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CULTURE

What Peter Mayle taught us about France, the French and Provence

Author of "A Year in Provence" Peter Mayle was famous for his witty, insightful observations about life in France. Here, on the day his publisher announced his death aged 78, are some of his best lines about life in France and in particular sunny Provence.

What Peter Mayle taught us about France, the French and Provence
AFP
With his three novels about the slower pace of life in Provence, Mayle inspired thousands of people to follow in his footsteps in pursuit of the same romantic dream. 
 
Here are some of his best observations about France and the French.
 
“The day when a Frenchman switches from the formality of vous to the familiarity of tu is a day to be taken seriously. It is an unmistakable signal that he has decided – after weeks or months or sometimes years – that he likes you. It would be chulish and unfriendly of you not to return the compliment. And so, just when you are at last feeling comfortable with vous and all the plurals that go with it, you are thrust headlong in to the singular world of tu.”
Toujours Provence
 
“Depending on the inflection, “ah bon” can express shock, disbelief, indifference, irritation, or joy – a remarkable achievement for two short words.” 
Toujours Provence

 
READ ALSO:
 
Peter Mayle. Photo: Alfred A. Knopf‏/Twitter
 
“We sat back, thankful that we had been able to finish, and watched with something close to panic as plates were wiped yet again and a huge, steaming casserole was placed on the table. This was the specialty of Madame our hostess – a rabbit civet of the richest, deepest brown – and our feeble requests for small portions were smilingly ignored. We ate it. We ate the green salad with knuckles of bread fried in garlic and olive oil, we ate the plump round crottins of goat's cheese, we ate the almond and cream gateau that the daughter of the house had prepared. That night, we ate for England.” 
A Year in Provence
 
“We had to be up early in the morning. We had a goat race to go to… We asked the old man confident in the knowledge that he, like every Frenchman, would be an expert. “The goats who make the most droppings before the race are likely to do well. An empty goat is faster than a full goat. C'est logique.” 
— A Year in Provence
 
“Apart from the peace and emptiness of the landscape, there is a special smell about winter in Provence which is accentuated by the wind and the clean, dry air. Walking in the hills, I was often able to smell a house before I could see it, because of the scent of wood smoke coming from an invisible chimney. It is one of the most primitive smells in life, and consequently extinct in most cities, where fire regulations and interior decorators have combined to turn fireplaces into blocked-up holes or self-consciously lit “architectural features.” 
A Year in Provence
 
Photo: Mike Slone/Flickr 
 
“Only snobs kiss once, I was told, or those unfortunates who suffer from congenital froideur. I then saw what I assumed to be the correct procedure – the triple kiss, left-right-left, so I tried it on a Parisian friend. Wrong again. She told me that triple-kissing was a low Provençal habit, and that two kisses were enough among civilized people. The next time I saw my neighbor’s wife, I kissed her twice. “Non,” she said, “trois fois.”
 
I now pay close attention to the movement of the female head. If it stops swiveling after two kisses, I am almost sure I've filled my quota, but I stay poised for a third lunge just in case the head should keep moving.” 
A Year in Provence
 
“'Beh oui,' she said to her companion, waving her spoon for emphasis, 'il faut du temps pour la corsetterie.' You can't argue with that. I made a mental note not to rush things next time I was shopping for a corset, and leaned back to allow the waiter through with the next course.” 
— Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France
 
Photo: Spencer Means/Flickr 
 
“The French, it seems to me, strike a happy balance between intimacy and reserve. Some of this must be helped by the language, which lends itself to graceful expression even when dealing with fairly basic subjects…. And there's that famously elegant subtitle from a classic Western.
COWBOY: “Gimme a shot of red-eye.”
SUBTITLE: “Un Dubonnet, s'il vous plait.”
No wonder French was the language of diplomacy for all those years.” 
— Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France
 
“As our lawyer friend had noticed, men kiss other men. They squeeze shoulders, slap backs, pummel kidneys, pinch cheeks. When a Provençal man is truly pleased to see you, there is a real possibility of coming away from his clutches with superficial bruising.” 
A Year in Provence
 
“It is at a time like this, when crisis threatens the stomach, that the French display the most sympathetic side of their nature. Tell them stories of physical injury or financial ruin and they will either laugh or commiserate politely. But tell them you are facing gastronomic hardship, and they will move heaven and earth and even restaurant tables to help you.”
A Year in Provence
 
Photo: x1klima/Flickr
 
“The earth was frozen, the vines were clipped and dormant, it was too cold to hunt. Had they all gone on holiday?…It was a puzzle, until we realized how many of the local people had their birthdays in September or October, and then a possible but unverifiable answer suggested itself: they were busy indoors making babies. There is a season for everything in Provence, and the first two months of the year must be devoted to procreation. We have never dared to ask.” 
— A Year in Provence
 
“The people of Provence greeted spring with uncharacteristic briskness, as if nature had given everyone an injection of sap.”
A Year in Provence
 
“And, as for the oil, it is a masterpiece. You’ll see.”
Before dinner that night, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the flesh of tomatoes. It was like eating sunshine.”
A Year in Provence

MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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