I’ve had the French under a microscope for some time now. Studying them as if it was some kind of science project, what makes them tick, what do they eat? What do they drink? What do they do? And above all: why they don’t quite understand what the little lever next to the steering wheel is actually used for.
Of course my research has been conducted in a relatively small part of France, Hossegor, Bayonne and Biarritz: the South-West in high summer- the Cornish Riviera for the Gauls. Although my fumbling grasp of the native language is weak, I can understand most things if said at a reasonable pace and try to avoid direct translation from English to French. I’m not sure what I was taught at school, but it doesn’t seem to apply when ACTUALLY in France…apart from the vocab, that is handy.
Living by the beach is great apart from in July and August when the place has turned into nothing short of a bloody circus, the place seems like the Gallic equivalent of Rock or Polzeath- packed to the brim with hormone-fuelled rich kids with little else in mind than booze, necking one another and playing crap Euro-pop as loud as the gallivanting Gendarmerie will allow. I don’t think I have had a full night sleep without a dawn chorus of drunken teen for two weeks.
So what have I learnt so far? Some of it may sound scathing, but I find it all deeply amusing and sort of loveable. These traits are what makes France, well…France.
- The French have a penchant for public urination and will exercise the will to do so, when and where they please, regardless of time, place or spectators. Even ladies too…I had the pleasure (?) of watching a lass mark her territory by the entrance to our underground parking- Paula Radcliffe eat your heart out.
- There is nothing more annoying or frustrating than going into a shop or such like and doing your best to speak French only for them to reply in English. The conversation ensues with you speaking French and them English. I haven’t worked out wether they are just trying to be kind and helpful or smug. I don’t think my grasp of their tongue is that bad, if I’m going to make the effort so should they.
- Driving. Now this is a special subject. It is a well-known fact throughout the rest of the world that the French can’t drive for shit. Citreon, Peugeot and Renault take note: Its only worth making your cars with a steering wheel, pedals and air conditioning, nothing else is going to be used. I have had a few near misses out here through lack of indication (and breaking for that matter). Also, Frenchies get a real hard-on over number plates and eyes always glance to your plates. If there English- forget it, you are last in god’s order. France is split into departments, each has its own number at the end of the plate for ID. If they have a 75 (Paris) at the end you might as well be English. The French hate Parisians more than the British hate Londoners.
- Dress. Well what can I say, around here in Surf central most of the lads enjoy wearing stupid big, flat visored truckers caps that make them look even more retarded than a baboon on crack. If the sun is shining they will walk around flexing every muscle possible in the hope of getting an ‘ooolala’ or ‘vavavoom’ or whatever it is they say. The female of the species dresses quite well, especially on the beach where they wear virtually nothing at all apart from bikini bottoms. Vive le France, Vive indeed. Oh Yes, you can spot the Parisians on the beach- strictly designer swimwear, Ladies wear big white sun hats, gents like the nut-huggers (speedos).
- Food. Hossegor sits on the cusp of two mighty gastronomic dynasties. In Aquitaine it is all about food from terra firma, all very rich and packed with herbs, butter and wine. To the south Basque country begins, lots of Pinxtos (tapas) red peppers, chillis and seafood. Around here you would be more likely to find a leper colony than a chilli. French people don’t like hot food. Fact. But garlic and everything that goes with it is warmly embraced. There is, much to my delight plenty of duck and fois gras around here, cruelty to geese is a national pastime and although we may find it an awkward subject back in the UK, out here, they don’t fuck about with where their food comes from. Kill it, cook it, eat it with lashings of red wine and bread to mop it up, whilst grinning inanely. Oh yes, the French do have a strange habit of boiling their potatoes and then scraping the skin off with a knife, weird I know. It’s a potato, not a pineapple.
- Drink. The Brits reading will be pleased to know that binge drinking is just as rife over here as it is in the UK- In Leclerc yesterday I had two lads buying six bottles of vodka in front of me, with no mixers. As it is so close to Spain Sangria does feature heavily, only too much at the fete de Bayonne- allegedly the biggest fete in the world (probably true because no-one outside of France calls them fetes). Arriving back from Bilbao the other week I found myself slap bang in the middle of a heaving maelstrom of white and red beings all absolutely conkered. The Fete de Bayonne is a five day piss up where traditional dress, all white with red neckerchief is mandatory. Sangria is liberally thrown about staining everything in the vicinity. Apparently it is a rather pleasant family affair during the day but at night, due to the French appreciation for public urination, rivers of piss and vomit roll into one. Good clean fun, I must go next year! Seriously.
Which brings me onto the subject of the post- Pastis. PASTIS! I first tried it last year when we went to a friends for supper. Eager to find out a bit about it, I enquired as to what it was and why it is such a common drink (the French consume 130 million litres of it per year). Eager to fit in I accepted a glass of it and sat there swilling it in the glass as the two French lads looked on in earnest- will the Ros Boeuf take it like a man? I did, just. Having an aversion to Sambuca since Uni makes anything anise shut the gullet down. But its actually not too bad and I am proud to say I purchased my first bottle the other day, be it only a small one. What is really nice is to be able to go into the supermarket and purchase a tip-top bottle of Bordeaux for as little as 3 euros. Again, vive indeed. I also visited the Vin de Sable (wine of the sand) vineyard in the sand dunes just down the road in Capbreton…it was definitely and surprisingly worth the 9 euro price tag.
As for Petanque, apparently it goes very well with pastis, it is a national sport and there are some bad-ass old boys playing it in the park in Hossegor. When I have the courage and the linguistics to get involved- you will be the first to know! Great banter.
The Perfect Vinaigrette.
Had to include a recipe. Now I rarely buy salad dressing- except in France, they do make some good creamy ones I must admit. Making your own is much more fun and its great to play around with. Out here, because it is so bastard hot, Salad features at every mealtime except breakfast. Over the years one keeps cropping up on a regular basis and whilst I will give you the ingredients, you will have to work out the quantities for yourself, I might want to bottle and sell it one day…
- Olive oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Worcestershire sauce (Lea & P)
- Soy sauce
- Dijon Mustard
- Lemon Juice
- Mixed Herbs
Next week, I must return to Mother Blighty for a hectic month of courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ, before donning my beret in September and moving to France full time. HGC will be running in 2012- the course schedule will be up in October. Lots of other stuff been going on: Check out Reader’s Digest this month to read the feature I did on living as a caveman for a week, and also have a watch of this HD vid from Mazda of foraging in the skies with Reggie Yates.