The trauma of a long Sunday lunch in France

The French are renowned for the long drawn-out Sunday lunches, which can become somewhat traumatic if your language is not up to scratch. Guest blogger Bethany Keats talks us through the mental ordeal of trying to keep up without drinking too much wine.

The trauma of a long Sunday lunch in France
Getting though a Sunday lunch in France can be traumatic for a language learner. Photo: Shutterstock

There is no relaxing Sunday lunch in France when you are learning French.

France’s lunches are celebrated for the way people take their time to enjoy multiple courses of food accompanied by good wine and good conversation.

But for a person still trying to master the language, every meal concludes with the mental exhaustion of sitting an exam.

A lively lunch table often has multiple conversations happening at a time. People talk to the person next to them, opposite them or talk loudly with someone down the other end of the table.

In a language you are fluent in you can often find yourself participating in one discussion while having an ear in on another, jumping from conversation to conversation. But for a learner there is capacity for one conversation and one conversation alone.

All your concentration goes to the one speaker. You absorb the words you know, roughly picking up the subject at hand. Another person gives their view and you’re confident you understand what is being discussed.

Down the other end of the table you catch some words you understand.

Your attention wavers.

You try to get back on top of the original conversation only to realise the topic has changed and you no longer know what people are talking about.

You focus even harder on the single conversation, trying to prevent any further distractions.

Suddenly you realise you understand the topic again and not only that – you have something to add to it!

Your concentration is now divided again. Half your concentration is in your head, finding the right words and the correct conjugations to express yourself.

All eyes turn to you as a sentence slowly stumbles out of your mouth.

A sentence that made much more sense in your head.

There’s a vague understanding among conversation participants. Some will rephrase what you said into correct language.

You feel like such an idiot because you were completely off the mark and it’s probably sheer luck someone actually understood.

You take a sip of your wine in your awkwardness.

The glass is almost empty. Everyone else’s glass is still nearly full.

All this time they were occupied with talking and have been too busy to sip their wine.

But you haven’t been talking.

And what’s more, you have been holding on to your glass as a crutch, subconsciously taking a sip each time you felt uncomfortable – most of the past half an hour.

You guess it’s not so bad. Your French flows more freely with a bit of liquid help.

Your glass gets a top up and you now add focusing on your alcohol consumption to the list of thinks you are concentrating on.

Main course has only just been served. If you have too many glasses of wine you’ll look bad in front of your hosts and perpetuate cultural stereotypes about Australians.

Your plate empties faster than everyone else’s.

With your mouth not engaged in conversation you have been eating faster than your companions.

You find your helpful host filling your empty plate with a second helping and you consider cultural stereotypes about French women not getting fat.

During the cheese course everyone laughs. Except you.

Someone notices your blank face and suggests everyone could all speak at a slower pace so you can follow the conversation.

The joke is repeated slowly.

You still don’t laugh because you understood everything except the punchline.

By dessert you have retreated into your own thoughts.

You’re snapped out or your daydream by someone asking you a question but have no idea what they asked because you weren’t paying attention.

They assume you just didn’t understand.

Someone repeats the question in English.

It was a simple question you would have understood in French if you weren’t off with the fairies.

You return to focus on the conversation in case someone tries to bring you in again but it’s all just a sea of words by this stage.

Coffee is a relief. The caffeine boost will stimulate your brain which is fatigued from the intense concentration of the past two and a half hours.

As people start to leave the table your find a convenient moment to rise and find the nearest couch for a nap.

Australian journalist Bethany Keats, 28, divides her time between Victoria, Australia and the Var region of southern France, where her French partner's family are from. She blogs at  Youcan follow her on Twitter @bethanykeats

If you are a blogger based in France and want to share your musings on life in France with The Local's readers then send in your suggestions or posts to [email protected] 

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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 


The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?