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
Different packs of raw cow's milk "Camembert de Normandie" pictured in February 2020 (Photo by Ludovic Marin / AFP)

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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La Belle Vie: Walking, cycling and dining in France

From the true origins of France's favourite bread and how to survive a French traditional dinner to the country's best cycling routes, 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: Walking, cycling and dining in France

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This 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.

French baguettes have finally gotten the recognition they deserve. With 320 made every second in France, working out to just under half a baguette per person per day, the tradition behind baking these doughy delicacies has now been inscribed in UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” list.

As all francophiles know, baguettes are a source of national pride in France. There are countrywide competitions to judge France’s best boulangers, who have to make the bread en respectant la tradition – using just four ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt. After that it’s up to the skill of the baker to make a truly delicious baguette, a skill that will now forever be internationally recognised. 

Baguettes have been around for a long time in France, but you might be surprised to learn that they only officially got their name in 1920. The history is surprisingly blurry, with some pointing to baguettes as “Napoleon’s bread of war” and others referencing a certain Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

If you attend a French dinner party, you will almost certainly be offered some baguette to go along with your food, where it is is intended to be eaten alongside the main course. The entrée (appetizer or starter) is a course in itself during a traditional French dinner, and you definitely do not want to confuse it with the main course only to find yourself no longer hungry when the bœuf bourguignon comes along.

While it won’t go on forever, French dinners typically have several courses, with time for cheese being one of the most important. 

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

While enjoying a meal with your French friends, you are bound to hear plenty of French – that is in part due to the fact that French dinners are deliberately spaced out so as to encourage more time for discussion and socialising.

The host or hostess might regale you with some explanations of the food on the table – perhaps how it was cooked or some crucial part of the recipe. However, you will hear plenty of other French expressions referencing food, particularly fruits and vegetables, during the moments when you are not holding a fork and knife too.

Food is very important to the French, and as such it appears in the French language quite a lot too. 

21 essential French fruit and vegetable expressions

To work up your appetite for your next French meal, why not consider a bit of cycling? Taking a bicycle around France is one of the best ways to enjoy the stunning countryside, fresh air, and adorable villages – all while getting a good workout. 

You may not have known that France has a huge network of car-free cycling paths winding across the country, and the rate of new paths being built and old ones expanded upon is ever increasing. You also do not have to worry about encountering too many steep hills, as many of the bike paths have been put in place of old rail lines – meaning you can benefit from a mostly flat cycling route. 

The Local spoke with cyclist and travel website editor Bella Molloy to hear about her favourite seven cycling routes across France.

Vineyards to canals: 7 of the best cycle routes in France

The reality is that not all of us are cyclists though. If you would prefer a nice stroll, France has a lot to offer in that regard too. One location stands out as a walker’s paradise.

Located off France’s northern coast, the island of Cezembre might not sound appealing at first, considering the fact that it is covered in unexploded munitions from World War II. 

But don’t worry – the island opened up for visitors in 2018 after extensive de-mining efforts allowed for the opening of a marked path. With incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean and a fascinating history to match, Cezembre is definitely worth the ‘must-see’ list for your next trip.

Mine-riddled French island becomes unlikely walkers’ paradise

Finally, if you are looking for another lesser known method of planning a tour de France, you could consider chasing down all of France’s many Statues of Liberty – or la Liberté éclairant le monde as she is known in French.

That’s right – the Lady Liberty standing tall outside of New York City is not the only one in the world. She has many replicas in France – 12 stand out among the pack, and one is even located on the Seine River in Paris.

From Bordeaux to Colmar, you can find find symbols of Franco-American friendship all over the country. 

Where to find France’s 12 Statues of Liberty