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LA BELLE VIE

La Belle Vie: Understanding French wine, cinema and Gallic greetings

From selecting wine to essential reading and the vital art of French greetings, our new weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: Understanding French wine, cinema and Gallic greetings
Customers sit at a cafe table in spring sunshine on a pavement in Paris on April 22, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.

When I first moved to France, people kept telling me that the French were like melons – hard on the outside, but soft on the inside. This was often countered with anglophone countries being peaches – soft on the outside, with a hard pit interior. Basically, it was a tip to not get too discouraged over the time it takes to make French friends.

The next tip I often received was to read “Sixty Million Frenchman Can’t be Wrong” – only after that would I really understand French culture.

The advice was sound, and I’ll never forget some of the fascinating cultural analyses offered by author Jean Nadeau. Books really are a great glance into a society, so here 12 that teach you almost everything you need to know about France.

12 books that tell you (almost) everything you need to know about France

Books are not the only way to get a taste of French culture though – films are equally important.

There is no denying that France is home to quite a lot of cinephiles and the arthouse streaming platform Mubi is (almost) as popular as Netflix and Amazon Prime in France.

If you want to go head to head with a French person at a dinner party about the best movies ever, you’ll have to study up on your ‘French New Wave’ references, and for that the works of dearly-departed Jean-Luc Godard is a perfect place to start. Wearing a black polo-neck and smoking is optional, however.

French cinema: 7 Jean-Luc Godard films to watch

And it would not be a French dinner party without wine.

This tricky beverage can be either your friend or foe in the quest to not be noticeably-not-French. The French have a joke: “How do you spot a foreigner in a café? It’s the one drinking red wine” (red wine should go with food).

No-one wants to be Michael Scott in The Office (US version) – raising everyone’s eyebrows with an out-of-place wine comment), so here’s a look at some of the etiquette around wine in France.

Common wine blunders you should really avoid in France

One of those faux-pas is buying cheap wine – compared to many other countries wine in France is very reasonably priced (because it’s a locally made product).

But not all wines are created equal and the really good stuff is – unfortunately – often pricier than the rest.

This is why you need the Foire aux Vins – every year in the fall grocery stores, wine caves, and wine-selling websites attempt to make some space on the shelves by marking down their vintages – meaning you can get good bottles for very reasonable prices. 

Foire aux vins: How to find bargains on high quality wine in France

It might seem like a simple word, but knowing how and when to say bonjour (or bonsoir) is quite an art form. You walk into a room of twelve people…do you say bonsoir to all of them? Just how necessary is it to go out of your way to greet every person you cross paths with?

This is the essential question, especially for those of us who come from cultures where someone saying hello to you out in public might inspire fear of having to sign up for something or join a mailing list. Greetings are important in France, and there are some people you absolutely should greet.

Explained: When should you greet a French person

Finally, at the end of a long week, you might be looking for some comfort food and TV (not Nouvelle Vague films above, for which you will have to use your brain).

The perfect combination is France’s version of The Great British Bake Off – Le Meilleur Pâtissier (the best baker).

If you appreciate French pastries and quite enjoy a baking disaster, you’ll love seeing French baking amateurs attempt to construct a Breton tower out of 60 crêpes. You can watch the show online from anywhere in the world, with episodes available for catch up on www.6play.fr

Five reasons the Bake Off is better in France than in Britain

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.

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LA BELLE VIE

La Belle Vie: French standards for cheese, manners, and music

From cheese etiquette to the best day-trips out of Paris and the French words you did not know you were already using, our new weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: French standards for cheese, manners, and music

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, Gallic habits to films. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.

I must admit that I am no wine expert. But I am a sucker for an interesting-looking label on a bottle of wine, and I live near a cave called the Liquiderie that boasts all of the new, trendy beverages – from locally brewed beers to “natural” wines. The artistic labels are plentiful.

Every time I enter the store, the owner does his best to sum up everything new that is in stock, and what they might pair nicely with.

Here is where I must also admit that sometimes I will look for the vin naturel designation simply because it feels like the “nice” wine to bring to a dinner party. Extra points if it’s an orange wine.

If you are at all like me, then you might also be interested in actually learning a bit about organic wine. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Does it really have a unique taste, and what should I look out for when buying it? 

Bio, natural, biodynamic: 5 things to know about organic French wine

And regardless of whether or not you’ve joined the natural wine craze, you’ll probably sip something while munching on cheese and charcuterie during apéro. 

Cheese boards are popular everywhere, even outside of France, but they are so popular in France that you can even order a ready-made “boite-apéro” that is perfectly suited for your early-evening plans.

However, if you are looking to lean into the satisfaction that comes from building your own cheese board, then you’ll want to know a bit of cheese etiquette ahead of time.

While you may have already heard the advice to divide your cheese into three categories (hard, soft, and blue/goat cheese) there are several other tips, like what accompagnements to use and how to store the fromage authentically. 

Best Briehaviour: Your guide to French cheese etiquette

Though you might be scratching your head, wondering whether it genuinely matters how the cheese is stored, or whether mixing up vous with tu will really get you in trouble. Just like in any culture, some “rules” are more important than others, and of course it depends on the person or group you are dealing with.

This can be a bit tricky for anglophones, particularly when it comes to language, because English (both written and spoken) tends to be less formal.

Style and dress can also be a source of confusion – you may have heard your American friends living in France claim to have the telepathic ability to distinguish when a random person on the street is also American. While they probably do not get it right 100 percent of the time, clothing can serve as a clue.

Here is what you need to know about la politesse:

Are the French really obsessed with manners and etiquette?

As discussed above, culture can be a tricky thing, particularly when you expect there to be overlap. Both the French language and culture have blended into anglophone ones over the last several centuries, and vice versa. 

In France, this has been a bit of a controversy in recent years, with the Académie Française (the official gatekeepers of the French language) decrying anglicisms and the use of English words in French. With the rise of the internet and streaming services, the languages seem to mix more than ever before, so much so that French companies have been known to advertise using English words.

But what about the reverse – when French is used in English? There are many terms – some you might use on a daily basis – that come from our French friends. You have probably déjà vu some of these terms: 

17 French words we’ve stolen and reinvented in English

And when you are in France, you can test out some of your pre-existing French vocabulary – perhaps while doing a bit of travelling. 

If you are visiting France, chance are you have taken in Paris – in 2022, the French capital was ranked as the second most visited city in the world. 

But whether you’re visiting or you live here, sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city and there are loads of interesting places to visit that are within easy travel distance of Paris.

The Local put together a guide for all of the best (and easiest) day trips outside of the city:

Ten of the best day trips out of Paris

Finally, on your road trip or train ride outside of Paname, you’ll want some tunes to jam to, of course! Why not make it a fun learning experience?

Build your travel playlist with these French musicians to test your listening skills, and simply enjoy some music you might not have been exposed to before:

The 10 best singers to listen to if you’re learning French

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