Twelve reasons not to say au revoir to France

While we often hear about people's motives for leaving France, there are many more reasons why people should think twice about departing, even if it's just the food. Those who have left tell us what they miss the most.

Twelve reasons not to say au revoir to France
While there are plenty of excuses to leave France, there are also many more reasons to stay. Photo: PK Paris/Flickr
It can't be easy to leave France.
Whether you're one of the 2.5 million French citizens living abroad or a former expat in France who's returned home, there are always going to be things you miss like crazy or aspects of French culture you wish you could have taken with you.
So we asked a selection of French and foreign expats what aspect of France they are still yearning for.
1. The value of time off
Vaila Finch, who now lives in the US, says one of the key things she misses is the work/life balance. 
“In the US your work defines you and leisure comes second,” she says.

(Photo: Josh Liba/Flickr)
“Americans don't value the benefits of vacation in the same way or see it as a earned right.
“For maternity benefits, for example, it's pitiful. Women go into labour in the office as they don't have enough leave to stop before and they can be back after six weeks. France has more respect for the individual.”

2. The French people 
“A diverse population that's far from predictable” – that's how a Pierre Cy, a Parisian working for a vintage Scandinavian design Gallery in Stockholm, described the French population. 
“In Sweden people try very hard to be different but in France they just are,” he tells The Local.
He wasn't the only French person to miss his fellow countrymen.

(Photo: Doug/Flickr)
One French student, Gaëlle, who has spent most of this year studying in the UK, also misses the locals.
Upon returning to Paris this week, she took to Instagram to write:
“A woman reading poetry in the Metro and two 15-year-old boys debating whether we should have a uni or multi-polar world in 35 years. Paris, you look like home today.”
3. French parking etiquette
(Muriel Demarcus, is this your car? Photo: Manu Laufu/flickr)
French Muriel Demarcus, who now lives in London and writes the French Yummy Mummy blog, claims one of things she misses the most is the way the French park their cars (Yes, we were shocked too). I think it's best if we let her explain.
“Parking your car in London is so complicated that no one understands it,” she says. “It is all about your resident permit. It can be completely different from one street to the next and I am not sure whether you can park on a yellow line on Saturdays and Sundays”.
“I am told that it just depends (but on what?). I have given up and have to pay the odd parking ticket from time to time (£60. What a rip-off! And in France it is just €15!!!). I miss French fines. And I never thought I would say this. Ever.” 
4. Free bread and water at restaurants
In most French restaurants you'll get a carafe of water when you order your meal and a small basket of bread, before you've even looked at the menu. But don't think that's going to be the case in other parts of the world. 
Some restaurants in Germany, for example, charge up to one euro for a measly glass of tap water, as one former expat in Paris tells us.

(Photo: David McKelvey/Flickr)
Not to mention in Spain, where some restaurants have been known to charge up to €1.50 for cutlery! Or in Italy they hit you with a “Coperti” cover charge, and beware opening any bread sticks. You'll probably have to pay.
Free bread and water might not sound like much to crow about – but wait until it doesn't come for free. 
5. Getting the lipstick out

Gaëlle, a French student in the UK, says that a small thing she misses about France is the ability to wear lipstick without feeling overdressed.

(Photo: _Frankenstein_/Flickr)
“Instead of getting whistled at by weird guys in the UK, in Paris I receive a silent look of approval from other girls,” she says.
“It's highly satisfying.”
6. Honest colleagues
“They might come across as miserable, or even rude, but at least the French are not two-faced,” says a former British expat in Paris.
“In the workplace, they don't bullshit and you know exactly where you stand with them…..despite all the whingeing. The French make for loyal colleagues,” said the woman, who asked not to be named, presumably to avoid trouble with her current work mates.
Standard of living in France: where do you fit?
(A birthday meal at a fancy Parisian cafe? Why not. Photo: AFP)
Another reader praised their former French colleagues for being “the masters of the personal touch” when it comes to marking special occasions, such as birthdays or farewells. 

7. French humour
Much has been written about the existence of “humour” in France, a country that favours wit and satire above joke telling (and this closer look from The Economist is well worth a read).
But readers told us nonetheless that the French sense of humour was one of the key things they missed after leaving – with particular reference to puns.

(Photo: Jafro77/Flickr)
One reader told us that they missed the punny headlines in the Liberation newspaper, while another said that they liked how the French “don't groan about puns the way the Brits do”.
8. Relationship with alcohol
“In France, people enjoy good wines slowly during their meals,” Parisian turned Stockholmer Pierre Cy told The Local.
“People in Sweden mostly drink to get drunk.”

(A barman in Paris. Photo: Nathan Gray/Flickr)
Beatrice Haranger, a Parisian, who has lived in London, missed the fact that in France people sit down to drink in bars, even if it means sitting elbow to elbow in lines of chairs around tiny round tables.
In London, however, “even if there's loads of free seats, everyone just stands up.”
9. Sincere shopkeepers
The service in French shops might be the last thing you'd expect people to miss about France, but some said that once they'd left, they realized they were hankering after some good old fashioned French honesty.

(Photo: Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr)

“I miss people being sincere,” says Sophie Pilgim who now calls New York home. 
“In French shops there's no: 'Hi, how are you, how is your day going? Oh, pretty scarf, where did you get that? Oh, I just love your bag!!!”
10. The joy of eating 
Owen Fairclough, a former resident of Paris now of Washington DC, misses not so much the French food itself as the act of eating it. 
“I miss the celebration of eating as a pleasure in itself, especially in the US, where the bill is on the table before your last spoonful of dessert,” he tells The Local. 
(Photo: Matthew Knott/Flickr)
11. Pastries
It wouldn't be a list about the good things in France if we didn't tackle the food – so why not take a closer look at the sweet stuff. One Frenchwoman who now calls Australia home said that she missed the pastries more than anything else. 
“I love that you can walk in the streets and see 'patisserie' or 'boulangerie' everywhere – sometimes even across from each other,” she told The Local. 

(Photo: Let Ideas Compete/Flickr)
Compared to an eclair au cafe, figues, millefeuilles, chocolate tarts, and papillottes, she says “The pastries and the cakes in Australia are simply awful,” she said.
12. The French health service
Nor would it be a complete list if we didn't include the aspect of France that French citizens actually do miss the most when they go abroad and it's often the reason that brings them home later in life.
A recent survey revealed 70 percent  of expats said they missed France's healthcare system. Let's face it, who can blame them.
Time to put off that move abroad.
What did we miss? Add your comments below.

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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?