until about 1788, is that we didn’t have thousands of years of people constructing buildings to basically say to anyone who was looking ‘You want to know how I rich I am? I’m this rich…and I’m so French that I built this one for my mistress!’
Also, as a photographer, you’re always struggling to frame a nice shot that has a good material in the foreground and background. But in France, if you’re in the Alps, then you only have to worry about getting the foreground right…as having those mountains in the background makes every shot a winner!
Things we do better in Melbourne
On our last day in France, as Katie and I sat drinking a cup of black, plunger coffee I said ‘You know, this really isn’t that bad’. But I now see that it was that bad…it’s just that over the course of two weeks my standards had fallen so substantially, that what previously would have been considered a ‘coffee flavoured hot beverage’ at best, was somehow being passed off as coffee.
Now I know that you seem to put 98% of your milk into cheese and butter, and so need subsist on long life milk…but come on France, even your espresso was crap! Stop using crappy little machines and get something that can actually extract a decent shot. Don’t leave the group head in the machine after you’ve made a coffee until the next customer arrives, and get the grind right so that it doesn’t just look like a cup of warm coke.
With that said La Pommetier and Le Petite Atelier, you will always have a warm place in my heart for the coffees you provided.
Ok, so I am already on record in this blog as saying that I love your range of cheese. But cheese should be enjoyed in refined moderation. It should be like that person at a dinner party who knows how to drink just enough so that they’re interesting and entertaining…but not so much that they become a bore. France, you are currently like someone at a 21st birthday party, drinking wine from a funnel! For the love of God, show some restraint!
Every time I didn’t know what a menu item was, it was invariably cheese. I had a pizza that looked like it had been on fire and so someone had tried to put it out by smothering it in cheese. Another time, my entree turned out to be a pot full of cheese, with occasional bits of ham and some bread to dip in there. If you’re going to serve fondu, at least have the decency to admit that it’s fondu!
For the first week of my stay in France I was riding at least 80kms per day, up some of the steepest hills I’ve ever seen, and in 40+ degree temperatures. The breakfasts provided were, a selection of pastries (3 days) and a croissant, tub of yoghurt & container of stewed apple (4 days). Now this is OK as a breakfast, provided it is either Mother’s Day in 1994 or you’re a 3 month old. But not if you’re an adult who is hoping to get something done that day.
So there you have it. France has more things to recommend it…but Melbourne has better coffee. So let’s call it a draw.