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LIVING IN FRANCE

The 19 smells that let you know you’re in France

There are certain smells that you can't help but associate with France - whether it's Provence or Paris, so here are some of the most evocative odours.

The 19 smells that let you know you're in France
The smell of Provence's lavender fields in summer is unforgettable. Photo: AFP
Some pleasant and some slightly less pleasant, together they make up the distinctive fragrant bouquet of France.
 
1. Cheese wafting from the fromagerie
 
From the smell wafting from fromageries when you walk down the street to the cheese counter at the supermarket and the Camembert reminding you of its presence whenever you open the fridge door, it's hard to escape the smell of cheese when you're in France. 
 
In celebration of the stinkiest cheeses to come from France
Photo: Chris Buecheler/Flickr
 
2. Cigarette smoke
 
The smell of cigarettes is practically inescapable on the streets of France and that's especially true if you sit on the terrace of a French café or walk past almost any office block at any time of the day. 
 
3. Coffee
 
Greatly missed during the lockdown, French cafés play an essential role in daily life when you're in France and, unsurprisingly, they tend to smell very pungently of coffee (and cigarette smoke). 
 
4. Perfume 
 
France is known around the world for its perfumes and when you're here you won't go for very long without catching a whiff of a classic scent. 
 
Several readers of The Local mentioned the perfumes that mean France to them, with classic French perfumes including Cabotine by Gres and Chanel Egoiste getting special mentions.
 
And another reader said that Shocking by Schiaparelli will always remind her of “Galeries Lafayette in Paris in the 70s.” 
 
5. Lavender fields 
 
The smell of fresh lavender is a sure sign that you're lucky enough to be in Provence in the summer.
 
 
One Frenchman's linguistic crusade to remove the 'é' from 'Lubéron' once and for all
Lavender fields in the picturesque Luberon region. AFP
 
6. Herbs de Provence
 
In a country known for its culinary prowess, lavender isn't the only herb competing for your attention in France. Kitchens and restaurants are absolutely full of them and for many of you, the scent of wild thyme and Herbes de Provence were the smells you most associated with France. 
 
7. Manure on the fields
 
France is a country with a large agricultural industry and so when you're in the countryside it's likely you'll be exposed to a bit of a pong..but remember, it's all for a good cause. 
 
8. Roasting chestnuts 
 
When October comes, the distinctive smell of roasting chestnuts wafts through the streets in French cities, often supplemented by the smell of vin chaud (mulled wine) which is served all winter long and not just at Christmas.
 
9. Fresh oysters 
 
Wander French markets, especially those on the coast, and you'll come across the smell of fresh oysters as you pass them piled high at stalls…as long as you're there during a month with an 'r' in its name, that is.  
 
Photo: Dondi Joseph/Flickr
 
10. The Metro in Paris
 
Several readers said that the smell of the Paris Metro was a pleasurable reminder that they're in France, although Parisians might not agree with that given the Metro is not known for its pleasant aromas. It is however unique as is the smell of the warm air that comes through up through the grates and onto the street. 
 
 
11. Fish counters in supermarkets 
 
In a lot of French supermarkets, the only smell putting up any sort of a fight against the cheese aisle(s) is the fish counter. In fact many readers commented on the whiff of fish as soon as they enter the supermarket. 
 
12. Bread from boulangeries
 
The smell of a warm baguette is practically synonymous with life in France. And if you're lucky to be living here, you'll know this mouthwatering scent is also synonymous with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  
 
13. Sunflowers 
 
When you're driving through fields filled with thousands upon thousands of sunflowers their famously subtle smell is inescapable.  
 
Photo: DALLA SUSANNA/Flickr
 
14. Rotisseries 
 
One of the many delicious smells competing for your attention as you wander the streets in France is the mouthwatering smell of rotisserie-cooked meat. If you weren't hungry when you left the house, you will be after catching a whiff of this aroma. 
 
15. Rhum baba
 
This classic French dessert usually contains far more “rhum” than “baba” as you'll discover when you sit at a table with someone indulging in one (especially if you happen to be eating at a restaurant where they leave you the bottle).  
 
Rhum baba. Photo: Tangopaso/Flickr
 
16. Fruit in the summer 
 
The smell of the first strawberries of the season, punnets of pungent raspberries and piles of peaches at the market stalls, summer in France is always accompanied by the smell of high quality fresh fruit. 
 
“The tomatoes smell like [they did] when I was a kid in England in the 50s,” said one reader. 
 
 
17. Crepes  
 
There are just so many creperies in France that you're never more than a few steps away from one. Hence the smell of crepes and gallettes is everywhere.
 
(Jean-Luc Bailleul)
 
18. Bad body odour 
 
We thought this was a bit of an old cliché but ended up including it simply because so many readers mentioned it. One particular complaint was about shoppers having bad BO in supermarkets. Perhaps it's because deodorant is so expensive in French supermarkets. 
 
READ ALSO:
Eight sounds that tell you you're in Paris
Photo: AFP
 
19. Urine
 
And while we're on the subject of slightly less pleasant smells, we have to mention this one too. In Paris in particular the streets frequently smell of urine thanks to the French habit of pipi sauvage (open-air peeing). The smell went away a bit during the lockdown but is now coming back and with very few tourists around, unfortunately it seems that the Parisians really are to blame for this one, whatever they might say.
 
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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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