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How to embrace French culture in 2021

With the arrival of a new year comes a renewed desire for change. Many of us make resolutions to help us live healthier and smarter lives – and if you live abroad, you may want to discover new aspects of your host nation.

How to embrace French culture in 2021
Photos: Getty Images/HelloFresh
While France is a wonderful country, with a long and proud history, honoured tradition and gregarious, outgoing people, it can take a while to fully grasp all its idiosyncrasies. The language and the cuisine are both enormously rich – but can also be challenging.
 
Together with HelloFresh, we look at some of the choices you could make in 2021 to embrace French culture. What better time than the arrival of la nouvelle année to make a commitment to becoming more like the French? 
 
 
Learn the language (or master your accent!)
 
Many languages have their difficulties, and French is no exception. On a basic level, it’s a language that counts by twenty, leading to numbers such as eighty being written as quatre-vingt (‘four twenty)’ and ninety nine as quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (‘four-twenty-ten-nine’). It's a somewhat peculiar system compared to many languages. 
 
Then there are the ‘false friends’ – words that appear similar to English words but have different meanings that can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings. A librarie is not where you borrow books – it’s a bookshop. Nor should you think that a préservatif is something like a jam. It’s actually a condom. Be really careful about that one when ordering toast!  
 
There are hundreds of language apps and courses available for those who wish to improve their French skills. You could also embrace French films and television shows as part of your viewing habits. These present you with language in its natural context, and you'll soon pick up valuable expressions for day-to-day use. Perhaps you're already feeling confident and just want to refine your French accent? Bonne chance!
 
Get cooking and discover French food  
 
France is widely known as the home of haute cuisine, and many of the worlds finest chefs and restaurateurs hail from the country. If you dream of cooking like the crème de la crème of French gastronomy, you’ve got your work cut out and may feel daunted by the challenge.
 
However, that doesn’t mean that learning to cook some of the country’s dishes is altogether out of your reach. As the late great Anthony Bourdain, a tireless advocate of French cuisine, said: “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” In France, there are countless cooking classes and organizations dedicated to helping you use local ingredients in dazzling, tasty ways.
 
Perhaps a simpler way that you can truly embrace and enjoy the delights of French cuisine is through HelloFresh meal kits. Each week you’ll receive all the ingredients you need to cook up to five distinct recipes put together by chefs.
 
 
Soon, you could be cooking Filet de poulet et sauce forestière à la moutarde (pictured below) or if you want a vegetarian option, perhaps Velouté de butternut et tartine de bleu d'Auvergne
 
Filet de poulet et sauce forestière à la moutarde. Photo: HelloFresh
 
Other past HelloFresh French favourites have included Chicken Provence, Steak Frites and French Lentil Salad. 
 
France’s love of food is one reason why it has become so serious about food wastage. Indeed, the country’s revolutionary food waste law has helped to ensure that every day hundreds of dollars worth of good food is donated to NGOs and other organisations to feed the less fortunate. Across the country, primary food producers have instigated various means of ensuring that the majority of food produced ends up on plates. 
 
Want to help cut food waste and the carbon emissions associated with imported food in 2021? Signing up with HelloFresh could be a good place to start. Not only do meal kits reduce waste by providing only exactly what you need, but HelloFresh has also pledged to source local ingredients where it can from across France. This means the fruit, vegetables, meat and diary that you get delivered showcase some of the country’s finest produce. 
 
HelloFresh meal boxes are also easy to dispose of. Designed to be folded when empty, and made out of renewable materials, the meal boxes can be put out for weekly recycling collection. In addition, all separators, paper boxes and plastic bags included can be recycled, meaning almost nothing ends up in landfill. 
 
Plan a trip to one of France’s hidden corners  
 
Sure, everybody typically flocks to the Mediterranean coast in summer and the Alps in winter. But there’s much more to France than sun and skiing. If you’re willing to explore further and perhaps get a little lost, then treasures abound.
 
Lockdowns and curfew rules mean voyages of discovery in France remain largely off limits. But this could be the time to learn more about the country by doing some research on the treasures you could discover when the time is right.
 
Take a look at France’s prehistory and the amazing carved Neolithic tomb at Gavrinis, in Brittany, covered in intricate swirls. The delectable flammkuchen of Alsace – a variation on pizza – awaits you around Strasbourg and the pretty city of Colmar. And if you’re a shopper, you could find all sorts of treasures – and tasty treats – around the covered markets of Albi, in Occitane. 
 
In Europe, we're blessed with far more public holidays than most of the world. Once restrictions on movement are lifted and it's safe to travel, this could be the year to discover more of the glories of France. 
 
Keen to start 2021 by enjoying more of what France has to offer? Click here to save €50 on your first three HelloFresh meal boxes in France as a reader of The Local (just use the code ‘THELOCAL50’ at checkout)
 
 

CULTURE

Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.

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